In honor of Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power's latest book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career ($17), we're running an interview series featuring 17 questions (in honor of the book’s 17 chapters) about the work lives of the most inspirational female leaders in the fashion industry. In the past, we've tapped Rebecca Minkoff, Sally Singer, Rachel Zoe, and more. Up next? Carrie Phillips.
If there’s a brand you love, event you somehow ended up stalking on Instagram, or red carpet moment you can’t stop obsessing over, there’s a high probability that BPCM has something to do with it. What started in 1999 as a simple PR firm founded by Carrie Ellen Phillips and Vanessa von Bismarck has evolved into a global agency with offices in New York, Los Angeles, and London, not only representing a multitude of brands but also helping them grow. To give you an idea of the scale on which BPCM operates, envision a client list that includes everyone from established brands such as Brian Atwood and Longchamp to newly inducted CFDA members Brock Collection and Ji Oh. Now you can see why we were thrilled when Carrie Phillips, part of the trio that now runs BPCM (the third party being Ali Taekman), agreed to answer our pressing questions.
Read the full interview below!
“BPCM started as a PR company, but pitching stories and working with journalists has become only one aspect of what we do. Clients count on us for big ideas that help them create an authentic connection to their customers. Whatever we do has to help brands improve their bottom line by creating lasting connections.”
“That I really love it. I do. I am surrounded by an incredibly talented team of people, which I find totally inspiring. They are really what makes BPCM special. I am constantly inspired by their dedication to the company, which makes me work even harder to create a great environment and bring in world-class clients.”
“A black DKNY skirt suit that still makes me cringe just thinking about it. It was back in the Ally McBeal days of super-short skirts with blazers as business attire. Let’s hope those days are gone for good because even if you can pull it off, I’m not sure anyone should.”
“Hands down, my two business partners, Vanessa von Bismarck and Ali Taekman. They are two of the smartest women I know, they both possess a killer combination of instincts and integrity, and they are never afraid to tell me when I’m wrong. If you go into business with people, do it with people you trust and whose values you respect. There are days when we disagree with each other, but there’s never a day where we doubt each other’s motives.”
“Business of Fashion and WWD are my first read in the morning, but my advice to people is to stay informed about the world at large and how your industry fits into it. The fashion industry reflects what happens in the world politically, economically, geographically, and historically, so know your stuff. I’m a junkie for NPR and PBS NewsHour as well as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. There’s a great daily email called TheSkimm that I recommend to lots of people who aren’t already news junkies; it’s a good gateway drug.”
“The only things I have ever regretted are the times when I didn’t speak up but should have. Those times when I was in a meeting and I had an idea but was intimidated and didn’t add my voice to the conversation or stand up for myself. I feel that happens less and less now, but I think that’s the confidence that comes with experience.”
“The best advice I have ever heard was from Mindy Grossman (CEO of HSN): ‘Whenever you’re hiring, always hire Tigger; never hire Eeyore.’ It’s so simple, but it’s universally true. You may have to deal with Tigger’s personality, but you will never get Eeyore excited about anything. It has become my number one rule. Other than that, I would say someone who has researched what BPCM stands for, what we do, and how we are different than the others. Someone who sweats the details: Have you brushed your hair? Are your clothes clean? Did you bring your résumé? Is it wrinkled? You have no idea how many people don’t get a job because they haven’t run a spellcheck on their résumé.
“The way you act when you meet me will be the same way you act when you meet a client, so I am looking for you to be respectful, articulate, able to listen, able to communicate your points clearly, and to not be intimidated.”
“Lipstick and heels. I’m from a beach town in California, so my vibe is generally pulled together but pretty casual. The team knows when I come in with lipstick and heels that it’s business time.”
“Busy and specific. Always asking for people to sweat the details.”
“I think whenever you are feeling demotivated, you have to look at what you are doing and what you wish you were doing. Really figure out if you need to be doing the things that ‘pull you down’ during your day, and figure out what you wish you were doing more of. That’s the hard part; once you know what it is you want to be doing, you just have to figure out how to get more of it into your life. The other thing that helps is to change your perspective: Go to a museum, change who you follow on social media, accept an invitation that you wouldn’t usually. We are in charge of our own inspiration. Getting outside of your comfort zone is the only way to grow.”
