A quest for "publicity in Vogue": The role of public relations practitioners in building symbolic power for luxury fashion brands

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Pierre-Luc Emond

Abstract

Public relations (PR) was identified as a significant (Beverland 2004; Fionda and Moore 2009), but under-researched element for luxury fashion brands to thrive (Ko and Megehee 2012). To answer calls for "fresh" perspectives on PR (Edwards 2012a; Galloway 2013), a sociological approach was taken to address three research questions: (1) Drawing from Bourdieu's field theory, what game are PR practitioners playing in the luxury fashion field, and what is at stake? (2) How is the role of cultural intermediary played by PR practitioners representing luxury fashion brands? (3) How do PR practitioners adapt their game in respect to brand positions in the hierarchical field of luxury fashion? Following a snowball sampling, 29 long interviews were conducted with Milan-based PR executives and industry experts. Informants represented 42 luxury fashion brands, including Brioni, Dsquared2, Jil Sander, Salvatore Ferragamo and Tod's. Figures of media coverage and advertising investment in Italy for 2010 completed the dataset. First, the findings show that PR practitioners compete primarily for cultural capital (in the form of media coverage), with the broader aim of building symbolic power for luxury fashion brands. This study illustrates how PR workers leverage their own social and cultural capital through five key PR activities: fashion shows, product PR, celebrity dressing and gifting, press days and other events, and corporate PR. PR was found to be a site of ambiguity and tensions, because the PR game follows a logic of reversed economic ("art for art's sake"), whereas the luxury fashion field as a whole is driven by commercial aims. With boundaries blurring between luxury fashion and mass fashion (Rocamora 2002), it is argued that a key role of PR executives is to recreate a sense of boundaries to protect the status of luxury fashion. Second, new illustrations of cultural intermediation practices in a PR context are provided. This research supports Bourdieu's (1994) view, in that PR practitioners' "feel for the game" is key to stand out in the luxury fashion field. Third, the findings develop an empirically grounded sense of field to account for PR practices across a set of brands. This study illustrates how the hierarchical nature of the luxury fashion field is both socially constructed and institutionally legitimised. Based on an analytical division of brands into three categories - dominant, (re-)emerging and challenger brands - three respective PR strategies are delineated: capitalizing, selective and opportunistic PR strategies. This study contributes to literatures on sociology of fashion, PR research and luxury brand management, in that scant attention was given to assessing PR practices across brands in a social field, let alone the impact of hierarchical brand positions on PR strategies.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Terry Newholm (Supervisor)
Award date31 Dec 2020