Instinct Insider: Emily Johnston

Welcome to instinct insider our regular new interview spot with the industry’s biggest and brightest influencers sharing what makes good PR.

We recently caught up with uber blogger Emily Johnston, fresh off a long haul flight from her home state of South Carolina.

The Fashion Foie Gras founder actually spends most of her life fresh off a flight, never spending more than two weeks straight at her West London home (like Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, she uses her oven as storage) working wherever and whenever WiFi and jet lag allows.

As one of the ‘original’ bloggers Emily, 37, has built a huge and loyal fan base since starting her fashion news site eight years ago. Back in 2009 she was getting by on three hours sleep a night as she juggled writing up to 20 pieces of copy daily with her ‘real’ job heading up PR at an auction house.

Today Emily gets a couple more hours of sleep (often on flights) and FFG has become a more personal, lifestyle site, incorporating her love of travel and food as well as fashion.

The good news for PRs is that Emily admits to being a ‘three PR meals a day’ kinda gal, so if you have the right pitch there’s a very good chance you’ll get to sit down and throw some ideas around with her over smashed avo.

The bad news is that she receives up to 3,000 emails a day, and around 500 of these will be pitches so you’re going to have to work very hard to stand out…

Why did you start Fashion Foie Gras?

“Fashion began as a passion that never in my wildest dreams did I think could become a career. I started doing FFG at night when I ran the PR office at auction house Spink & Son eight years ago. In 2009 there wasn’t really anybody covering fashion news with a friendly voice, and I thought fashion reporting was generally way too pretentious, considering it’s such a fun and frivolous world, and that it should have fun copy to go with it. People really responded to that and were beautifully supportive, including the print magazines, which was unheard of at the time, and I think a lot of that was because, as with a lot of the ‘original’ blogging crew, we had careers in something that was in line with what we would end up doing and so we were able to further ourselves faster and easier.”

What does it take to be a successful blogger today? How has the landscape changed since you started? 

“I think the skill set has really changed. I feel like anybody can be a blogger now if they have a good photographer. Previously people weren’t so concerned about the pictures, it was more about getting an insight into the bloggers’ lives, but now it’s all very edited and beautiful and the whole scenery has to match the beautiful coffee cup….

“The writing definitely isn’t as important anymore. People aren’t looking for you to be able to compose a review of a hotel, it’s more about super short copy and then reams of pictures. This does create amazing content, and there is some phenomenal imagery out there, but I think Instagram has really taken over and content now is so refined, so glossed and glam, that to can start to feel very samey-samey.

“At the same time the consumer is a lot smarter than they were before, so brands and bloggers are having to adjust again to that. Hilariously, the movement now seems to be towards ‘creating’ authenticity – rather than actually being authentic!”

Influencer vs blogger? Same? Different? Which is FFG?

“I’ve always called myself a journalist because ‘blogger’ used to sound a bit childish, and I’m a grown women writing for publications and publishing my own content. I think being a writer is the big difference, because so many people aren’t. To me, an influencer is about social numbers. But it’s a bit of a joke job really. I can’t take anybody seriously when they say they are an influencer. You just must be so far up your own ass… it’s like saying ‘I matter so much’. It’s such a naff sounding thing. I won’t follow anyone who has the word influencer on any of their social channels. You’re just a regular person posting cool content.

“I’m definitely not an influencer because I do so many different things. I don’t just post things with the idea to influence people’s decisions. Actually, I don’t know what the best term for what we do is, a lot of them get overused to the point of naff. Maybe we should all be social butterflies?”

With the number of bloggers on this rise, how do you stay ahead of the pack? Do you even worry about staying ahead of the pack?

“I think you can drive yourself crazy saying ‘Am I doing everything right? Am I still going to be relevant tomorrow?’ And then you end up missing out on all the amazing things you are doing because you’re too obsessed with whether you’re doing them well enough! Even though I live and work in this world, when I look at Instagram I somehow manage to feel bad about myself.

