By Lauren Garnet and Chloe Partikas
DEAKIN University students were treated to a night of fashion and style at TheMediaPod’s September dinner on Monday 14. It was one of the most successful dinners so far, with 31 attendees and four tables filled with young women eager to hear the stories of Effie Young, the founder of one of Australia’s leading fashion PR consultancies, Style Counsel and the recruitment agent Eli Wallis and employee Rigel Woolnough. They were joined by Deakin graduates Heidi Armstrong, buyer for Target; Sarah Jones, media services officer for Geelong City Council; and Alison Macqueen, publicity assistant for Tennis Australia.
Ms Young started off the evening with her career history, which inspired her to create Style Counsel. Ms Young never went to university, as there were no public relations degrees around at the time, but got involved in advertising at the beginning of her career. She held a passion for fashion that saw her spend seven to eight years modelling throughout Australia and Europe. This time of travel allowed her an insight into what she really loved, which was fashion, but found the lifestyle she was leading wasn’t for her.
Modelling bored the daylights out of me, Ms Young said. She wanted to do something with “substance” and work in fashion, which was inspired by her associations with designers Valentino and Versace amongst others. Ms Young quit modelling and began a new career path at Esprit, where she worked for the best part of seven years in a variety of roles including buying, marketing and public relations. This gave her a grounding in what “ticks the boxes” in fashion and PR and allowed her passion to stay alive, as in fashion every season is different.
After exhausting years spent travelling four to six times a year, Ms Young left Esprit and was immediately approached by companies such as Myer and Sportsgirl, asking her for her help, and Style Counsel was born. At the beginning it was just herself and a co-worker from Esprit, but after 20 years (Style Counsel will have its birthday on November 18 of this year) she now employs 17 people and a few hand-picked interns.
Ms Young rounded off her introduction with an overview of the different types of organisations and campaigns they currently work on, including Mazda, Mattel, Mimco, Witchery, Target and the Melbourne Racing Club.
She concluded with words of wisdom on the world of PR: “Business is about understanding clients and delivering compelling campaigns, and also that it is important to do research and hear what people have to say before taking concepts to the market. Two-way dialogue is also a very important part of effective PR and to not be too precious about campaigns if the client doesn’t like your idea, come up with another one.
Style Counsel takes recruitment and training very seriously, and Ms Young regularly sends employees to seminars to learn about things such as social media, which she admits to not knowing much about. Facebook and Twitter are both tools used by the consultancy.
Eli Wallis, the recruitment office for Style Counsel, gave a short speech on her career – she has been at Style Counsel for 18 months. After she finished her degree at RMIT, she worked in public relations and media sales, and then for Mac Cosmetics in London, before deciding she wanted to do marketing and then changing her mind again and ending up in a PR agency.
Eli gave the dinner attendees some fantastic advice: immerse yourself in an industry you enjoy so when it comes to job opportunities, you are very knowledgeable about the issues surrounding the field. She also advised attendees to undertake lots of work experience, and that it is ok to try out different things before you settle into your chosen career path.
The fashion loving TheMediaPod members also gained a motivational idol in Heidi Armstrong. The 2005 Deakin University Media and Communication graduate always had a love of fashion. While undertaking her Bachelor Degree, she also studied fashion design at The Gordan Institute of TAFE in Geelong.
The university training coupled with her TAFE training is what gave Heidi a head start in the fashion industry. She used her university writing and researching skills to gain insights into the industry by gearing journalism articles towards fashion. This illustrated the point that many educators attempt to drill into their students; by using opportunities presented to learn about things in our area of interest, it provides an education alongside valuable networking contacts.
An internship at the Austin Group, which houses brands including Playboy, Rochford and Town and Country allowed Heidi to use both her media and communication and fashion design training.
Directly after completing her university degree, Heidi began working for Target. She sat in an administration role for a year, and was then selected out of 200 applicants as one of 10 trainee buyers for Target. After switching between soft goods and hard goods, her current role is assistant buyer for the Girls 1-6 range, which involves travelling to LA, New York, London and Shanghai four times per year.
Heidi educated us about styling for the Target and Australian market while drawing inspiration from overseas trends. Due to the casual nature of Australian dressing, designs need to be less extravagant than what is on the shelves in Europe. In recent years Target has moved towards being a more fashionable and on-trend destination for people of all ages to shop on a modest budget.
Sarah Jones of Geelong City Council is also a graduate of a Deakin PR degree in 2005, and she gave an insight into the various projects she works on for the Council. She deemed it similar to working at a public relations consultancy, as her role is varied and every week there is a different campaign or project to work on.
All the inspirational women at the dinner agreed that the love they have for their jobs and the industry they work in makes up for the long hours and hard work that is required to be successful. All the attendees would agree that the dinner was a great success and a fantastic networking tool for students to interact with PR practitioners and to gain an insight into their future careers.