‘PR is no longer just ‘Let’s get
you tons of press.’’

Want to speak to Rihanna, Pharrell or Lady Gaga? You’ll need to speak to The Lede Company first.

Interview by Jonathan Wingfield
Portrait by Peter Ash Lee

Want to speak to Rihanna, Pharrell or Lady Gaga? You’ll need to speak to The Lede Company first.

Amanda Silverman, Christine Su, Meredith O’Sullivan and Sarah Levinson Rothman at the Lede Company’s New York office. - © System Magazine

From left to right: Amanda Silverman, Christine Su, Meredith O’Sullivan and Sarah Levinson Rothman at the Lede Company’s New York office.

What do you say to Will Smith after he slaps Chris Rock? You’re his publicist, he’s about to win an Oscar – a life goal – and you have to help him navigate the moment, with 16 million people watching and social media blowing up in real time. The Lede Company is named after a traditional print journalism term – a ‘lede’ is an arresting opening to a story – but the world this PR powerhouse inhabits could not be further from the slow cycles of old media, when ‘press’ meant writing a press release, and stories were spun on TV news. Online, it takes minutes for a reputation to shatter, whether that of an individual or a multinational corporation, and PR arguably plays the central role in the new space between the personal and professional, between politics and privacy, creativity and commerce.

Meredith O’Sullivan was the publicist with Will Smith that night in March 2022, fielding the most high-profile celebrity PR crisis of our times; four years earlier, she was one of three women meeting in a Santa Monica hotel room, each unsure about the future, having just simultaneously quit senior positions at major PR firm 42West. Contractually barred from reaching out to former clients, O’Sullivan, Amanda Silverman and Sarah Levinson Rothman could only sit and wait for calls to come in. The gamble paid off, and the calls came, bringing an avalanche of A-list celebrities and blue-chip companies to the roster of an agency that didn’t yet have a name: Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, Pharrell Williams, Emma Stone, Amy Schumer, Penélope Cruz, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Garner, the Obamas’ media production company Higher Ground. Soon they were joined by a fourth founder, Christine Su, former vice president for global communications at Converse, and they set about establishing a new approach to PR. Rather than be another celebrity PR firm, Lede focuses on the interplay between creative worlds, in that new space where a celebrity might take a political stand, collaborate with a brand, perform on-stage, present a new film, and design a fashion collection – all in the same week.

That lateral approach is reflected in its company structure. Lede has four equal co-CEOs, each with 20 years of experience in complementary backgrounds: Silverman in New York with a more music-led roster of talent, O’Sullivan in LA with the pick of Hollywood’s finest, Levinson Rothman in corporate communications, and Su working directly with brands, many of them in the fashion space. Now with more than 150 employees across offices in LA, New York, London and Paris, Lede boasts 400 active clients (‘more than 200 brand and corporate clients and more than 175 talent’) spread over nine core categories. They represent celebrities reaching into fashion and beauty: Pharrell with Humanrace, Adidas, and Billionaire Boys Club; Ariana Grande and her beauty line R.E.M.; Rihanna with Savage lingerie and Fenty Beauty. And they represent fashion brands seeking celebrities, hype, cultural significance, and then more celebrities, ensuring that Isabel Marant, Thom Browne, Kenzo, Altuzarra and others have the right people in the front row.

Back in October, System was granted a rare audience with the four founders in Lede’s New York boardroom for a deep-thoughts chat – no interruptions, only occasional distracted checking of iPhones – to discuss cultural cross-pollination, crisis management, how ‘authenticity’ has replaced endorsement, and why PR today is so much more than ‘knowing which model is going to convert for a Tiffany ad.’

Let’s start by talking about the communications landscape today.
Sarah Levinson Rothman: So much of the way that a person or brand is seen by the world today is dictated by comms and PR. Twenty years ago, PR was siloed, but now it’s evolved to be one of the most important functions in the strategic outlook of a person or an organization.

