Covid-19 has presented many challenges for the Australian TCF industry. We chat to Adriana Glass and Ali Smyth, Directors of Electric Collective, on how they are navigating the pandemic and pivoting their operations…
We’re catching up with a handful of members from across our industry community to see how they’re navigating these unprecedented times. Meet Adriana Glass and Ali Smyth, Directors of Electric Collective.
Electric Collective is a creative communications agency that was born of a desire to blur genres and create innovative avenues for clients with true multi-platform public relations strategies that have impact.
At the heart of what we do is an intention that we, and our clients, are meaningfully engaged with culture and community. We would describe our business as values driven, in everything we do we consider inclusivity, diversity, equality and sustainability. We work with our clients to support them to achieve this too, and to ensure not only are they on the forefront of culture but actively participating and contributing to it too.
The agency manages fashion designers and brands, but also artists, musicians, artists, festivals, food + beverage, venues, and beauty brands. The People + Planet division represents not for profit and for purpose businesses including the Global Women’s March, Fashion Revolution, Wayside Chapel and The Night Time Industries Association.
Ali comes from a creative background of fashion, music (talent, venues and festivals) and arts and sits on the board of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and Adriana with diverse experience representing clients across fashion, entertainment and culture for consumer, corporate, community and government entities. Both Ali and Adriana are Professional Members of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, whilst Electric Collective is a part of the PRIA Registered Consultancies Group.
From the outset Electric Collective operated with a virtual showroom, so the onset of COVID-19 restrictions did not require a shift for us in the way we work – the overwhelming majority of our work is already in the cloud.
Five years ago, this was a decision made on the basis of not only efficiency - to reduce the need to transfer product backwards and forward from showroom to businesses, people travelling to and from showrooms - but was also an ethical decision. Neither of us felt comfortable in the way PR showrooms we’d seen in the past were operated - we felt we could offer better opportunities for our work experience placements and junior and graduate level team members by facilitating sample loans virtually and placing them into specialised PR roles according to their skills and interest.
The reduction in team sizes for many publications and contracting media landscape also meant that we knew so many stylists and editors in our network simply didn’t have time to visit showrooms in person every week. We were vindicated by exceptional editorial results which showed no difference in the number of placements we could achieve for fashion clients, in fact our results were stronger because we were focussed on targeted outreach and proactive placements, not showroom appointments, to generate results.
This virtual approach so many years ago was fortuitous in helping us to ‘pivot’ very easily – the system was already set up and perfected.
In response to the restrictions on public gatherings and for health and safety reasons, it was decided early on the team would work remotely so as to minimise the need for travel and public transport. We’ve maintained this and will continue to until the situation stablises. Working remotely has been a blessing in many ways, without the commute the team has had more time for exercise and self-care and has also meant everyone on the team has had really hone communication skills and create new collaborative project management systems to counteract the lack of actual face to face time.
For fashion clients, the businesses that did not have an established direct to consumer digital platform, or had not invested in or developed their social media marketing, had a quick learning curve to establish and improve on those to make up for the drop in wholesale activity. Collaborating closely with our client’s other specialist teams, and ensuring we are all aligned in our intentions and approach has helped to accelerate the process of getting their direct channels to scale.
No doubt the year’s conditions have brought into question old ‘ways of working’ across the industry – having traditional avenues cut off has created an atmosphere ripe for experimentation and innovation. The break-down of the ‘system’ is a break-through - we have an opportunity to create more equitable, ethical, efficient and exciting solutions to communications briefs.
We’re thrilled to see there are more agencies now operating from virtual showrooms for the myriad benefits we’ve outlined already. The move to digital also means instant accessibility for a vast global audience of potential ‘guests’ to runways, presentations, previews and other events, and whilst VR and AR are still out of reach for many designers and brands, we’re excited to be experimenting with new platforms and engaging digital artists to bring collection storytelling to life.
Breaking down these older formats will force a shift from a one-dimensional “show and tell” approach for brands and designers to a multi-dimensional approach – one that generates content, contributes to a cultural / social dialogue, and prioritises audience engagement with a truly collaborative approach.
Over the past 12 months Electric Collective have slowly moved away from traditional Collection previews and created experiences instead. In November 2019 we held a gathering of “Defenders of the Earth” – an afternoon of lunch and conversations with inspiring women of influence, sharing ideas and initiatives to save the planet, in support of KITX Collection No. 15. In February, we held a content creation day at the Lansdowne Hotel with stylists, models, and photographers collaborating to shoot new season collections from our designers and brands.
The shifting landscape also presents even more impetus for strategy to be bi-focal – with a long and short term view - so that it can be relevant and of the moment. Now there are even fewer long lead media titles it begs the question – why would agencies continue to only show a collection four months out, when the majority of media and content creators attending aren’t even thinking about next month’s editorial yet? And in four months’ time, can we accurately predict what will be relevant to communicate, given our changing climate, global economic and health conditions?
Creating strategy that incorporates the needs of different types of media platforms and content creators will continue to be key to ensure brands have consistent multi-platform support.
For the last few months of 2020 we are leaning even harder into this approach - experimenting with new tactics and embracing the change. It’s a great opportunity for innovation, and activating the creative, hustle mode that keeps us excited to ‘come to work’.
We never thought we’d become such fans of walking – I think that was the most surprising thing to come out of lockdown, just appreciating slowing down, mindfulness in taking in the scenery and air around us, and the simplicity of a stroll. Taking time out for mental health and making sure the team is too. Its been hugely beneficial to us making a priority of that for ourselves and the team as well.
We’ve also been supporting all of our favourite local businesses – eating out where possible, and ordering in from local restaurants, delving into all the digital / virtual activities we can. We started an EC film club and watch a different documentary every month to educate ourselves on our Indigenous community and culture, then we Zoom to discuss what we learned afterwards.
We’ve also embraced a few new hobbies like writing, singing and roller skating, and a few of our clients have started pickling vegetables, and brewing kombucha.
Humming Puppy online (and Cosmic Kids for the little ones) has been very helpful in keeping us moving, and when the weekend comes The Lansdowne Empty Room Sessions online (when the limited shows have sold out quickly) are a welcome reprieve from streaming TV.
Our website has a News + Events page where we showcase current projects, however Instagram is how we stay up to date with launches. This week alone we have launched the alice McCALL SS Campaign, the Wayside Chapel Online Op Shop and Starley’s debut album….
All images courtesy of Electric Collective