Melissa Collins is the UK PR Manager for womenswear at River Island – a high street retailer well known for its stylish, affordable fashion. River Island has over 350 stores across the UK, Ireland and internationally throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Melissa is responsible for ensuring that River Island develop and present a consistent brand identity and image to the press. The media then feed this image through to the consumer via magazines, newspapers, TV/radio and online sites. Melissa works with a team of seven who are constantly liaising with, bloggers, journalists, stylists and presenters, whether it’s by sending samples or selling-in news stories.
Read how Melissa got into the PR industry, how she got to where she is now and what her tips are if you’d like to do the same:
Why did you decide to work in PR and how did it start?
In 2003 I started my work experience at different magazines such as Bliss, Cosmo Girl and many more! After a year or two I decided to try my luck in PR as I wanted to see what it was like working on the other side of magazines, sending the samples to the journalists for their shoots and providing them with prices and details. In 2004 I got an internship at Boxfresh for a year then went onto work for Ralph Lauren for six months as a showroom assistant. From this, I was then recommended for a press assistant role at Warehouse where I was there for two years. In 2007 I then moved to Arcadia for a press officer role at Dorothy Perkins where I stayed for five years.
Why did you choose to work at River Island?
River Island was a brand that I felt really strongly about, so when the position came up for a Senior Press Officer, I jumped at the chance! After a year and a half I was promoted to PR Manager and I’ve been here now for three years. I can say that I have never looked back as I love the brand and everything that it stands for.
What was the turning point in your career?
Working on the Rihanna X River Island collaboration was just amazing and probably my biggest highlight so far. That year was just a bit of a blur as we achieved so much in such a short amount of time, it was incredible.
What does a typical day for you look like at River Island?
The great thing about PR is that every day is different. I could be on a photo shoot one day, a breakfast meeting with journalists or in the press showroom the next. I work with press and bloggers on a daily basis whether that’s selling a story/collaboration in or helping out with sample requests. When we can, we will take press out for breakfast, dinner or to an event; this gives us a chance to build on those relationships, discuss the projects we have got going on and any opportunities there are for the brand within the publications. It’s also important for us to build relationships internally too; I liaise with the buyers and designers at River Island ensuring we know what they are buying and what the focus is for the upcoming seasons.
How can applicants make sure they stand out from the crowd?
Go above and beyond what is asked of you in your work placement; that will make you first in mind when that press assistant role comes up. Try to gain as much work experience as you can, whether it’s in another PR team, magazine or in a retail environment. This is one of the first things I look at when handed a CV, aside from the course the candidate has studied.
What key skills do you need to get into PR?
You need to live and breathe fashion and PR, be creative, confident and also not give up on your goal. Be outgoing and have good communication skills; you have to be able to meet new people face to face or talk comfortably with people on the phone. I had to do a lot of work experience and internships to get that first break, so you need to be determined and prepared to work hard for very little reward, opportunities will come in time, you just need to be patient.
Do you have any tips for our students who may be looking to work for such a successful company?
Network as much as you can, build your profile on LinkedIn detailing what experience you have and connect with likeminded people within the industry. Many in-house recruiters look to LinkedIn to find talent so it’s worth keeping your profile active and up to date. Within this industry, it’s not what you know but who you know, so if you meet a lot of people along the way and make a good first impression, the chances are they will remember you. During the interview, be confident, know the brand and the industry inside and out and make sure you brush up on your presentation skills. You will have to complete a lot of work experience but it will be worth it in the end, just don’t give up on that dream.