What do you think have been the pivotal moments in that evolution?
Meredith O’Sullivan: Social media is the obvious one, right? We all were there for that shift when we were young assistants, just starting out. Things used to move so slowly. We’d get a fax from a newspaper saying, ‘You have three days to comment on this thing for your client.’ Three days! And there’d be panic [laughs]. Today you have less than two seconds to react. Which is actually a good thing. People didn’t used to really care how much they knew about someone, but now I think that the consumer – whether it’s generational or just things moving quicker in the digital era – wants to know more. And so this narrative or storytelling aspect has arisen, where things have to be true while still being interesting enough so that people will want to show up – whether that’s going to a concert, buying a movie ticket or buying a piece of clothing. For me, that’s only accelerated. And to Sarah’s point, I think when marketing teams were in silos they did one thing – they knew which model was going to convert for a Tiffany ad. But they didn’t speak to the story behind making that ad, like, how did you pick that photographer? That change might have been gradual, but it feels fast. We saw it happening with our staff. As younger and younger generations have come in, the conversations change. So you need to change with them on behalf of your clients.

‘You used to get faxes from newspapers saying, ‘You have three days to comment on this thing for your client.’ Today, you’ve got two seconds to react.’

Meredith O’Sullivan

Christine, coming at this from a brand perspective, did you see it coming?
Christine Su: For sure. I spent close to five years at Converse in a comms role, and because so much of what brands do is driven by what’s happening in the cultural landscape, chief comms officers are often becoming CMOs now. Typically, all the tactical, above-the-line marketing stuff used to have the more significant budget allocation, but you’re now seeing brands put more dollars behind a comms rollout, and you’re seeing a lot more of that integration across the board from a brand perspective. Many of the brands that we work with want to be able to drive cultural conversations. Just putting a press release out there is so old school, you know. That’s no longer gonna cut it!

When you say brands are allocating more of their budget on a comms rollout, what do you sense is the return on that from the brand’s perspective? Does cultural impact suffice? Do they now consider marketing and comms as the way to convert into pure revenue?
Christine: Absolutely. They’re seeing that the more they can embed themselves from a cultural standpoint, the more they can drive revenue and drive sales. I have a great example. Rihanna wore an all-red Loewe ensemble at the Super Bowl, and there were all these stories about how her red outfit, had sold out. They couldn’t keep it in stock. Traditionally, people didn’t see that kind of thing as necessarily driving sales. And now it’s like, okay, this is an important part of the strategy. Talent’s VIP seating is always so integrated, too. Because in today’s marketplace, brand marketing and communications has become interwoven as part of a brand’s go-to-market strategy. That includes everything from talent or celebrity engagement to experiential to social media. There are more and more agencies specialized in these specific areas of expertise and brands understand that it all has to be fully integrated to be successful today.
Amanda Silverman: PR was always part of the conversation. But I don’t think it was always part of the strategy. It sort of just happened before and now it’s more intentional.
Sarah: Look at the strategy that’s behind some of the biggest movies this year – Barbie, The Super Mario Bros Movie, Oppenheimer, and Taylor Swift [The Eras Tour]. Those four seeped into popular culture and really broke out; people wanted to go see those movies because they wanted to be able to talk about them with everyone else.
Amanda: There’s a very thoughtful strategy behind that. I mean, Sarah from the corporate side often brings Christine in from the culture side to say, ‘Hey, we need to infuse culture into what we’re doing.’ Of course, we don’t make movies ourselves at Lede, but we have clients who do incredible things that connect to culture. And I think sometimes they lean towards us to embed that connection in their strategy.

Give me an example.
Sarah: So, for The Super Mario Bros Movie, we brought Christine’s team in.
Christine: And Red Wing Shoes recreated the boot that Mario wears in the movie.
Sarah: But they only made one single boot. Christine came up with the idea, but they did a whole activation around the imprint of the sole of the boot.
Christine: It was a girl on my team who had the idea of the imprint. We hired a company to make the imprint and we teased it out and created an event at the Nintendo store where so many people showed up to get the imprint of this boot. It got so much coverage.
Sarah: On the flip side though, an example that we weren’t involved with was ‘Barbenheimer’, which I don’t think was, you know, entirely strategic…

Did anyone see that coming?
Meredith: I don’t think to that degree.
Sarah: What happened was incredible. Everyone dressed in pink, going to see an Oppenheimer and Barbie double header. It was drawing millions of people who don’t normally go to these movies; they wanted to be a part of culture.

What do you think it is about celebrities that makes them global avatars for such intense desire and aspiration?
Amanda: You’re often looking at them as people who are affecting culture and creating a sort of narrative that feels really desirable. And when you get that feeling, it’s because of the authenticity of the artist or celebrity to the brand.