“Comparison, and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ used to be a real issue for me. And I think all bloggers go through that, and you either come out the other side or you don’t. I have met several people who have quit the industry all together because the constant comparisons just became too much. When it’s your livelihood. It can create a whole new level of paranoia and worry and you have to get to a place where you say: ‘Hey, it’s good right now, if I’m not here tomorrow I had a good run and I’ll move on.’

“I’m not a Zen master but I have come to the conclusion that every day I get to do this is a gift and when it ends, it ends. I have had a career in the past and I can get back into that again in the future if needs be.”

Who is the FFG reader, how has she changed in eight years?

“I have so many readers who have been there since the very beginning and that means much more to me than having 10,000 new followers.

“I like to know my reader inside and out, and for that analytics has been a fantastic tool. I’ve generally always had readers who are between five years younger and older than me and it’s really nice to see that my readership has grown with me. They are a lovely group of people who aren’t necessarily a size 8 and who – like me – like to eat cheeseburgers but also do pilates.”

“Today more than ever readers seem to be proud of who they are without having to conform to a certain ‘standard’.”

What is your dream feature?

“To stay and shoot at the Ralph Lauren ranch. It’s such a powerfully American brand and he would be the dream interview. That brand is why I got interested in fashion.”

What makes good PR? What gets your attention? 

“I get a lot of; ‘Hi, my name’s X and I work for Y agency, can we meet for a coffee?’ which go straight to the bottom of the priority list because I don’t have time to do additional research to find out which brands or products might actually work for me.

“The days of being super casual are over. I get a few thousand emails each day [Emily doesn’t have an assistant] and I don’t have time to go online and Google the clients to work out what we can maybe work on together. Tell me who your clients are and why specifically you think they would be a good match for me. I love emails that are super upfront and say ‘Hi, I’m working with this brand and they are keen on doing this with you, can you let me know if you are interested or maybe want to grab a coffee? Or do you have an agent I can discuss with?’.”

Any PR no-nos?

“The dreaded ‘Dear blogger…’ phenomenon continues. And at least ten times a day I’ll get an email addressed to another blogger. When I know that someone is pitching to all of my counterparts I am obviously not going to want to work with them. The best pitches are really catered to me, the worst are the most generic.”

How can PRs work best with you when the nature of your job is so personal?

“The best way to work with me is to say: ‘Hey this brand wants to work with you, do you have any ideas?’ If it’s a brand I want to work with I can come up with a concept in five minutes. I think it’s always better to let the blogger come upon with the concept.

“I’ve been with my readers for eight years and I’ve been paying attention to them – I know what works, I know what will sell and I know what people want to see. I get really excited if I’m speaking to a brand about something that hasn’t been seen anywhere else. It’s about PRs being clued up about working with the right people and not just everybody.

“I’m not too picky about having total exclusivity. I understand the value of having a different point of view.  Exclusive to me is choosing me for my point of view, and not ten people just like me. If you choose ten different bloggers and we’re all different ages and styles and have a different way of approaching things then that is valuable. The minute you take ten replica bloggers and give them the same thing you’re going to get the same content.

“Also, there’s this misconception that the only way I will talk to anyone is if they are offering money, but for me only one in every ten pieces of content is paid for. The rest is completely organic. It might be stuff I love, brands who are doing great things, new brands who don’t have a lot of money or established brands that I’m keen to get in bed with.

“This job is about integrity and providing the best possible resources for people, and the minute you stop caring about that you become a sell-out.

“I say no to about 60% of the stuff that comes in. Usually if it’s something that’s been everywhere already, or it’s something that even in my wildest dreams I wouldn’t promote. I really believe that you’re only as good as the last thing that someone buys from you. If I’m sending someone into a store to buy something and they think it’s complete crap then they will never talk to me again. And that’s much more important to me than being paid money to post.”

And finally… where’s your go-to PR breakfast/lunch place? 

“I think the absolute best way to see people is over a meal.

“I love the Haymarket Hotel at any time of day, but especially for breakfast.

“And I’m yet to try The Ned so anywhere in there would be fun for lunch/dinner.”