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PR Gets Gritty – An Interview with Grit Co-Founder Blake Scotland

Blake Scotland, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of the Grit PR and marketing agency, knows a thing or two about creating successful marketing strategies and PR campaigns. The Georgetown grad founded Grit alongside Janjay Sherman, who was just exiting her role as PR and Talent Relations Director at Paper Mag.

 

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DKNY Jeans client of Grit PR | Photo: Spring/Summer 2015 Campaign

Blake Scotland, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of the Grit PR and marketing agency, knows a thing or two about creating successful marketing strategies and PR campaigns. The Georgetown grad founded Grit alongside Janjay Sherman who was just exiting her role as PR and Talent Relations Director at Paper Mag. “At the time, I owned a boutique on Clinton Street in the LES (Lower East Side) selling men’s and women’s contemporary brands. Over time, the store had become more of a clubhouse than a retail space,” states Scotland. They would host parties, brand launches and album listening sessions for artist friends such as MeLo-X, a current PR client of Grit. Additionally, Scotland was hosting a bi-weekly event at Tribeca Grand coined BPMLWRLVL – which she says is still one of his fave NYC dance parties. Scotland adds, “I had been working and playing at the intersection of brands and artists for some time. DJ Mess Kid was resident DJ of that party, and when Janjay came to BPM the first time, she heard his sound, took one look at Artem (Mess Kid), and was like, ‘We need to work with this kid.’” Similar to Janjay, Scotland had a very traditional PR background – first at Ruder Finn in their London office and second at a smaller consultancy, The Communication Group, also in London.

“I’ve always loved PR and communications, crafting and telling stories. I suppose what’s different about Grit though, is that as an owner-partner, in addition to the media lists and press releases, parties and events – my role is client relations, business development, team building, negotiation and new client acquisition,” Scotland interjects. Her favorite aspect of the role is seeing to it that clients succeed. “I love being a part of telling the story or making the introduction that makes a difference for the client – when you can see a brand or creative’s stock rise before your eyes. Our clients put in endless hours as well. They’re so deserving.”

One of the agency’s most successful campaign stories was that consisting of internet personality, Baddie Winkle, in 2015. Baddie Winkle’s iconic Kurt Cobain, Michel Lamy and Kate Moss-inspired shoots created a whirlwind of buzz within the industry. Grit was in existence for almost two years without a website. The site merely featured a holding page that said ‘Coming Soon.’ “When the time came, we wanted a website that showed our creativity, rather than said ‘This company is creative,’” says Scotland. At that time, Scotland brainstormed the who’s and what’s of inspiration and the primary person that came to mind was Michel Lamy. “She’s beautiful, so honest about who she is, embraces her uniqueness…I could go on. It resonated with me for various reasons, but primarily because we were not, are not and never will be traditional agency owners [or] executives; and while exciting, being dismissed as eccentric can also be exhausting.”

Reminiscing of the exact moment Baddie Winkle became the choice, Scotland says, “At some point my partner was like, ‘Blake, Michel [Lamy] is not coming here from Paris to be shot for this website! So let it go.’ And in that moment one of our employees spoke up and said, ‘Have you guys heard of Baddie Winkle?’ The rest is history. Upon pulling up Baddie’s Instagram, Scotland could see her transform into Lamy. Subsequently, Grit reached out to Baddie’s team via email and they answered them right away. Two weeks later Baddie and her granddaughter – who was 17 years-old at the time – booked a flight to NY. “I had no idea what to expect of her personality. She was just the kindest, most genuine, down-for-the-cause, and to tell the truth –gritty person! It was divine. We shot her as Kate and Kurt alongside Michel to ensure that the message of tenacity and nonconformity would resonate,” Scotland mentions. The timing of the campaign played a major part in its winning response from industry peers and the public. The campaign was so successful for multiple reasons, one of which was timing. Scotland states, “It was early enough that Baddie had a following (500K Instagram followers at the time), but was not yet a celebrity.” Grit then launched a street poster campaign that went up on NYC streets overnight the evening before the site launch. All of this coincided with extensive press momentum. Scotland describes the campaign as “being caught up in a tidal wave.” And voila! Baddie served as the proper intro for the inimitable agency.

 

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Image from rap dose.com

 

Grit’s first event was a partnership with DJ Chelsea Leyland. She wanted to throw a big rave for her birthday in a loft space with DJ sets and live performances. “Events tend to be very expensive. We identified DKNY Jeans as a potential partner and the brand was into it,” Scotland articulates. “That one event had tremendous upside ripple effect for both CL (Chelsea Leyland) and DKNY – who went on to craft an entire ‘Real New Yorkers’ ad campaign around a similar theme. Tapping the creative community at the heart and soul of what makes this city so…well, New York.” Grit went on to create similar strategic partnerships and experiences for brands of the likes of Pigalle, PAX, Cointreau, A$AP Mob and Know Wave, along with others. Speaking on her favorite Grit project to date, Scotland says that last December’s Art Basel event for A$AP Mob x Know Wave was the big hit for her. “It was this amazing juxtaposition of worlds colliding – Know Wave [and] Moran Bondaroff being well-respected within high-end contemporary art, coupled with this gritty hip hop scene. All partners – the brands and hotel – contributed the resources that they could to enable that project to come to fruition. I have a special working relationship with A$AP Bari (Creative Director of A$AP Mob) – one of mutual trust, appreciation and respect. It’s a cool thing,” says Scotland.

Living in 2016, marketing and social media trends change almost daily. Social media particularly is the most valuable asset for brands. “It’s impossible to overstate or avoid the importance of social media for brands. It’s forcing us as publicists and marketers to be way more creative,” Scotland states. Creativity coupled with a strong social media campaign can bolster the impression of a brand or figure in the industry. Since any artist or brand can release their own content these days, an agency must bring its A-game to prove its necessity and relevancy. As Scotland mentions, consumers are hit daily with an inundation of information. Therefore, an agency must strategically execute a plan to surpass the “noise.” She adds “We’ve had Vine users amplify the effects of a guerilla marketing stunt from tens to hundreds of thousands of views in days. While I’ve personally been reluctant to accept this change, we all might as well embrace it.”

Reflecting on her career advice for those green to the world of PR, Scotland remarks that “your relationships will be key; so treat everyone how you want to be treated.” This statement is true of really any industry you come in contact with. “But if you aspire to embark on an entrepreneurial journey in this space, also practice hunkering down and saying ‘no’,” she laughs before adding that “the work will be stressful, and you’ll often feel underappreciated, but pause periodically to enjoy the special PR moments that inevitably come along just by being in the room – beauty in the madness type thing. You will see and experience some sh-t. Enjoy it!”

You can visit the agency at http://gritcreativegroup.com