This study examines the relationship between fashion PR and fashion coverage in UK newspapers and suggests that such coverage is overwhelmingly generated by PR, to the extent that little if any independent fashion journalism actually exists. Despite the fact that existing research on news sources has pointed to the rising influence of PR on media content, the connection between fashion PR and journalism remains unstudied and overlooked. However, the amount of fashion content within UK newspapers has grown significantly over the past two decades, and now occupies a significant amount of space, extending well beyond fashion pages and supplements.
This thesis uses empirical evidence to shed light upon the largely closed world of fashion PR and its relationship with fashion journalism. Quantitative and qualitative research methods have been used in order to explore the original hypothesis. They include content analysis of a cross section of UK newspapers during 2004; semi-structured interviews in 2005/06 with fashion PR professionals, fashion journalists and fashion industry insiders; as well as participant observation within a fashion PR agency in 2005. The author’s personal experience within fashion PR and fashion journalism has played a key role in developing insights into a trading relationship which both parties have traditionally had difficulty discussing.
The research has found that fashion journalism recycles large amounts of PR material, usually with few checks or criticisms. Newspapers in general do not fund original, i.e. non-PR based, fashion research. Thus, supplying ready-made copy to the fashion press, PR acts as the main provider of access to the latest collections, sample clothes, interviews with designers, celebrities and ‘approved gossip’, hence exerting massive leverage over
journalists. Fashion journalists on the other hand remain the gate-keepers as they decide which fashion company ultimately gets coverage. Therefore arguably their main responsibility lies within choosing amongst PR sources as well as when and how to use those. However it has to be noted that even then their power is circumscribed as they cannot ignore some fashion PR. As a result this thesis claims that, despite a limited role in selecting material, fashion journalism is journalism in name only and that it exhibits few if any of the other characteristics that are traditionally ascribed to the profession.
This research has found that despite increased amounts of coverage fashion does not rank highly within the hierarchies of UK newspapers and is of limited importance in terms of traditional news values. Arguably this is why it is often overlooked in studies of journalism and print media. However it does attract large advertising budgets and is thus given pre-booked editorial space. This makes it an important area within UK newspapers, which with its lifestyle rather than news focus operates independently of the news desk. The fact that the largely female fashion department is not as closely overseen by the largely male editorial staff as other areas of newspapers allows room for maximum PR activity. One of this thesis's contributions to knowledge derives from its critical examination of this under-examined area within the news media.
Fashion PR is also overlooked in the more limited scholarly research into the PR industry, which tends to privilege political or corporate communication. Consequently another contribution to knowledge arises from the way in which this thesis critically examines this important PR sector and explores the nature of its work. One aspect of this is the use of
celebrities within fashion PR, demonstrating that this is ubiquitous and more prominent than in any other comparative sector. This study further claims that PR plays an important part in the manufacturing and maintenance of celebrities for the purpose of fashion promotion.
However the principal contribution to knowledge derives from the examination of how these two disciplines - fashion journalism and PR - relate to each other. This often furtive relationship has hitherto eluded academic study, arguably due to an underlying conspiracy of silence as well as the informal nature of their relationship. The research has identified contemporary fashion PR as a multifaceted cultural phenomenon with vast economical power that forms the crucial connecting link between the fashion industry and fashion journalism – and hence the wider public, extending its authority into various directions. The overall aim of this study is to contribute to the restricted literature on the topic by providing a sound base towards the creation of a symbiotic relationship between the disciplines of fashion PR and fashion journalism.