Last week, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Retail” Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Douglas Elliman Real Estate’s retail group, passed away. The untimely loss rattled many in the real estate community, as well as a bevy of journalists who took to social media and penned articles and obituaries to bid her farewell. Another group of folks also surfaced to reminisce and share Faith stories and that’s the public relations professionals, like me, who worked alongside her during her storied 34-year real estate career.
My first encounter with Faith was in my earliest days as a publicist. A newly minted associate account executive and all of not even 22 years old (it earned me a funny, but apropos nickname from Faith — Baby Fil), I was handed the feather-in-my-cap assignment to manage Faith and then-business partner Joseph Aquino’s PR needs. I was told it would keep me rather busy and it was true. Nobody understood the great value of publicity more than Faith!
For more than seven years, we collaborated closely, penning articles, pitching stories, reacting to trends, producing reports and updates, announcing exclusive agencies and news of marquis retailers making their way to major cities across the globe, including her beloved home base, New York. We strategized over the move from Garrick-Aug to Douglas Elliman. We attended events and lunches, meet and greets with journalists, speaking engagements, galas and award ceremonies. There were laughs, tears, ups and downs and plenty of memories along the way. Much like the Sinatra song “New York, New York,” I knew if I could make it working with this dynamic, nonstop force known as Faith, I could make it anywhere — or with any client.
Those who saw Faith in action would wonder what her PR magic was, often mulling what helped her get — and stay! — on top in a competitive, crowded business. Some did so with admiration and others with a hint of envy or disdain. My take? There is much to learn from the way she prioritized PR, branding, marketing and relationships. In a fitting tribute, I could think of no better way to tip my hat to Faith than to share some of the PR lessons learned from working with this dynamo:
1. Be the talk of the town. Faith was oh-so-quotable because, in addition to answering questions clients or members of the media asked of her, she had plenty of memorable sound bites to offer up at a moment’s notice. You’d often hear her say “Fashion is my passion and retail is my detail.” She had clever names for neighborhoods, calling a prime stretch of Madison Avenue the “Golden Mile” and used colorful adjectives and alliteration to pepper her commentary and reports. Faith wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and knew that a contrarian point of view or candid remarks were the stuff of television interview final cuts and pull-out quotes in magazines. Plus, she was uber available, always.
2. Commit to the PR process. As a public relations professional of 20 years, I’ll share this truth and a tenet that Faith abided to: If you want to dominate the media dialogue, you need to be all in.
Be willing to invest in the best, putting in the financial backing in place to make your PR a priority. A proper PR budget means you’ll have access to top talent, with the enthusiasm, skill and time commitment to put your needs top-of-mind and to see them through without cutting corners. Faith spent thousands each month to secure her spot in the headlines and it meant her name was synonymous with retail, to her benefit.
3. Develop deep relationships. Faith happily helped journalists and not only did her part, but was also sure to stay in close touch with media friends. She sent handwritten thank-you notes, branded swag, holiday cards and carefully curated gifts, followed her new pals on social media and called to check up on them when life handed them an obstacle. Faith knew that being a media darling meant being a darling! She invited media to lunches or out for drinks so she could get to know them personally. And no contact was too small-time to make the time for. This strategy paid off, since some of the rookie reporters she spoke with years later wound up on the retail beat or freelancing for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or other primo publications.
4. Curate your own content. It’s not enough to rely on others to tell your story. Faith consistently created her own marketing materials, including her signature Faith Report, The Faithful Shopper, Faithful Fashionista, Scene on the Street and numerous regular bylined articles in key trade publications, on a predictable and never-missed schedule. She took deadlines seriously, always, and ensured that her point of view on retailers’ comings and goings and the transformation of retail corridors and neighborhoods had her unique stamp on it. Being an author helps you do that.
5. Brand like it’s your business. Take a cue from Faith and brand like your business depends on it, even if you’re not ready to call yourself the Queen (or King) of anything. Faith had a signature color, branded reports, emblazoned her signature and look on all of the properties she marketed and she took it seriously. So did everyone else! She even used her own name as a tagline, “To find the best retail, you need Faith.”
6. Head out and about. There wasn’t a panel discussion, keynote address or moderator gig that Faith would decline, as long as the topic was on point and she was available. She also attended all the key trade shows and set up interviews while at conferences. The lesson? If you want to position yourself as an industry go-to, you should not only frequently write about what you know, but you should be seen and heard about town talking about it.
7. Embrace what’s new. Faith was 73 years old when she passed away, but up until then you’d find her utilizing video, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and whatever was of the moment to get the word out about the deals she was doing — or the ones she was equipped to do. She could easily have shunned new technology or passed up fresh ways to expand her brand, especially after achieving such noteworthy success for so many years, but she never did. Faith knew what we all should: that you’re only as relevant as what you did yesterday.
8. Grab the bullhorn. It’s amazing how many people wrongfully think that others already heard about their news or read their article or saw that fancy award they just won. Take a page from Faith’s playbook and assume nothing. She announced, through press releases and articles, email blasts and advertising, exclusive agencies she secured, deals she brokered, speaking engagements, new roles on boards or committees, and any public recognition she received. She was unabashed in celebrating her wins and unafraid to share updates with her tens of thousands of contacts.
Last, but not least, remember to be you. Faith was one-of-a-kind and that’s the best way to be remembered. Rest in peace, Faith. May you make the skies chic!
Filomena Fanelli is the CEO and founder of Impact PR & Communications, an award-winning public relations and communications agency with deep expertise working with real estate, retail, hospitality, travel and tourism, food and beverage companies and not-for-profit organizations. For years, she worked closely with Faith Hope Consolo and answered, affectionately, to Baby Fil. The photo above is of the last holiday gift she received from Faith, which now serves as a beautiful reminder of their many years together. xoxo