How This Fashion Editor-Turned-Publicist Stays at the Top Of Her Career Game
Photos: Samantha Slaven
As Samantha Slaven-Bick's career journey demonstrates, you can be at the top of your career game and still have yet to discover your true calling. Guided by her talents as a writer, the publicist began as a fashion editor at a magazine — a job she was in love with — before pivoting to copywriting for fashion and beauty brands and ultimately owning her own public relations agency.
Here, we sat down with the Fashion Mamas LA member to learn more about her path from fashion editor to jumping to "the other side" of the media industry, the biggest lessons she's learned so far, and the skills that everyone should hone to be successful in their careers — read all about it below.
Tell us more about how your career journey began: First, what led to your role as a magazine editor?
I always loved English and writing stories, and remember my ninth grade Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Payne, pulling me aside and suggesting I consider writing for a living. I majored in journalism, and worked my way up from editorial assistant to editor in chief at a popular string of city magazines in Atlanta and then LA. As the youngest editor in the network at only 25, I loved covering the "scene", but also found that I really loved reporting on fashion — where to shop, the top trends, meeting designers — and ultimately the fashion side of the business is where my career led me.
How did you transition into marketing/copywriting?
After sort of peaking at the magazine in LA, and realizing I didn’t want to move to NYC full time to really pursue magazine journalism, I started poking around for other positions where my skill set would translate. I first joined Tickets.com as their entertainment content manager, covering a national calendar of concerts, events, theatre, etc., but then followed a boyfriend to San Francisco, where I eventually joined Gap Inc. as a copywriter for Banana Republic.
I learned a lot, especially about writing for web versus print, but felt creatively stifled as all copy had to be approved by a chain of non-creatives, which always sort of bugged me. From there I was hired as a marketing copywriter at an online beauty start-up launched by Procter & Gamble, working with really amazing marketing minds who’d transferred out to the Bay Area to lead the venture. I always say I “got my MBA at Procter” because I learned so much about the business from a team that hailed from Estée Lauder to Colgate to Toys 'R Us.
How did you realize your true calling and what steps did you take to make it happen?
At Procter I was in at the ground floor brainstorming cosmetic, hair, skincare, and fragrance collections, writing all [print and] web copy and developing marketing language — and at launch handing it all off to someone else to pitch it to the person who had my old job. A lightbulb went off one day and I was like, “You know…I think I can do that piece of it too.” As the recipient of thousands of pitches and press releases, I knew what worked, and was excited at the prospect of being on the other side of the industry.
I started converting some of my freelance writing clients — a spa that had just opened in SF was my first account — and pitching them to the top fashion magazines. My first placement was in InStyle, and I was like, “This is fun!” It kept me involved on the magazine and media side of the industry, while also enabling creative freedom and expression, and leadership.
Had it always been your career strategy to diversify your skills?
I loved writing and had there been more magazines in LA, probably wouldn’t have left the industry. But I always used to say, “One day I want to own an agency", [and] I don’t even know if I knew what that meant! So perhaps subconsciously I knew I’d explore the industry and deep-dive into areas of interest to find a perfect fit.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your journey so far?
Not sure I can pick just one! First, never make a decision based on money, as every time I’ve done that I’ve grown to regret it.
Roll with it, and stay on the cutting edge. My industry has changed so much — 15 years ago it was all about magazine placements and broadcast — and now the landscape is really different. Staying open to and keeping up with new ways of doing business [and] industry trends is key to staying relevant and indispensable to your brands and clients.
Hire people who are great at what they do, and don’t be afraid to trust and delegate to your team. As someone who was pretty scrappy and self-trained in the industry, I love learning from smart hires who bring ideas from their experience and previous positions.
How has motherhood changed how you approach your career?
I’m still kind of an intense task master, but think I bring a lot more love! I’m literally a Jewish mother, and genuinely care about my team’s lives and careers and want them to be happy. I also have different priorities — whereas work used to be the end-all be-all, now it’s balanced much more with family life (and a home office). I want my team to have work/life balance too — I don’t count vacation days, don’t follow anyone from my team on social media (they should have their privacy!), and rarely require work at night or on weekends.
What's your best advice to women who are just beginning to explore their career path?
Internships are key — on-the-job training is the most valuable experience and insight you can get. Also, kick ass and care about your work — there’s a lot of atrocious entry-level “talent” out there, so if you’re good and reliable and sharp, you’re going to stand out.
What skills do you think are needed for someone to succeed in your field?
I know there’s a perception of the fashion publicist as a bit of a party girl, but honestly it’s a hard job. You have to be a master at multi-tasking, have super-sharp detail orientation, be fast-paced, and learn quickly. Every day is different, so you’re always thinking on your feet, juggling multiple deadlines and personalities, and having new things land on your desk. A good balance of left brain/right brain is essential. And so is a genuine love of the industry — I love what I do!