Give me an example of that. Because when I hear the word ‘authenticity’, it often makes me think the opposite.
Amanda: I can think of a few examples. One would be Riri [Rihanna] and Fenty Beauty. She always did her own makeup on tour in the beginning, and I think she saw a real gap in the market regarding shades of foundation. She is the first person to launch a beauty brand with shades of foundation; you know, you usually launch with lipstick or mascara. I remember sitting in the first meeting with her partners at Kendo [LVMH-owned beauty brand developer and wholesaler]. But I think the fact that she is who she is – as inspirational, as incredible, as talented, superficially as beautiful – and you see her every night on tour with glowing skin and her saying, ‘I can’t find anything to match my skin colour.’ And then launching Fenty Beauty. That’s authentic. When you have to mix eight foundations to come up with your skin colour and you’re Rihanna – I mean, think about everyone else! Same thing with Pharrell and Louis Vuitton, when Marc Jacobs gave him a shot in the luxury fashion world. When, at first, everybody turned their nose up at rappers, black musicians, entering the fashion world, Marc Jacobs said, ‘I like what you’re doing, I see you know what the kids are doing. You’re part of that world; I want to collaborate with you.’ And that was his first introduction into luxury fashion as a creative. Authenticity might seem like bullshit, but that’s the truth. And now that he’s creating there, he brings his own spin to it, and it feels inspirational. I mean, those primary-coloured Speedys [bags] could not be more him and more Louis Vuitton!

‘Rihanna always did her own makeup on tour, and she saw a real gap in the market regarding foundation shades. And then she launched Fenty Beauty. That’s authentic.’

Amanda Silverman

Talking of Fenty Beauty, I took my teenage daughter and her friend to Sephora yesterday. And it’s celebrity beauty line after celebrity beauty line after celebrity beauty line. They’re interchangeable. So how do you help your clients express their uniqueness in a marketplace which feels so oversaturated?
Christine: Navigating the challenge of oversaturation is tricky, especially when every talent seems to have a brand, especially in the beauty category. When we take on these projects, we aim to go beyond the surface and understand the white space and nuances, getting to the core of their vision. It’s about more than just launching a product; it’s crafting a narrative that resonates with media and influencers, and in turn the consumer. For instance, when we launched Humanrace skincare, we recognised that while Pharrell’s skincare routine is a commonly asked question, we acknowledged that consumers understand he’s not necessarily a skincare expert. So, we needed to bring someone in to give the line credential; we leveraged Pharrell’s dermatologist as the expert. This ensured a unique voice and story that set it apart in the crowded market. In essence, it’s about defining what we’re trying to say when we introduce something to the marketplace. What’s the story that captures attention and leaves a lasting impact?
Meredith: For talent, you have to know who they are and who their core audience is. Who do they appeal to? What kind of things does that audience care about? Then you can expand the aperture and broaden that customer base, so you know which stories you’re telling, and to whom. On the talent side, we often find that brands just want someone because they have a lot of followers. I’m, like – let’s say it’s an alcohol brand – do you even know if they drink alcohol? And then we saw a shift where the talent – the individuals – were, like, ‘I’m going to have to invest in this; I’m going to have to co-own a brand, or I’m going to have to be a creative director.’ Ten years ago, someone could just slap their name on something and it would work. Endorsements were rampant; everybody loved them. Then there was this shift into taking a co-founder position.

When I watch fashion shows online, my residual memory is often of the front row more than the collection. We’re in an era now where the collection itself is not the be-all. The brand is the core. The celebrity association is essential. These things make up the full package.
Sarah: It’s not any one thing. And 90% of the work we do with fashion clients, on the show front, yes – it’s curating that front row. Who’s going to show up? What do they look like? When Isabel Marant came to us, she was trending down a little because the white sneaker had died down. We’ve been working with her for a couple of years now, and a lot of the work is making sure she is still ingrained in culture. We started a TikTok account for her. And, you know, she was like, ‘Why are you inviting social influencers to my show?’ And we said, ‘Well, because all of the fashion people are following them.’ And at the next show, she’s like, ‘Where are they? They need to come back!’ So, it’s an important part of a strategy – especially for the more iconic brands that may be a little more hesitant to change – to see what they are going to get out of this.