“Be honest. Don’t say, Oh this opportunity just fell in my lap, because nine times out of 10, it didn’t. It’s okay to want to advance your career, and smart employers respect that. Be honest about your reasons for leaving, and give at least three weeks. Two weeks is standard but show your employer that you respect their time and that you fought to do what was best for them as well as for you. If your employer has been, or you think they could be, a mentor for you in your career, then let them know that. Stay in touch, ask them their advice, and don’t burn bridges. I am asked weekly for employee recommendations, and I am always thrilled to recommend people who were once at BPCM and who left in a smart way and stayed in touch.”
“Well, right now I’m pregnant with baby number four, so every day is a little different. I try to be pretty virtuous—kale salads from Nourish Kitchen or soups from IndieFresh. But I have a weakness for the salsa and the Kale + Chicken tacos at Empellon Taqueria. And my not-so-secret vice is that at all times, I have a bar of Green and Blacks Organic Dark Chocolate in my purse.”
“With entry-level team members, it’s two sides of the same coin. Mistake number one is thinking that your voice doesn’t have value. It does. You are young, and that means you know more about how to market to people your age than I do—enlighten your team, bring your ideas to the table, and explain why you think something will work. Mistake number two, made just as often, is thinking that doing the bare minimum is enough to get you noticed at the office. The job market is tough, and we get hundreds of applications. If you are the one who gets hired out of those hundreds, show up. Do your work, and when it’s done, ask how you can help more. Figure out how other people get their work done efficiently, how you can be irreplaceable to your team, and how you can contribute more. That is how you move up.”
“@Kellyslater—he’s my client, and sometimes it’s the only way for me to figure out where in the world he is.
“My friend Christine Muhlke (@xtinem) from Bureau X is editor at large for Bon Appétit , and she’s always posting something I’d like to eat or somewhere I’d like to be.
“@Ecoage—sustainability in the fashion industry is one of my passions, and what Livia Firth has done with EcoAge is beyond inspiring. Fashion is the second-most polluting industry after oil, and she is creating the platforms and the resources by which we can start to create change.
“@Theoceancleanup—there’s a young Dutch guy (like 20 years old!) named Boyan Slat. He has created a system to clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch within the next 20 years. I’m completely in awe of him!”
“My time outside of the office is for my family, which is how I stay grounded and productive while I’m at work. In the morning, I drive my 7-year-old, Poppy, to school. We get up early, have breakfast, and pack lunch. Then Poppy deejays and we sing really loud on the way to school. She used to hate going to school, but since we started this routine, she is happy to get in the car, and it puts me in a great mood before work.
“I get into the office early, and I try to leave so that I’m home by 6. It gives me time with my 2-year-old twins, Sonny and Tilly. Lots of running around playing hide and seek, bathtime, and then I read them stories, which is our favorite part of the night. Right now our favorites are ‘Your Alien’ and ‘Rosie Revere, Engineer.’
“The best part of my day is debriefing with my partner Eric. We’ve been together for 16 years, and he’s my rock. He gave up working to stay home with our kids, which I think is the only reason that I’m able to achieve everything that I do at work. That kind of support and love at home helps me to be so much more productive at work. His smile when I get home is the best part of my day.”
“Keep your head where your feet are, which basically means wherever you are and whomever you’re with, be present. Sounds simple enough, but the second you have kids, there is the pull to feel guilty when you don’t spend every moment with them or that you are ‘missing something’ by being at work. My heart is always with my kids, but my work team is also my family, and I owe it to them to have my head in the game. But when I get home, my phone goes in my purse, and my family gets all of me.”
“The issue of sustainability is such a huge one, and for an industry that has done so much damage, I also really believe that fashion can be an enormous force for change. A lot of my most inspiring work is with Outerknown, a brand started by Kelly Slater and designer John Moore to be sustainable from the ground up. Kelly doesn’t come from fashion, so he questions how to make every part of the process better, and John is one of the most creative and collaborative people I’ve ever worked with. It is an amazing education for me in what is possible. I am learning every day, and I feel lucky to work with a deeply talented group of people.”