Rachel Dodes is a reporter for The Wall Street Journals' Retail & Luxury Group. She talked to PRWeek about the evolution of the section, the effect that the current economic situation has had on her coverage, and her interaction with PR people.
PRWeek: Why don't you start out by telling me a little bit about your background in fashion journalism and what brought you to The Wall Street Journal.
Rachel Dodes: Before I came to The Wall Street Journal, I had no background at all in fashion journalism. I was covering high-yield bonds and credit derivatives at Reuters and freelancing on the side for The New York Times. So I wrote for Sunday Styles, a couple of night-out pieces, and blogs and circuit stories, but really nothing fashion-related at all. I have to say to the Journal's credit, they saw my background and thought I would be a good addition to the style coverage so it was great.
PRWeek: Is fashion and style something you've always kind of enjoyed and wanted to cover?
Dodes: No, actually. I've always enjoyed it and had a personal passion for it, but I never really envisioned myself doing this until I started and it was great and I love it.
PRWeek: So what will be your role within WSJ., the lifestyle magazine that's launching this September?
Dodes: It's unclear at this point. From what I see right now, I'll probably contribute to it from time to time if they let me. Other than that, they have their own staff.
PRWeek: In your story about the [Metropolitan Museum of Art] exhibit "Blog.mode Addressing Fashion,” you wrote that the museum is…acknowledging that traditional fashion criticism is over. What's your take on that? How does that affect what you cover and how you cover it?
Dodes: I'm not a fashion critic so it really doesn't affect what I do. I try to just cover it from a business perspective, and you know, far be it for me to determine what's going to be in next season. I leave that to the critics. But I think that the Web is changing the fashion industry, and there are a lot of very influential bloggers who know a great deal more about the intricacies of the fashion business than I do, stylistically, and I respect that, and I read them, and I think it's great.
PRWeek: A lot of people think fashion is kind of late to the blogosphere, new media, and social media. Do you agree?
Dodes: In terms of e-commerce?
Dodes: I think there was a stigma with luxury goods being on the Internet early on, and I think that's really changing with eLUXURY and Net-A-Porter. They've had some really interesting business models and a lot of retailers are getting on the Web and trying interesting things now. It's a really interesting time for it.
PRWeek: How has the current economic situation either posed a challenge or been a positive force for you in generating news?
Dodes: It's kept me very busy. There have, unfortunately, been some retail bankruptcies recently, and I've been covering that. Also, the economy is the big story right now. That's what we're all covering. We had a page-one story [where] we noticed that certain companies were still doing well. Richemont and Hermes - their earnings were still going strong in spite of the downturn and their earnings were particularly strong in the US so we decided to investigate what's going on with the consumer. Why are people still splurging on luxury goods even though the economy is in a downturn?
PRWeek: Economy aside, how has the luxury and retail section evolved or changed over the years?
Dodes: It didn't exist…a little over two years ago. I started at the Journal in the Pursuit section. It's now called Weekend, but there was a section called Pursuits, and it was basically the lifestyle section of the Journal, and they took the reporters who covered style for Pursuits and put them in this bigger group that was organized by subject rather than region. There are about five or six reporters, a few editors, a couple of reporters in Paris, someone in LA, so we have global coverage of the industry.
PRWeek: What does that say about the industry? Are people more interested in reading about it?
Dodes: It's become a much larger business. Twenty years ago there weren't these giant conglomerates. In the 1980's there was an arms race between LVMH and PPR to snap up all these luxury brands and they built up these huge portfolios. Now, it's really a multi-billion dollar business so people are interested in it. Also, because of pop culture, people are really interested in the fashion industry. Just look at Project Runway and Make Me a Supermodel and America's Next Top Model. Everyone is just sort of obsessed with the inner-workings of the fashion industry, and I can see why. There are a lot of characters. It makes it easy to write about. There's just so much personality there.
PRWeek: In what way do you most often interact with PR people?
Dodes: I prefer e-mail. I cover companies, Polo, Jones Apparel Group, Liz Claiborne, and Macy's, so I deal with a lot of their internal PR people when I'm working on a story and have great relationships with all of them. They've been incredibly helpful, but basically most of my ideas are self-generated. At the Journal, I think that's pretty much how things go. When I get a pitch, I never really do the story in the pitch, but it might relate to something I'm already working on.
So how do you get your scoops and trend ideas?
Dodes: I read, I keep my earlobe to the ground and with trend ideas, I read a lot of magazines, I read blogs, I just look out the window and see what's going on.
PRWeek: What is the craziest PR pitch you've ever gotten?
Dodes: I got one recently for this thing called Pooperie. It was for a spray you're supposed to use after using the bathroom. I thought it was so funny that I forwarded it to someone in the office.
PRWeek: Did anyone write about it?
Dodes: Not here, it wasn't really for us.
PRWeek: Do you travel for your beat?
Dodes: Yeah, I do. For a few seasons, it varies, but I've gone to Fashion Week in Milan and Paris. If I'm working on a story where someone is based in LA, I'll go to LA. It depends on the story I'm working on.
PRWeek: Do you have any advice for PR people trying to pitch you?
Dodes: I come up with my own ideas, so it's hard to pitch to me and us in general. I'm looking for news. We like to break news. We like [merger and acquisition] news. We like to have the exclusive obviously. I like new, big advertising campaign news. For example, I did a story about this new campaign that Vogue was doing called Model Live, so that was a good scoop.
Name: Rachel Dodes
Title: Reporter, retail and luxury
Outlet: The Wall Street Journal
Preferred contact method: Rachel.Dodes@wsj.com
Web site: http://wsj.com/