Do you find yourself going to a brand and saying, ‘Sure, you might want this big celebrity associated with your brand – every brand does – but they’re not actually the best fit for you’? When does the PR push become more a question of restraint?
Amanda: I think that’s always how we look at things. I don’t think any of us think ‘more is more’. Everyone we represent works far too hard for what happens to simply be haphazard; it has to feel like it makes sense. And I think consumers and fans see through things that don’t make sense. People are very aware now. And it has to make sense from the brand perspective, from the client perspective. Smarter is better.

‘Brands know that the more they drive cultural conversations, the more they’ll drive revenue. Just putting a press release out is no longer gonna cut it!’

Christine Su

Could you give me an example of when something didn’t work, for that exact reason? It’s so easy in retrospect to say of course that wasn’t going to work. But sometimes, even with the most experienced experts, things just don’t stick.
Christine: I think some alliances don’t make sense, and people don’t think it through all the way. Like when Kendall [Jenner] did that Pepsi ad. Everybody tore that apart. They’re like, this doesn’t make any sense. It’s tone-deaf. And think about all the marketing people in the room that had to be there for that ad to come to life, and it somehow made its way to market. Clearly somebody wasn’t doing their job.
Sarah: We haven’t talked about that yet – the extent to which the world has changed in terms of people and values.

Sarah, you represent that side of Lede. Today, it is fundamental to any individual or organization to at least be aware of social responsibility. But 15, 20 years ago that didn’t really exist.
Sarah: Four years ago that didn’t exist! There were two big pivotal moments. One was the Time’s Up movement, and the other was George Floyd in 2020. I run the corporate communications side of Lede, which is working with media and entertainment companies. And if you look at what we’re going through right now, I mean, everyone has to be so thoughtful about what they say as an organization, plus what their employees and executives are saying on a personal level, because that can really make or break an organization, or a campaign. It’s so tricky. That has so much to do with social media.

Everyone’s under the microscope.
Sarah: Yes, and the complexities of the issues that we’re dealing with politically on a global basis… I’m not talking just now [the Israel-Hamas war] but all of the issues that we’ve all seen over the past five, ten years. When this current situation started unfolding, a lot of people in the news were talking about how this was the first big terrorist attack since social media existed. I’m not going to name the name, but there was a movie studio that was putting out a movie in the past few weeks, and because of a statement that they gave publicly, which was, I think, pretty down the middle, as much as they could be, some Middle Eastern countries pulled out of showing the movie. These are the kinds of things you’re dealing with: a statement that a company puts on social media, that has nothing to do with an individual film, can result in that film not being released in certain countries.

It’s a tightrope for publicists between needing to generate buzz, while minimizing any negative attention.
Meredith: When I started, I was advised to tell people to never get political. And now I primarily advise my clients that if they care about something, speak up. Of course, you have to find the fine line. Not everybody is an activist, but if something is personal to you, that you care about, that’s affecting humanity, you’re not going to just step back.
Sarah: If you look at brands, one of the first mainstream purpose-driven brands was TOMS Shoes. But now, in a way, every brand has to have a purpose; it’s part of that brand’s personality. This younger generation is looking at how brands react to situations; looking at what they do and if they make this world a better place. And, honestly,
they are looking to see if the brand holds true to those promises.
Meredith: It goes back to tying the brand to the individual. Before that happens, it’s important to know who is making the decisions at the highest level of the company they are working for. A lot of the recent corporate upheaval and heightened awareness has allowed us as consumers to take a look inside these companies and at their systems. If it’s all the same type of person who has a seat at the table for all decision making, there’s a reason perhaps not everything is being considered. So, when a brand seeks counsel from us, it works well when we can offer both our diversity of experiences as well as our inherent knowledge of the client’s values, strengths, and passions.

‘Celebrities are valuable when you’re operating a fashion company that’s making billions; they’re no longer just siloed in this little Hollywood bubble.’

Meredith O’Sullivan

Would you say you have genuine influence with someone who’s heading up a global brand? Are they receptive to your advice? Do they act on it?
Sarah: That’s essentially our job now. I mean, 20 years ago, our job was to do a press release and try to get a story in the New York Times. Our job now is to sit on the phone and on Zoom and in-person all day, every day to advise individuals, advise companies on a very holistic picture of what’s going on. PR is no longer just ‘Let’s get you tons of press.’ It’s more like, ‘How is this going to affect the entire life of a product or a brand or a company?’

