If Melissa Skoog Dunagan were to tell you she’s learned from the best, she wouldn’t be exaggerating. At all.
Melissa started her career working as Anna Wintour’s assistant (yes, that job), before becoming an editor at Marie Claire. She later made a transition into the fashion industry, working at Banana Republic before eventually rising to become the vice president of public relations for Prada. (See? Not exaggerating).
Now the owner of her own fashion PR firm in Chicago, she manages an impressive client roster that’s included Burberry, Christian Louboutin and The Art Institute of Chicago, along with a growing team of “SKOOGettes.” Here, we chat with Melissa about her success, her infamous first job, and why she’s always a work in progress.
YOUR FIRST JOB WAS AT VOGUE, AS ANNA WINTOUR’S ASSISTANT. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this, I wouldn’t have to work! But seriously, it was a dream first job because there is no better teacher than Anna. She is a genius and a legend to people who don’t know her and she is the same for those who do. She is a true role model and class act.
YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER AS A FASHION PUBLICIST IN NEW YORK. WHO DID YOU WORK FOR?
My first communications position in New York City was as the director of public relations for Prada and specifically just for the Women’s collection of RTW, accessories and shoes. I then was promoted for VP of PR overseeing men’s and women’s a little over a year later.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WORK WITH SUCH WELL-KNOWN BRANDS? WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM IT?
I credit a large part of my success to working for major, well-known brands. Each brand I worked for (Vogue Magazine, Marie Claire Magazine, Banana Republic, Prada) all had distinct brand filters and a very high standards of excellence so I worked with top brass people as peers and business partners so it always challenged me to know and do more, as best I could.
HOW DID YOU END UP IN CHICAGO?
My husband! Ironically I was born and raised just outside the city so it was definitely a “coming home” but we moved here for his work.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO START YOUR OWN FIRM?
I was an independent contractor for marketing and communications until February 2012, when I landed a major marketing account. I had one employee and one intern with the promise of hiring another so I started staffing up immediately and really look at that month/year as when I officially became a firm.
HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT GETTING YOUR FIRST CLIENTS?
Fortunately since I’ve been in the industry such a long time, I’ve gotten to know many interesting people doing amazing things all over the world in fashion, luxury and lifestyle. All of my business, so far, has been through word of mouth or directly working with a friend.
WHO DO YOU WORK WITH NOW?
We have a roster of amazing clients primarily in fashion but also in food and lifestyle.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE BIGGEST SUCCESSES FOR YOUR FIRM SINCE YOU STARTED IT?
My biggest success has been my team, hands down, no contest to anything else! I’m in a mind-share/human capital business so you are only as good as your team. They refer to themselves as the SKOOGettes internally and it puts such a smile on my face and warmth in my heart each and every time I hear that because I know we’ve created a wonderful dynamic and team-focused environment to work in.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
I love that there are no set rules on how I can work with clients. What may be right for one client may not be right for another so we’re able to cater our offerings specifically to each clients’ needs. It also keeps our work interesting and challenging. It’s never staid, that’s for sure!
WHAT CAREER ADVICE DO YOU LIVE BY?
Be true to yourself always and always find the lesson in everything you succeed in and fail in. I will always and forever be a “work in progress” no matter what successes I have under my belt. It keeps me grounded and always curious.
WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU LOOK FOR IN POTENTIAL EMPLOYEES?
People with entrepreneurial minds who treat the business as if it were their own.
WHAT CAREER ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE LOOKING TO GET INTO FASHION PR?
If you are still in school, take a few retail business classes to truly understand the business of retail. All creative strategies are derived from business objectives so it will give you an advantage on what to look out for. If you’re in or out of school, be up on influencers and bloggers nationwide and have a point of view on what makes them work, who their target audience is, and what brands are attracted to them and why. Digital is incredibly important these days.