Karine Laudort is a publicist, freelance fashion & lifestyle journalist and expert fashion commentator. We had the pleasure of sitting down with the international PR maverick for an exclusive Mogul Magazine interview.
The aspirational fashion enthusiast was born and raised in France. In 2001 she decided to move to the UK to work. After eight years of living and working in Manchester in Accounting and Financial Services, she then moved to London to work in Banking. After thirteen years in the finance industry, Karine built a solid reputation working for major blue chips such as ExxonMobile, New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), Citibank and Barclays to name a few…
In the midst of her banking career, Karine rediscovered her love for fashion (as she had also modelled on and off commercially for over 10 years). She quickly realised she had a natural talent for organising fashion events which then led her into Fashion then Lifestyle PR.
“I thought, how can I leave finance for pr? No doors will open for me. But my love and passion for Fashion was stronger so I had to try”
Some people around me couldn’t understand why I would leave the Finance sector to work for myself, in Fashion PR. But I chose to follow my passion and create my own business. I knew hell would break loose if it worked, and if it didn’t, then I could always fall back on Banking.”
In 2013 there was a big banking crisis plus lots of media coverage about investment banking scandals. Around the same time, Karine who was a contractor whilst also running Kay Flawless part-time, realised it was the perfect time to dedicate all her time fully to her PR business in order for it to take off.
In December 2020, Karine celebrated her ten years in business.
Did having a background in finance help you regarding discipline and organisation when starting your own business?
100% I studied business in a business school. Me being a risk analyst (for ExxonMobil) at some point in my career, I had to digest lots of information. Analysts have to read a lot, condense ideas quickly and make decisions based on their findings. I realised I could articulate my ideas and put them on paper in an exciting way for people to read.
I started writing freelance for magazines and it has now been eight years since I’ve been writing. I started as a Feature Editor, Lifestyle Editor, then Fashion Editor and lastly, Editor-in-Chief, so I have seen the whole world of publishing.
“I knew fashion and lifestyle was my life. The more I did PR on the side, the sadder I was at work. I had the financial rewards; I was very well-paid. When people say money isn’t everything, I wholeheartedly agree. If you’re not fulfilled, or you don’t feel appreciated in your job, and you see other people are reaping the rewards of your hard work, especially in a business as a woman or a woman of colour.”
It sounds like you are in demand no matter what field you choose to work in?
Well, I don’t know about that. However, I would say that my CV was still brilliant when I left the banking sector. I still get solicited from time to time. The first three years of starting a business, do not expect a full return on my investment if you are going alone as I did. Unless you’re selling a top-selling product or service, go viral from the beginning, or have investors backing your company. That was not my case, so I had to work very hard and be grateful to break even. Publishing is not an easy road either.
“Every step of the way, you have to stay motivated. There are challenges, and you still have to create inspiring content and give your audience what they want”.
How did you balance your love for PR and fashion and lifestyle with creating good content that was still engaging?
My first love was fashion PR, plus I had done modelling up until my mid-30s. I saw there was so much to do. I have a corporate business background, but many entrepreneurs don’t have that training. They can be very creative but not necessarily business-minded. The businesswoman in me knew that I needed to be both. I learned how to brand and market things to make them look a particular way. Being on the other side, when you write, and you’re looking for compelling stories, you learn to understand what people are interested in reading.
I knew how to play the game. If you are a writer or a PR dealing with journalists, you will learn how to deal with them, and this also taught me how to pitch my clients. I had my finger on the pulse, and I knew what would be of interest.
For years I mainly worked for black lifestyle publications and everything around that spectrum, but I then started doing expert commentaries for the Daily Mail, the Express and Metro, and this gave me a different perspective in terms of mainstream media, politics and what they found compelling as a story. I learned how to navigate in that space as a woman and as a black woman. It was very eye-opening.
Are there any myths you can bust about the journalism industry regarding being a black woman?
It’s exactly as I expected it to be. Becoming a journalist is very competitive and can be very difficult to get into as often it is more to do with whom you know.
