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PR | A DATE WITH DIARY

Lauren Stevenson and Virginia Norris, Co-founders of Aisle 8

Date Posted: Tuesday 13th March 2018

Virginia Norris and Lauren Stevenson, Co Founders of Aisle 8

DIARY directory recently caught up with Lauren Stevenson and Virginia Norris, Co-founders of fashion, beauty and lifestyle PR agency Aisle 8. Lauren, former Head of PR at Harrods, and Virginia, former Head of Global PR at Whistles, decided to launch their own agency in 2014 after seeing a gap in the market for an agency which bridged traditional PR and digital marketing. Four years later, Aisle 8 is now a thriving boutique agency which has expanded its team from 6 to 13 and offers digital consultancy, 360 degree PR and communications expertise to a select number of brands. We caught up with the duo to learn how they see the agency evolving, how they track a brand's success through influencer marketing and what they think about working with influencers who have bought their followers. 
What have been the biggest changes within the industry since you started your agency? 

LaurenThe industry has continued to evolve and the digital landscape has completely blurred the lines between digital marketing and what traditional PR used to be. Understanding social media, the role it plays and how to work authentically with influencers has never been more important. We are able to place our brands on a global stage and communicate directly with the customer, tracking their journey and their spend like never before.

VirginiaWhen we launched there was still a very hierarchical aspect to the fashion industry, this has really shifted and changed in recent years.

What’s the best thing about running your own agency?

LaurenThe best thing about running our own agency is being able to create the culture we have always dreamed of. We wanted to build a team and create a culture that bred trust, loyalty, fun, passion where the team looked forward to coming to work every day. It has allowed us to be able to carefully select the brands that we work on and be able to devise campaigns and events that the whole team enjoys working on striving for the best results. Best of all is being able to work wherever we are in the world. As long as we have our laptop, mobile phone and wifi, we can work from anywhere.

VirginiaRunning your own agency!

What is your company’s ‘personality’?
 
LaurenInspired, considered and fun
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VirginiaWe are open, modern and progressive in what we do. We believe in opportunity, learning and the success of the team. Our personality is inspiring, considered and fun

What are your biggest challenges you face nowadays when it comes to clients?  
 
LaurenThe amount of print opportunities has reduced dramatically with so many print publications folding, so we have to manage expectations on volume of traditional PR coverage from the get-go. We are in a privileged position where our clients understand the importance of digital, social media and influencers being blended with traditional media so we have to have a full 360 approach to our strategy. 
 
VirginiaBudgets and time management. We work with a lot of startups and we are there every step of the way, helping brands launch, progress and develop.

As influencer marketing continues to grow, how do you see the agency evolving?

LaurenVirginia and I both came from retailers with years of e-commerce and influencer marketing, so we have been able to bring that experience to our clients, understanding how to navigate the influencer landscape. As an agency, we have to counsel our clients efficiently giving them clarity on where to invest in engagement experiences, campaigns and sponsored posts versus organic engagement, as well as how to work with stealth and everyday influencers.
 
VirginiaWe have always believed that it is key we empower our staff with skillsets and contacts across all platforms - from print to digital. Our aim is for them to be specialists in communications, not just a particular platform. We believe that the way to future-proof your agency is to ensure that you stay nimble and that your team are always ahead of you
 

What information do you want access to for influencers you might suggest to your clients / how do you use it?

LaurenIt's really valuable for us to have access to Google Analytics and digital value tools to be able to understand the value of target influencers' audiences, the demographic and engagement level of the followers.

VirginiaUnderstanding results driven fee structures

Which do you mainly work with – micro influencers or bigger more established influencers? What are the main differences in working with each?

LaurenWe work with a blend of global fashion and beauty influencers, specialist influences such as mummy, food, wellness and travel influencers. Our clients come to us for our network of editors, writers, stylists, PRs, directors and CEOs who we introduce our brands to in an authentic and creative way. 

Virginia: We work with a bespoke plan for each of our clients dependent on what their goals and deliverables are. Ideally, a blend of both works well, we believe word of mouth still remains at the heart of a campaign. It's great to work with new talent coming up and support them as they grow.

How do you track a brand’s success through influencer marketing?

LaurenThe beauty of today's industry is being able to track and fully evaluate our activity. We can track the traffic, click-throughs, engagement, sales and social media community growth.
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VirginiaSales, traffic to site, engagement levels.

What do you think about working with influencers whose stats may suggest they have bought followers in the past, but who now have a decent sized genuine following?

LaurenFollower purchasing is much more common than most people think and we have worked with many global influencers who have at one point bought followers. We select the influencers that we work with based on their style, tone of their blog or Instagram channel and the way they will incorporate our brand and our product. We see equally successful commercial results for our brands with influencers with small, highly engaged followers against those with hundreds of thousands.
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VirginiaIt all depends on whether they are the right fit for our brands, and to understand what buying followers has done for them. We do know that engagement is higher when influencers really develop their own unique sense of brand and are open and honest with their followers

Biggest lesson learnt since launching the business? 

LaurenThe world will not fall apart if I switch off for the evening. For the first three years, I worked around the clock rarely switching off from my emails and phone feeling that I had to respond to every email that second. Having a mobile phone and laptop has allowed me to work from anywhere in the world, but meant I am always online and at work. I still do reply to every email promptly, but I have learnt to have a work-life balance. 

VirginiaTrust your gut instinct, it is never wrong. Do it for the vision, not money

What do you wish more people understood about your job?

LaurenI wish everyone knew the amount of hours a single piece of PR coverage or social media post can take to achieve and the value of that time. PR continues to be one of those services that people don't understand the value of and believe they should be able to get for a fraction of the cost. In fact, it's a quite a unique service area where results are achieved through an individual or team's relationship with another person. 

What advice would you give to budding communications professionals starting out in the industry?

LaurenGet as much experience as you can and find every opportunity to build relationships within the industry. I always say to our new assistants, get out there and build friendships with the new editorial assistants as one day they will be the editor-in-chief!  

VirginiaDon’t spend all your time at your desk, get out, have fun, enjoy what a brilliant industry it is. Try and find people you trust and those who can mentor you and help you grow.

What do you miss about working in-house?

LaurenI really miss having such clarity on the inner workings of the business and the weekly commercial impact of the previous week's activity. I used to love the management meetings to run through the results from the previous week and how each channel had performed. There is something special about working for one brand and funnelling all of your passion and hard work into that one brand. 

Virginia: Involvement in product and brand decisions.

Who are your role models?

Lauren
I have so many role models, Virginia my business partner being the most important. She truly is the Ying to my Yang and I love working with her. I've never met anyone as creative, passionate yet so unbelievably considered and controlled. She leaves me staring in awe at her most days. 

VirginiaJane Shepherdson, for reminding me that the company I wanted to work for did actually exist and that kindness beats fear every time
 
Where’s your favourite hidden gem/hotspot location in London at the moment?

LaurenI still love Disrepute Bar tucked away in Kingly Court Soho. I'm slightly biased as I did work on the launch, but it's steeped in old London history and it's such romantic spot....the cocktails are pretty lethal too.

VirginiaWe've just moved into a beautiful new office space and I’ve already spotted a tiny restaurant opposite that looks like a good place to hide away!

What would people be surprised to learn about you? 

LaurenI taught myself to ski and despite having very little skill, I can get down a mountain at speed.

VirginiaI love dogs (kidding!!)

 

CONTACTS

Aisle 8 in 'PR Companies'

Lauren Stevenson in 'PR Contacts'

Virginia Norris in 'PR Contacts'

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