DKNY PR Girl Wanted To Take You For Coffee, So She Wrote This Book

Photo: Courtesy of Aliza Licht.
If she could, Aliza Licht would like to take you for coffee. She’d tell you all about her decision to switch gears in college, drop her pre-med courses, and pursue a career in fashion. And, she’d hold nothing back in relaying her experience busting her butt for a high-profile fashion magazine right out of college, never quitting despite some less-than-stellar bosses. But, should Licht actually schedule coffee dates with her more than 500,000 Twitter followers, it’s safe to assume that she’d have very little time left for her job as the senior vice president of global communications at Donna Karan — or, as most know her, DKNY PR Girl. So, Aliza did the next best thing and wrote all her advice down. In her debut book, Leave Your Mark, Licht joins the pack of badass women — ones who aren't afraid to divulge the lousy, tough parts of their careers, while sharing advice for how you can navigate your own — who have made themselves virtual mentors for anyone else trudging through the same hustle. Think Lean In but with Fashion Week, or #Girlboss but less dumpster diving. The difference is that Aliza sees it all through the lens of style. "Fashion is a bit of a bootcamp," she tells us. "We experience things in a hyper-sensitized way and I think everything is a bit more dramatic and intense. Because of that, we’re very highly trained to deal with drama." Of course, this PR girl's personal story does not want for drama. Just like her open-book of a Twitter alter ego, she lets us in on all the scintillating details of her career climb and social media rise, while keeping her former bosses, coworkers, and clients' names safe. After all, she's a mentor, not a gossip monger.
140 characters is one thing, but 250-plus pages is another. You mention that you wrote your book in record time (three months!), what were some of the biggest challenges?
"With any author, they recommend you write an outline of what your story’s going to be. I don’t have content calendars [for Twitter]. I do everything off the cuff. So, I had to just start writing and see where my brain went. My husband made this Excel sheet mapping out how many words a day I needed to write, and he came up with 596 words a day. I cut that down into Tweets and I thought, “Well, that’s not that many tweets.” So, that’s how I challenged myself every day." All the office drama you dealt with early in your career was kind of a bummer — we especially hated the story of "Charles," the coworker who wanted someone else's job and went out of his way to get them in trouble. It sucks to work with people who don't have your back. Do you think it's still that way in the fashion industry, or has there been a shift in society as a whole?
"I hope that I’m not alone, but I feel like there’s something in the air that makes women want to help other women. I personally think Sheryl Sandberg’s book had a lot to do with it. [Lean In] raised a lot of feminist issues and brought them back to the surface. With feminist issues comes this sort of sisterly mentality of wanting women to have power, wanting women to succeed, and everything that goes with that. You may not agree with everything in her book, but I think there’s a lot of positive things that [came from] it." In the book, you mention Patti Cohen, your own personal mentor that you've worked with at Donna Karan for the past 17 years, in a way that was really touching. How did you come to recognize how important your relationship with her would be? What did you do to become a great mentee?
"There was never a conversation of, 'Will you be my mentor?' first of all. I don’t think I even used that word before I started writing this book. My whole career at Donna Karan while working for her has been, 'What can I do to help her?' and 'How can I be this star employee to make myself succeed, and her proud and happy?' That was an intuitive way for me to be. That’s how I work." That's kind of ironic. You didn't think of the word mentor, yet this book itself is a mentorship?
"The idea of a book being a mentorship was 100% the goal from the start. It was really the whole idea of not being able to grab coffee with everyone. Of course, the minute I think about everyone who needs career advice, [a mentorship is] what I think of. But, I’ve been doing this for so long, so I don’t think I’m seeking out my own advice. That's why it was really nice to write on paper that Patti is my boss and my mentor. When do you have to write that down on a piece of paper? Never, right? It made it more touching to just see it in print."
Do you see any differences in young people who are trying to break into the fashion industry today, as opposed to when you did about 20 years ago? How much are you taking social media into account when you're hiring? 
"Breaking into fashion has nothing to do with social media. Not every job requires people to have a social profile at all. I just think if you’re going to have one, think about how it’s going to affect you professionally. And, with regards to personal branding, this isn’t saying, 'Oh, you need to have a social profile, you need to have all these followers.' Absolutely not. It’s just: How does your personal brand come off to just people who are around you? For me, the number one thing that I care about is really passion and sincerity. The people you work with, you spend more time with than your spouses, your boyfriends — and for me, I want to be around good people." The "Take a Selfie" sections of the book were really interesting. They're essentially a chance to turn a mirror on yourself, so you can be honest about certain parts of your life and career. Do you find one particular “selfie” to be the most challenging?
"I think when you don’t want to admit that you might not be perfectly happy. Similar to when I was approached with the book, you start to think, Oh, well, I can’t do that because I don’t have the income, or I can’t move states. You make every obstacle in the world to get out of asking yourself the real question. I think public perception determines a lot of that and it shouldn’t. At the end of the day, you report to yourself. I think that’s a huge lesson."

Here's a bit of social media quick-fire for you:

Favorite hashtag? 
"#PRgirlproblems (I use it all the time!)."

The longest time you've gone without tweeting?
"I’ve never missed a day. I can’t remember exactly, but no more than eight hours."

Your biggest Twitter pet peeve?
"When people tweet really nice things to you, like, 'Oh, I’m such a huge fan!' and you check their timeline and they sent the exact same tweet to 20 different people."

The approximate hours of the day you spend on social media? 
"I have a second screen on my desk for Twitter. I’m pretty much always moving over to see what’s going on; I guess, if you add it all up, a few hours?"

What’s the most random, off-the-beaten-path place one of your followers has connected to you from?
"Hungary! I have to say, I did this tweet once where I was like, 'It’s 6:57 a.m. in New York, about to jump in the shower, #hairwashday.' And I asked, 'What time is it where you are?' The places I got back in that response was anywhere from Seoul to Indonesia to Moscow…every single country you can imagine! It just proves the global community that Twitter is."

Okay, one last question: 
Do you think it’s possible to be successful without a mentor today?
"I think whether you call the person a mentor or not, no one does anything alone and we all need support systems. There’s probably people in your life that you don’t even realize are mentors and are. I don’t think we need to sort of focus on the word so much. It can be your sister, your dad, anybody. We all need people to bounce ideas off of. And, I think those people who think they can do it alone might be able to get by for a while, but at the end of the day, it’s much more gratifying when you’re part of a team [and have] people who are happy for you when you succeed and are there for you when you fall down." Leave Your Mark is available today.

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