What would you say the metrics of success are for, say, an individual or organisation that Lede represents?
Sarah: I think on the ground it’s still the traditional KPIs: media impressions, impression rates, sales conversions. But I think the added bonus is: how is my brand showing up in social media, in the culture? The last three or four years, working with Thom Browne, the brand has taken off and the team has said a lot of it is due to the fact that they’re seeing better engagement across the board globally with consumers. They’re resonating more. They’re getting more youthful, more diverse. I think our team has played a good part in that.

Let’s do a quick roleplay. Imagine I’m a great artist or talent, someone who’s credible, has a unique point of view, and has a global reach. What’s your elevator pitch to me to come and join your roster at Lede?
Amanda: We are like a segue between who an artist is and what they want to put out in the world. It’s about being a good partner. I meet with potential clients first, because they have to feel like I’m the right person to help them achieve their goals, and that’s always evolving and changing as the person grows. You know, I’ve represented Charlize Theron since she shot the movie Monster, and her goals then were not the same as her goals now. Monster was one of the first films she produced. Now she has a very powerful production company and it’s a really important part of her story as both an artist and business woman. She also has an incredible foundation called CTAOP  which is a big part of what she does, so we’ve focused on both of these in press to create not just awareness but hopefully opportunities as well. The question with talent is often, ‘What do you feel has been missing? What do you want to do? Let’s figure out ways that we can do that together. I might not be the right person for you, you know. And that’s okay.’ I want to work with clients who trust our instincts and our advice and our partnership just as much as the other way around.

Are they generally able to articulate clearly what it is they want?
Meredith: Sometimes it has to be driven by us saying, ‘This is how I see you showing up in the world and here is what I would love to see as a part of that journey.’ But yes, I’d say a lot of clients know what they want. Obviously with the newcomers who are just at the beginning of their career – perhaps about to have a meteoric moment – it’s a very different conversation. It’s a discussion on how this role of representative will fit into their life, and it’s a vibe check. Since our job is to give thoughtful strategic advice and to execute on it, they have to understand the way the person who is representing them is moving through the world and speaking about them. So if there isn’t a connection, mutual respect, and understanding of each other as people, artists, executives, or whatever they’re doing, it’s probably not the right fit.
Sarah: I don’t represent individuals, but it’s very hard for this to work if there isn’t trust. And sorry to keep using this word, but it goes back to authenticity. There has to be authentic trust between two people. Because this is everything to them; in our social-media world, it’s their reputation.
Amanda: And I think that’s the same for individuals as it is for brands or companies. The conversations Sarah is having are the same ones Christine is having and the same ones Meredith and I are having.
Christine: Just a little more matrix with the brands, because you have more individuals involved in them.
Meredith: For the most part, in representing talent, there’s no bureaucracy to get through; you go straight to them and the relationship is between the two of you. We don’t generally set weekly calls with talent; we’re on text message and they know that they can reach us whenever. They’re creative people, and we need to know when to step back and to give them space. There’s that protection of their time and humanity, making sure that we put them in the best possible scenario for them to show up and do the thing that makes them wonderful.

‘Endorsements were rampant. Someone could just slap their name on something and it would work. Now it’s shifted into taking a co-founder position.’

Meredith O’Sullivan

When I think about someone like Pharrell, for example, I imagine he has a personal PR, a music PR, a record company PR… and then Louis Vuitton has one of the biggest global comms operations of any brand in the world. So how do you create a cohesive publicity strategy? How do you not step on each other’s toes?
Amanda: The people who win the most are those who are the most collaborative, because there’s no way I know everything, there’s no way Meredith knows everything, there’s no way Rocky or Jay Brown – who’s Riri’s and Rocky’s manager – know everything, or Puma knows everything. And, like, how are the Puma team to work with? Phenomenal! Jay Brown, who’s one of our closest advisers, is so collaborative. I think that’s the only way to do it. And even though everyone has their own personal powerhouse, to bring all of that together is the most powerful.

