Falling into a career that fulfils your creative senses seems like a rarity. But, for some like Antonia Leigh it is a reality. Antonia found her way into the public relations industry soon after finishing her Arts degree at Sydney University, through her retail jobs she was able to see first hand that the communication industry was rife with innovation. Having worked closely on award winning fashion campaigns for Giovanni Bianco and for internationally renowned brands such as Emilio Pucci and Marni, it helmed her to start her own company, Antonia Leigh Image and Public Relations. Read below Antonia’s advice for breaking into the public relations industry and how her greatest achievements are yet to come.
What is your current position?
I have my own company Antonia Leigh Image and Public Relations. Together with my husband’s agency, Creative Justice, we offer unique strategic, business and creative advice, image and public relations as well as a high-end production services, events and advertising campaigns.
Describe your role?
Currently I work with a few clients on creating an image for their brand. It’s quite a bespoke type of PR service that I offer. I consult for AMP Capital across their fashion shopping centres. I’m also working with a number of Australian designers and one UK based designer. I’m really a connector. A creatively commercial connector!
What inspired you to work in this field?
I fell into it. I was finishing my Arts degree at Sydney University and the day I completed my last psychology exam my friend mentioned her sister, Emma Cooper, was looking for an assistant at Myer. I started the job the next week as a national fashion publicist for Myer Grace Bros at the age of 21. I couldn’t believe I actually got paid to organise a party and photoshoots! To be honest, I didn’t know what PR meant and I still don’t. I thought I’d be a psychologist or a painter (artist not house painter).
Was it always your plan to have a career in PR?
Not at all. In fact I didn’t even know it existed as a career.
How did you get your break in the industry?
I’ve had some great breaks especially in Milan which was tough but a friend of mine gave me the number of her friend who headed up sales at Dolce & Gabanna. She was like my amazing fairy godmother. I became close friends with her as well as the design director for Prada. Those girls really looked after me and I ended up working with Giovanni Bianco (now GB65 in NY). We had offices in Milan, New York and Sao Paulo. I worked on great award winning fashion campaigns. Then Karla Otto approached me and asked me to work for her in Milan. I worked with great labels such as Marni and Emilio Pucci. I would have stayed except my Australian (surfer) boyfriend (now husband and business partner) who was living with me in Milan was desperate to move back to Australia and go surfing.
Moving back to Australia, it was Sener Besim from Scanlan Theodore who first called me to work with him. Then Edwina McCann recommended me for the position of general manager at Colvin Communications where I stayed 4 years until my boys were born.
How has the industry changed since you first started?
Well as I’ve been involved in so many different areas the biggest change in fashion is that is now a lot more inclusive. Everyone can see what’s going on the runway, outside the shows (street style) etc. Anyone can now write about the shows. The high street brands like Zara and H&M didn’t really exist. Fashion was a lot more exclusive. It was more about the fashion designers, the shows, the reviews and their campaign images.
What has been your greatest career achievement to date?
It’s hard as I’ve worked on some amazing projects. I think producing fashion shows and campaigns in Milan was a great schooling, particularly as I had to quickly learn another language. Working with Nicolas Ghesquiere on a show for a label called Callaghan that he was designing for at the time. Other career highlights here in Australia are working with Australian Wool Innovation on an exhibition called ‘Back to Back’ which I conceptualised and produced. Helping to create shopping centres is always fun. I worked closely on Westfield Bondi Junction, Westfield Doncaster, Westfield Sydney and now Macquarie Centre with AMP Capital. Next will be Pacific Fair on the Gold Coast then something in Perth.
With previous senior roles in both Australia and Italy, can you name any important lessons you have learned?
I’ve learned so much from all my mistakes that I’m thinking of making a few more! So I guess I’ve learned that your reputation is all you’ve got so guard it with your life. Also it’s all about the clients you say no to working with. Karla Otto told me this. Mind you, I’ve had a few shockers in my career who I shouldn’t have agreed to work with! My job is really all about my relationships. I’ve also learned it is good to over communicate particularly when you’re organising an event or dinner. Triple check people are going to attend, don’t just assume. The same with editorial – make sure you double check journalists have all the correct information and pictures.
Would you recommend the PR industry today to school and uni graduates?
I think the PR Industry will be around forever in different guises. Brands and products all need to have an image. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend studying PR at uni. I think get life experience, travel, learn another language, study what you really love. Get experience working for someone you respect, find a mentor, then try and get a break in the industry – all easier said than done.
Do you believe that people need a ‘point of difference‘ to succeed in this business?
I think people all have different personalities and different strengths. I don’t really think you need a “point of difference”. Simply be the best at what you do. I also think we should work hard and be nice to people. Unfortunately it’s an industry with many big egos. The fashion industry is fickle.
What is your view on the role of social media in the PR industry?
It is necessary but not a magic bullet. I think having lots of friends on Instagram is somewhat like being rich in Monopoly. Sure it’s important to keep up with the best bloggers etc but it is all part of a much bigger picture. Digital marketing is where it’s at though.
What does style mean to you?
My mother told me when I was a teenager that she thought I had a natural sense of style. I always remember standing in front of the mirror with my mum wearing a pair of Country Road high waisted 80’s pants and a silk striped shirt with shoulder pads when she said this. I think style is inherent. Not something that can be bought or copied.
How would you describe your look?
Classic with a fashion twist. Wearing what I think works for my body shape. I definitely go for quality brands and fabrics over fast fashion trends.
If you could travel back in time, would you do anything differently?
Not really, I believe it’s better to regret something you’ve done than something you haven’t done. I turned down a few big roles overseas but I am quite glad as I get to live here near the beach with my boys.
What is your next chapter?
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? No idea, maybe I’ll become a painter!