You may remember Stefanie Skinner, the mellow workhorse from the reality show Kell On Earth, that warts and all reality show about fashion PR firm People’s Revolution. (It served as a cautionary tale for people who thought PR was about fluffing gift bag tissue paper and vibing out with Ja Rule.) She isn’t an opportunistic PR stereotype, and she didn’t even have to play one on TV. At the heart of the show was Kelly Cutrone, her bullshit-free mentor. They were early adopters of Twitter and brand videos, like their guerrilla video shoot for the DKNY “cozy” sweater.
Since leaving her clan in 2011, Stefanie’s stock has risen. She’s now back alongside her new partners Kelly and Emily Bungert. The venture is Socially Acclaimed, a digital P.R. firm in charge of helping the internet understand how cool their clients are.
“Emily and I stayed close friends and she and Kelly called me, and I answered. I hear Kelly going, ‘Skinner! Skinner!’ I reverted, going back to 2008 and she was like, we have an idea.’” While the client roster isn’t public yet, they’re going after lifestyle, entertainment, and nightlife.
At 31, it’s a big deal for Stefanie. The hook is simple: a savvy digital attack, and the name sounds like a party you’d do a great job of making fun of but secretly wish you’d been invited to. She came up with it when she was walking back from getting her dog spayed, but kept it a secret until the night before fashion week. So after the circus left town, we rang her up at 62 Grand for an hour-long catch-up session. She talked ego maintenance, creating a social media personality for brands, and her fascination with the social hierarchy of her dog park.
So you’re pretty young to have gotten this far.
It’s crazy. Even sometimes when it comes out, “oh I’m a partner at a company.” Hard work really does pay off. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s hard to find hard workers and good workers. Being my age and a partner at a company, I’m proud of myself.
With essentially curating social media, how much of what you do is guiding clients to make the right decision despite what they want?
We pull together their aesthetic. Because social media is such an important goal, there’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest and there’s a million things, but it actually has to make sense for them. If you’re not e-commerce, then you shouldn’t do mood boards for Pinterest. We help them understand what their voice should be on these social platforms, and we also help them build the visual aesthetic. They can give me reference, and I might say, “that one doesn’t make sense. It’s kooky or it doesn’t fit.” We can add an element of it, but for me, I consult them on the visual and vocal messaging.
But how? What’s an example?
We are working August Getty and he just showed during fashion week. He’s a every talented designer so for the two of us, we sat there and he told me his favorite books, movies, songs, art everything. I could tell you his favorites of everything. From that, I pulled images. We look at the collection, and the message. We have to think, “what is this story.” Then, “how much do you want to tell on Twitter and on Instagram?” For him, Instagram is a really important platform of press and a way of keeping that voice a little more quiet. His is all visual. His runway show…that was just a week ago, his clothes are about construction and the actual design and so his social is really about the visual and we built that together. I send them decks of images that I love. They might say, “don’t ever show me that again.” I have really good relationships with my clients, and I think about the overall aesthetic and the visually brand messaging.
You seem relaxed, but this is stressful work. It makes me wonder how you manage that.
I think I can credit that to being from the Midwest. To say that I don’t get stressed out, I’d be lying. There are intense moments, but at the end of the day, our clients are trusting us to develop their brand and their voice. If I said that I don’t get stressed out, it wouldn’t be true. It’s more about business and less about emotions. Emily and Kelly can say the same thing. Once you remove emotions, it’s easier.
Can you tell me why you think you’re trusted?
At the end of the day, people trust me because I’m not going to bullshit people. I’m not going to tell them something that’s not true if they want a certain thing that’s not good for the brand. I’m going to tell them I’m not going to do something just because they’re paying me. And I’m not a really big gossiper. It stays with me. That’s an important aspect within this industry. Trustworthy people are far and few between.
Are you allowed to wear clothes with colors or is that in a storage unit in the Midwest?
(Laughs.) We can definitely wear things that have color. Emily, right now, is wearing metallic shoes and a grey and white shirt. Kelly is wearing a green caftan. It does happen. People do color. I personally feel stupid in colors. I prefer to wear black.
Has your work made you more image-conscious?
Yeah, I definitely think that now being a partner of a company, it’s really important to maintain my image. I think about how I’m presenting myself to a potential client. People are watching where we’re going and who we’re seen with. I’m not saying that anybody cares, you just always have to be on top of your game. To be honest I’ve been hiding in a dog park more than out as of recently.
Are there egos at a dog park just like a fashion party?
The egos never go away. There’s the same egos, rank, and seniority at the dog park. The crowd in the morning are like gangsters. On weekends, people come that finally are with their dogs because they aren’t with dog walkers and they’re actually taking care of their dog come. I could tell you the different rankings throughout the dog park. There are some ladies you don’t mess with. If they smile at you, you should feel honored. It’s maintaining egos.
PR is one of the most stressful jobs. When has a tough day gotten to you?
My brother visited during fashion week, and I said something to him. He’s my best friend — I’ve grown up just being like, “please be my friend,” I followed him around when I was young — but when you’re at fashion week, and you’re in PR, you have to be kicking people out of your line for crashing, people that aren’t invited. You have to maintain a level of seniority. You have to know the right people and where they’re supposed to be, and who the wrong people are. You have to talk a certain way, sassy. [My brother] said, “I am not your intern.” It just made me realize, “oh wow, you have to dial it back, and remember your priorities.” Of course he laughed, and said, “I wouldn’t want to cross your path,” but I was apologetic for being rude authoritative. I reverted back to my ten-year-old self being like, “play with me, be my friend!?” It puts you back in your place, like okay, you’re really not that cool when you’re chasing your brother because you talked to him like he was an intern.
You went to DePaul. I’m guessing they told you everything you ever needed to know about doing PR for fashion companies.
(Laughs.) I got a C on one of my papers from my final class in communications because I wrote in my paper that I don’t feel that school actually prepares you for a real job…
What has Kelly taught you that was most valuable?
Literally I say, “I graduated from The School of Cutrone.” I feel like the most valuable lesson has been details details details, always go above and beyond, there has to be a level of work and paying attention to the details and actually caring about what you’re doing. That’s one thing. To know how to take a phone message. That’s very valuable one. When you’re speaking to people, always be respectful. We work in customer service. Even if they’re wrong, they’re right. That’s a big thing she’s taught me. There’s a time and place to be serious and to be actually authoritative, and you have to know when to take it out and when not to. Work hard and be nice, and it’ll pay off. Relationships are key, personal and professional.
You guys seem to have fun. What do you joke about in the office?
Emily and I sit across from each other. If anyone watches, we have a language that’s actually not a language. It’s eyes. We make faces at each other, and we have a thing called the PFN, the Psychic Friend Network. We don’t have to say anything, but we’ll already start doing this same thing. We’ve shown up to the office wearing the same exact thing. We’ll text each other “PFN” randomly when something happens, like when she says something, and I’m writing it down already. When you spend so much time with people, it’s good to be friends or else you’re going to kill each other during fashion week.
Kelly will start blasting music. It’ll be random, like Iggy Azalea will randomly happen, and then it will be Van Morrison. There was a whole speaker battle at fashion week. She had her speakers going and Emily and I were blasting hip-hop. [Music]’s another part of our company. We’ll be offering music festival coverage, building out content that’s original. We have friends that work in the music industry so we have direct access to artists, and celebrity dressing for shows.
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