What do you think Lede specifically brings to those collaborations?
Amanda: Our superpower, and the reason we created this agency, is to have the four of us brainstorming together. Christine has the unique perspective of coming from a corporate brand background, and Sarah obviously worked at corporate film companies before. Previously, whenever I represented a talent but didn’t have someone in-house on the brand side, I always felt a couple of steps behind, because I was trusting someone outside to sort of hold hands with me. With Christine and her team on board, we get that perspective in-house. It means she has more of an innate understanding of how talent works, and we have a better understanding of the brand perspective, which just makes it so much easier, because we have a better idea of what we can really make happen. At the end of the day, we just want our clients to look good and to have overall success. None of us are here for any power trip or any ego bullshit.
Sarah: I think the one thing that we all share in common is that we all want to be behind the scenes. Like, it’s not about us…
Amanda: …as we sit here doing an interview about ourselves!
Sarah: [laughs] But it’s not about us! We’re not the talent. We’re not the CEO. We’re the people who help these people with their strengths, with their comms and their strategy. What we were saying about collaboration: we get on the phone all the time and someone says, ‘We actually work with this other agency on this and this,’ and we’re like, the more the merrier! Collaborating with other people makes you stronger.
Amanda: I think it’s also important to say that we all have kids and families who are very important to us, too.

Why do you think it’s important to say that in the context of this interview?
Amanda: Because I think it gives you better perspective. It’s funny, people are like, ‘Oh, are you going to be able to do both? Like, be able to have kids and do your job?’ But I think it gives us such a better perspective on what’s important, what to focus on, what to prioritize. Plus, we can ask our kids about what’s cool and what their friends think. I know so much about music just from my son playing basketball, honestly. So, it’s been helpful for us to really be able to do both.
Christine: And I think it’s also given us a perspective on how we want to shape our agency, because we want to create a place that looks like the world we live in today. I mean, the four of us are very different, but the last five years we’ve gotten along. We’ve had no fights. It’s been really successful, what we built together. And hopefully our kids can look at this and be like, ‘Mom, I’m proud of you.’ This is a place that looks like the world we’re living in today. That’s an important part of the culture, here.

‘Think about all the marketing people in the room for Kendall’s Pepsi ad… yet it still made its way to market. Clearly somebody wasn’t doing their job.’

Christine Su

I recently asked my wife, who did both agency and in-house fashion PR for about 20 years, what she had learnt about the world of publicity in that time, and she told me, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the oil.’ You know, you might have multinational companies or high-profile designers on your roster, yet it’s often the unknown accessories designer who’s calling every day, asking where their Vogue cover is, who gets the disproportionately high level of service. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Is that true in your experience?
Amanda: That kind of attitude has the opposite effect on me! [laughs]
Christine: It’s especially the smaller brands and designers; they tend to be so involved. They want to know every single thing that’s happening and every single thing that you’re doing until you’re like, ‘Do you really need to micro-manage what we’re doing?’ Whereas some of the bigger clients trust you that you’re going to do the right thing. And they have teams that know how comms works.
Meredith: For the four of us, I think it’s pretty simple: we all work hard, we all share, we hustle, and we just get it done. To Amanda’s point, when the client looks great and the brand looks great, or when, from a business perspective, there’s a return for the company you’re working for, it feels really good that you could effect a change. That’s what drives you to work hard. And to go back to how we choose clients or they choose us, you have to have a degree of passion for what they do, or feel like they’re an important symbol in this world, and that’s what drives you in your work.

What would you give as an example of that? Amanda spoke before about Fenty Beauty. But for you, can you specify a particular moment with a client that was all of those things you’ve mentioned: you know, hitting culture, hitting a moment, hitting a purpose.
Meredith: … I was looking at Amanda because… [they both laugh] – because I’m the most secretive. I never give specifics about clients.

I don’t need to know a name!
Meredith: You know, if a client has never been in the award space before and you run an amazing film or television campaign and then they are, that feels really good. Or if you’re there from the ground up, and then a trailer breaks the internet, you’re a part of those special moments. And also when something bad happens and you’re able to help that person build back to a place of confidence, where there’s no more fear and they feel that they can step out into the world again, and you were a part of helping them.

‘When I started out, I was advised to tell people to never get political. Now I primarily advise my clients that if they care about something, speak up.’

