Photo: Courtesy of Ali Taekman

Communications Consultant

Ali Taekman

Written by Saul Taylor

The West Coast doyenne of creative communications agency BPCM, Taekman got her start in the New York fashion industry before the sunny skies and golden allure of California drew her back home. She explains how LA has transformed from a one-industry town into a magnet for artists of all persuasions.

Can you tell us how you got your start in the industry?

I grew up in California but moved to New York in 1995 after college, with the goal of working in the fashion industry. I had never been to New York before nor did I have any connections, but my dream was to work for Todd Oldham or Isaac Mizrahi (remember, this was the 1990s). As soon as I got there, I found their studio addresses in SoHo and I would literally knock on their doors once a week to see if there were any job opportunities – each time they politely told me to go away.

My roommate worked at Hugo Boss and told me of an opening which at the time didn’t appeal to me – I told her I didn’t want to work for a big, corporate menswear brand. She answered that rent was due, so I went in for an interview, and I got the job. I was hired in the PR department as an assistant to the then-marketing director (and now ed-in-chief of The Daily Front Row) Brandusa Niro.

From there I moved on to other PR jobs, including in-house at Ralph Lauren and Betsey Johnson, and in 2001 opened my own small PR agency called Rand.M Productions. In 2004 my good friend Marie Griffin introduced me to Vanessa Bismarck and Carrie Phillips of BPCM, because they were looking to open an LA office and could not find anyone to run it. I flew to NYC to meet them — we had a breakfast meeting at Balthazar and by the end of the hour we had a handshake deal that I would be their West Coast director. I opened BPCM LA one month later and in 2011 became their partner.

Is there a typical day for you?

Not really and that is what I love. Living on the West Coast with partners and clients in New York and Europe means always waking up to a full in-box of emails. I check them early to see what needs an immediate response, and then head into the office. LA traffic is brutal so on my hour commute I schedule calls with my partners or clients to knock those out early. I spend about 70 per cent of my time in the office working with my team on clients and events, and about 30% out seeing clients or at new business meetings.

Outside of bringing in new business, my role is to oversee and contribute to the strategy on all of the clients in my office, so a lot of my time there is devoted to brainstorming with my team on initiatives and strategic planning, and the rest is spent communicating with clients, building and maintaining industry relationships, and creating new business opportunities.

What do you need to succeed in this industry?

When I first moved to LA from NYC and switched focus from editorial to celebrity dressing, the work felt a bit trivial — I thought, “Who cares what skirt this celebrity wears?” But I quickly learned that the results we were getting was a new form of advertising, and the exposure of these dressing opportunities could have a big impact for brands in both recognition and sales on a global level — and that understanding helped invest me in the process and kept me inspired.

Also, building and maintaining meaningful relationships is absolutely imperative. Relationships are a two-way street – I think the mistake so many people make is to reach out to their contacts only when they need something, but it’s important to create trusted, loyal ongoing relationships that are built not on what one can do for you but a mutual respect for the other person and their job.

What does a fashion brand need to do to connect with its customers in 2019?

The greatest gift social media afforded brands was the opportunity to connect and communicate directly with their customers, so they must take advantage of that and listen. They need to create brand values and standards and then make decisions to support those values, and communicate them clearly and with authority, transparency and authenticity. And so what’s new is you can’t rig the system or fake it anymore, especially in the digital space.

Today brands have no choice but to actually care about authenticity and being authentic if they want to connect. The most equitable option remains what our business has always been about: real people and real relationships founded on real integrity.

West Hollywood, 2019: Opening party for CHANEL Beauty House, a four-day beauty event to celebrate the launch of the Instagram page @welovecoco.

How are you different to your competitors?

When I opened BPCM LA back in 2004, we were the first bi-coastal agency out here, which gave me (and us as an agency) an early opportunity and advantage in relationship-building. We were addressing the exploding celebrity-dressing business early on, and I was able to forge strong personal relationships with the stylists, publicists, agents and talent directly, which has continued to grow over the past decade.

Los Angeles is a very singular market — it’s not like New York or Paris or London. I have seen so many brands come here and try and duplicate what they do in other fashion cities, and it just fails because they don’t understand the nuances of our city. After 15 years, I have a deep understanding of the city’s culture and how it operates, who the players are, and what the social rules are, and I think people and brands value me as a trusted inside source.

BPCM as an agency is set apart in many ways — we are the only agency with partners running and leading each of our offices —which means we have the highest level of experience, relationships and management at the helm of each office. We bring a highly strategic, global perspective to our work, and we identify shifts in the industry before they happen and follow our intuition.

Our team’s interest and passion led us to start a sustainability division when nobody was really even talking about fashion’s environmental impact. Now that it is in the news every day it has quickly become our fastest-growing division. If we have a guiding philosophy, it is to work with brands on projects that we feel an authentic connection to — we have never been afraid to pass on something that doesn’t feel right, so we aren’t motivated by the money but rather the integrity and excitement we have for a brand. BPCM has clients who have been with us for a decade or more, which is unheard of in traditional PR.

What are you working on right now?

There is no “off-season” to what we do, so summer is just as busy as ever. We are working on a beauty event for Chanel; we just launched the sustainable online retailer BUHO, we are executing an influencer event for Essie; promoting new authors and transformational leaders Preethaji and Krishnaji on their upcoming book launch, The Four Sacred Secrets; leading all media activity for the newly renovated Oceana Hotel in Santa Monica, creating an influencer strategy for a newly launched CBD company; creating the guest list for a private dinner for Swire Hotels; devising VIP dressing strategies for the Emmys; hosting and organising a youth climate-change fundraiser in early fall; and working daily on VIP/celebrity/ ambassador opportunities with all our ongoing clients . . .

Art, design, fashion: LA’s having a creative moment right now. Why do you think this is?

For so long LA was a one-industry town – Hollywood. Even when I got here in 2003 I felt very out of place working in fashion – it was definitely in the shadow of the entertainment industry, even though we had so many wonderful and talented designers based here. But over the last decade, more and more big-name creative designers and artists like Tom Ford and Hedi Slimane have made LA their home, and that has helped shine a brighter light on our city’s creative fashion scene.

I think access to celebrities and the power they have to create massive brand exposure has inspired more brands and companies to invest in this market. In the past five years we have seen every global luxury brand stage events in LA so they could access their celebrity clientele directly.

But I think the biggest reason LA is having such a moment is the appeal of our culture, our weather and our lifestyle. New Yorkers and Europeans who used to dismiss LA as a culture-less void are coming in droves now, and so the more diverse the creative population becomes, the more ingenuity and inspiration is born here and the market for fashion, art and design grows. This can be seen it the huge success of the inaugural Frieze Los Angeles last February – Los Angeles has become an increasingly important market for artists, galleries and collectors.

What or who do you turn to for inspiration?

My business partners, Carrie and Vanessa. We all have different skillsets, approaches and perspectives, which makes us great partners. I have such high regard for them and value their insight so much, so when I am feeling stuck or need a gut-check, I will call either one of them. Their input and intuition never fail to inspire me.

What do you think this industry — and your business — will look like 20 years from now?

Clearly one of the biggest areas of change is companies looking at their effect on the planet. And this won’t go away. The types of companies BPCM works with are inherently creative problem-solvers. The brands that resonate most with their customers will be those that are addressing their environmental impacts and using their creativity to innovate solutions. Every data point available tells us that Gen Y/Gen Z want that kind of accountability from brands.