Selling Leeds: In-store events and PR play a key role in fashion retail

Katherine Busby, a 26-year-old press and marketing officer with a BA in business studies and working at Harvey Nichols, Leeds, gives the lowdown on her job
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The Independent Online

"I have always loved fashion, clothes and in particular, shops and shopping. But I always thought it could only be a hobby as I didn't realise that creative jobs existed in this area. So, on my careers advisor's advice, I started a degree in maths! Then, while studying, I started working for Sheffield University's PR and marketing club as press/public relations officer for the theatre company and local bars. I was responsible for marketing the university's magazine and website. It was really good fun. I loved that you had to be both creative and organised and I decided that was the career for me. So I took a big step and changed degrees to a BA in business studies and decided to pursue a career in PR and marketing with an aim to working within the retail sector.

After finishing my degree, I went back home to Liverpool and got a job in a PR agency. It was great experience. I learned how to write copy and press releases for different types of media, work with journalists, market products and manage events. All of my clients here were public sector - or trade-based - nothing to do with fashion or retail, which have always been where my interests lie.

I then got a job at Citypress PR and really started to develop my skills. I worked on various retail, travel and consumer brands and started to work out exactly where my strengths lie.

I attended an event at Harvey Nichols in Manchester, a fashion show for Spring/Summer 2005 and there was a real buzz. After this, I attended a number of other Harvey Nichols events and each time I thought 'I could do this, this is what I want to do'.

So, I started checking the Harvey Nichols website daily. I worked on expanding my CV and gaining relevant work experience, helped style photo shoots, marketed events with friends - and then one day a job was advertised for press and marketing advisor at Harvey Nichols store in Leeds. I applied and started with the company this January.

It is still early days but since I started at Harvey Nichols, I have learned so much about specific brands on all floors. My knowledge of women's fashion was stronger than menswear, but since working closely with the team, attending buying meetings and briefings I can now offer advice on both, and on beauty products, to stylists and journalists.

My current job is much more hands-on than roles I've had previously. I get to see the whole process from inital idea through to event. The challenge is marrying all the differing brands together, including items from womenswear, menswear and beauty, and ensuring they receive equal attention.

What I do day to day depends on what we are working on. If we have an event, I can be checking running orders for the catwalk show, looking after celebrities or even stuffing goody bags. Most days involve organising aspects of an event, such as invites, guest lists or booking entertainment. I speak to our key media contacts each week to discuss our latest products and launches. The role involves a lot of networking, so I attend events and meetings for city-wide events, such as Leeds Retail Week. Representing the store is a great honour and I still get a buzz out of saying - 'Katherine Busby, Harvey Nichols'!

To do my job, I think you need to be creative, have passion for what Harvey Nichols offer and what we stand for. You may have 20 things going on at the same time but you need to be organised and remain calm. Also you must ensure that everybody is fully briefed as to what is expected of them and just as importantly what your role in events is and your status on the project. Communication is key and as well as being friendly and accommodating, you may also need to be assertive on occasion.

I have an office in the store where I spend about half of my time. I tend to have meetings in the store, often in the restaurant or bar, and spend at least one day a week out and about meeting people to discuss joint ventures and marketing opportunities. I work closely with the store manager and members of the senior management team in Leeds, and the PR and marketing team at head office. My role is a new one for Harvey Nichols in Leeds so, for the foreseeable future, I will be working to ensure that the store gets the most out of me - and making sure that I learn as much about the store and from my colleagues as I possibly can. Coming up with fresh ideas for events is crucial to my job. To help me do that, I always keep on top of what celebrities are up to, reading everything I can get my hands on, including magazines, newspapers, websites etc. I also spend time attending various events in Leeds. The PR team work closely together to come up with new ideas and every time we try and go a little bit further to really wow our customers. For our recent Dangerous Liaisons evening, I sourced 18th-century costumes, including powdered wigs for staff, had Opera North singing on the shop floor and various performers including a fire-eater to entertain customers as they shopped. It was a great night - and totally unique.

Our biannual fashion show is always a huge event. This was my first one as PR and marketing advisor. I worked with Jill Adams, our head of womenswear and personal shopping, to arrange the ticket hotline, gifts for the goody bags and raffle. I also arranged a photographer and handled media around the event. It was amazing. The event is for customer account holders only and tickets sold out in record time. The models were stunning and the store looked fantastic. I had a number of journalists attend and after the show we all went out for sushi - it was an exhausting day but a definite highlight to my time here so far.

I get students calling every day asking for work experience and saying that they want to do the press and marketing for Harvey Nichols and I know exactly what they mean - that's what I wanted to do and now I do it!"

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