You may have no experience and no journalism qualifications, but you could still learn on the job and get into the industry because you knew somebody who gave you a chance and that was difficult to accept but unfortunately it is like that in many industries such as the Entertainment. It is pretty much the same in the Fashion industry. Having 7- or 8-years’ experience is not always enough to get a job either.
Has the pandemic slowed you down in any way, or has it helped you to refine your purpose?
It’s been good and bad. People were still going through hardship, and when people go through hardship, they don’t necessarily want to spend on what they see as non-essential and, unfortunately, Marketing or PR, are soft skills or rarely at the top of their businesses’ priority list.
No one saw COVID-19 coming nor that the whole world was going to be lockdown. In 2019 I decided to operate a remote-only company. I had looked online at the business models of companies that made multi-million dollars a year, had thousands of employees and have no offices. Everybody was working from home and remotely, so it fitted perfectly the type of business I wanted to run and the digital nomad lifestyle I wanted to live, as I love travelling. I want to be able to work from anywhere and not be dependent on brick and mortar. With that in mind, Kay Flawless PR transitioned as Kay Flawless at the end of 2019. In the midst of C-19, many businesses and brands started caring a lot more about their digital print and presence.
What would you say is your most significant achievement?
One particular year, we did PR for Vancouver Fashion Week. It’s 35 shows. It was an enormous task, and I got a couple of nods of approval from a couple of massive UK agencies I have never worked with.
I was delighted and what made me most proud was that for the very first time, Vancouver Fashion Week was featured in the UK press and British Vogue online might I add, and all because of me. Until then, they were going for ten years, and they never had any media coverage in the UK.
You never know who is watching, and it has not to do with how many followers you have as some people may be watching your journey in silence – for weeks, months, even years, and then one day, you get that email or phone call and everything changes.
Can you name three qualities that have helped you on your entrepreneurial journey?
The banking environment is very aggressive, so if you can survive that, you can survive anything. Being organised and being connected has helped me tremendously. Lastly, I would say reading. I read a lot; I am very focused on what it is I feed my mind. During the pandemic, there have been times when I knew I had to switch off because it was becoming too much. You can get overwhelmed and anxious if you receive too much information or (bad) news. If you are not feeling great mentally, you will not be able to focus on work, and you will not hit your targets. Mental and physical health is critical. Without that, the sole concept of being able to run a business successfully is out the window.
I have had to set many boundaries for certain things, such as not answering emails or phone calls on weekends (unless business-critical or emergency). When you work from home, people assume you do not have a life. I have learned to discipline myself.
How does the American fashion scene differ from the British one?
The US gives a completely different experience as a European person in their space. I know for a fact I would have progressed a lot further if I was in America. Even for you, I have seen some of the people you have interviewed and interacted with. If you were based in the ATL (Atlanta) or New York we would be having a very different conversation.
“It’s the same reason why although there are amazingly talented black actors here in the UK, many of them often have to go to America or Canada to get a big break, often black actors in Britain do not get the opportunities they deserve. They often have to go and make it in America before being recognised or appreciated in the UK.”
But with that said, America can make you and break you very quickly. It is good and bad everywhere.
You sound very strategic & powerful.
I am a publicist at heart and one of my favourite series was Scandal. The way “Olivia Pope” did her job when you think about how strategic she was and how every decision she made is like playing chess, I absolutely loved the character. The brain is a muscle, so I always try to flex the best I can. As they say, knowledge is power, so the more you know, the further you go. We are women and considering we are starting at a disadvantage we have to flex that muscle at all times, and more than anybody else.
You say that I am powerful…It is true to a degree, but one thing society tends to do is act as if black women don’t feel pain when we do. I am sensitive, but at the same time, we need to grow a thick skin to be able to handle what life throws at us. 2021 is no joke, the way things are going, you have to be really mentally strong. Know your limitations, know when it is too much or when you need help, it is okay to say NO. You cannot be strong all the time, if people think you are very strong all the time, they will quickly overlook you when you actually need them.