Military precision is not the first thing that springs to mind when considering the slightly chaotic proceedings of London Fashion Week, which begins this weekend. But being fantastically well organised and possessing a steely determination is the reason Sam Fearn has sustained a successful fashion PR agency.
Fearn, 33, has worked with high street shoe brands Nine West, Bertie and Pied A Terre since she established Fearnhurst PR in 2002. The agency previously had All Saints, Hobbs and Kookai on its books.
In July, the announcement of her new venture, Fashion Press Week, made waves in the industry.
In the past, there have been hundreds of fashion press days that took place over a period of weeks. But this November they will all be held under one roof on one day, saving journalists time and attracting a broad global media presence for the brands involved.
Fearn says: 'Every fashion brand has a press day and the press is getting very frustrated about how to get around all the brands.'
The event has been so popular that an extra day has already been added, and Fearn plans to roll the initiative out in fashion capitals New York, Milan and Paris over the next two years.
Fearn, who has been in the industry for 16 years, secured her first paid PR job straight out of university, working for Shandwick International - now Weber Shandwick - in New York. She joined Hill & Knowlton as an account director two years later.
After returning to the UK in 2001, Fearn struggled to get a job at the same level because she was so young. She had to make a decision: take a backward step or create her own opportunity. So, aged just 24, the self-professed 'control freak' established her own agency.
Just two years later she was dealt a serious blow. Fearn explains: 'I had a bit of a setback when I was 26. Unfortunately I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two weeks later I discovered I was pregnant.
'It was an incredibly difficult period of my life because I had just set up the agency and we were growing, being recognised for our work and winning a lot of new business,' she says. For many, this 'setback' would be a life-changing event, but Fearn took it in her stride and created a mobile office from her hospital bed.
'I was conducting a lot of business meetings in hospital. My priority for Fearnhurst PR was to keep our existing clients happy with the work that we were delivering, so we remained a bit static during that period,' she says. 'But two babies and a number of operations later and we came bouncing back.'
In fact, she came bouncing back with a bang. She was named one of PRWeek's 29 under 29 in 2006 and one of Management Today's 35 under 35 in 2007.
In the same year, she was invited by the Queen to a palace reception recognising 200 women who had made significant contributions to industry.
Fearn's determination wins her plaudits in the fashion world. As House of Fraser chairman Don McCarthy says: 'I've known Sam for over ten years. She has always been extremely tenacious and comes with an engaging personality. She is certainly a very capable PR professional.'
Her competence comes from a true passion for the job, which she describes as her 'hobby'. She unwinds with her laptop in the evenings and takes pleasure in what many find a chore. 'I really enjoy writing proposals, developing strategies and improving communication between press and the brand,' she says. 'For me, that is relaxing.'
Despite her strengths, she has faced some significant professional challenges during her career. 'A lot of people in fashion do not understand how to make a great business out of their talents. Educating these people in making their brands a business has proven extremely difficult, but now that's what we do best,' she says.
Fearn is planning to expand her agency next year, but she says her number one priority is making certain that her work fits around her family.
Her 5am starts and post-midnight finishes, with a relentless schedule of work and family commitments sandwiched in between, make her seem almost superhuman.
In response to the suggestion that she is a bionic woman, Fearn places her tongue quite firmly in her cheek and simply says: 'I work at the speed of light.'
Sam Fearn's turning points
- What was your biggest career break?
Being offered a job at Weber Shandwick's New York office. Judging the PRSA's Silver Anvil Awards gave me credibility in the PR industry in New York. Probably the most significant was a Buckingham Palace reception for 200 women who had made significant contributions to industry.
- Have you had a notable mentor?
I have enormous respect for House of Fraser chairman Don McCarthy, Dune Group CEO John Egan and Marc Worth, founder of WGSN. But my father Philip is my biggest mentor. He has a vision and a drive that I was determined to inherit.
- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?
Perseverance, hard work and confidence will move you up that ladder quickly. Make sure you enjoy what you do. They say you create your own luck - seek out the opportunities and don't expect them to just come your way.
- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?
Enthusiasm, passion and drive, with a hunger to learn but the right skills to deliver. You need to be able to think on your feet, react fast and multitask.
Tell PRWeek about your career turning point.
2002 Founder, Fearnhurst PR
2000 Account director, Hill & Knowlton (New York office)
1999 Assistant account executive - awards officer, Shandwick International (New York office)
1997 Intern, Bridgehouse PR