Meredith O’Sullivan

Given that he’s one of your highest-profile clients, and he’s the cover star of this issue of System, I just want to go back to the topic of Pharrell. What were your thoughts when you first heard about Pharrell and Louis Vuitton? Did you see that as a kind of landmark moment, or the result of an evolution that’s been happening over years, even decades?
Amanda: It’s bigger than us, I think that’s the way the world is moving, and Pharrell is the perfect encapsulation of it all. Understanding collaboration and the overlapping of so many different ideas, perspectives and media is what Pharrell has always represented as a human being. I mean, people say this all the time: he is a Renaissance man. And – not to sound cheesy – there is something of a cultural renaissance going on, in terms of culture, entertainment and corporate coming together. I mean, that’s how we view the world as well; that’s why we created our company. So, thanks, Pharrell, for doing that!
Christine: I think a lot of brands have been moving in that direction. It kind of started with Virgil being appointed to Louis Vuitton. He wasn’t a designer by background, but he was someone who was ingrained in culture in so many different ways. And what a lot of brands are looking for now, especially on the creative director front, are people who are not necessarily traditional designers, but are really ingrained in culture, who are driving cultural conversations that touch upon sport, fashion, music, and who can help take the brand to the next level, versus, like, being able to sketch out a collection. We represent Daniel Arsham. He’s a sculpture and artist, but he was named creative director of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Amanda: From the start, seeing people and brands do things that you wouldn’t normally expect has always made what we do so interesting. Even back in the day, like when the movie Kids came out and it was Harmony Korine and Larry Clark; people stepping outside of their discipline but understanding the world at large is what makes things so interesting. And I think it’s cool that so many brands and movies and fashionshows and companies are all going in that direction.

Given System’s fashion-industry perspective, what impact does the Pinault family stepping out of their discipline and acquiring a majority stake in CAA have on the culture in which you work?
Meredith: It’s a little too soon to tell. I think we’re all looking at it to see what it means. To see if it’s a success for both parties. Is it a fit? But the reason you’re interviewing us, is probably that the talent world that has traditionally been so siloed from fashion is now fusing into its culture. Celebrities are valuable when you’re operating a company that’s making billions; they’re no longer siloed in this little Hollywood bubble.
Sarah: Again, it’s a sign of where we are and where we’re probably heading.

‘I think we’re all looking at [Pinault’s acquisition of CAA] to see what it means; if it’s a success for both parties. It’s certainly a sign of where we’re heading.’

Meredith O’Sullivan

I remember going to an Ungaro show in 2009 that Lindsay Lohan was the creative director of, and at the time it was widely regarded as a complete disaster. Perhaps with the benefit of time, that didn’t necessarily feel like an authentic fit. But these days, a contemporary artist like Daniel Arsham becoming the creative director of a basketball team feels like the most natural thing in the world. So what do you think is the future of celebrity, of artists, of entertainment ingraining itself further into everything?
Meredith: That’s an interesting question. People make these declarative statements, like ‘The movie star is dead and it’s all about TikTokers.’ And I think what’s different is that there’s room for everyone, right? The amount of content has multiplied like you can’t believe. Five or six years ago, there were 150 shows nominated for the Emmys, and there’s now over 500, because of streaming. How can people watch all this content? But there’s more access to all of this and to all of these people. So, as long as a movie star still does a good movie and creates a beautiful moment that tugs on your heartstrings, people will want to be connected to that content. So, I feel that every time they try to write off talent or say, ‘Oh we don’t need the star,’ I think there’s still something special about a lot of these people and a lot of our clients – that creative beat or glow that a lot of other people don’t have. As long as that exists, talent and celebrities will still be relevant. Of course, there are examples of how reality stars and TikTokers are taking over, but there’s room for both.

Do you play a part in that side of celebrity? In reality stars and influencers?
Meredith: I don’t want to shut the door on it, but it’s not our core client base. Christine’s group has a massive engagement with that side of the business.
Christine: We do a lot of work with influencers and influencer programming. To Meredith’s point, there’s so much room for all these different types of people and talent. Now you have fashion brands inviting athletes to shows, because sports are so ingrained in fashion. It’s opened up the aperture for a lot more opportunities.

What about the future of Lede? Where do you see it in five, ten years time?
Amanda: We’re taking a vacation!
Sarah: I think we’ll continue growing both horizontally and vertically, meaning we’ll hopefully continue growing what our core business is now, and then continue exploring and getting into other businesses that make sense. When we started out, they did talent, I did corporate, and we looked so long for someone to do brand. And brand is now our biggest division; it fits in so perfectly into everything that we already do.
Christine: We just acquired a fashion PR agency in Paris [OBCM, now retitled Lede Paris], which shows how we approach everything through a global lens. I mean, Asia would be great, too.
Meredith: I think early on we were really good at identifying leaders in their own right and bringing them into our company and letting them do their thing. It’s not just looking at a category and going, ‘We’re going to get into that.’ It only makes sense if it touches us, if it’s evolving, and if we find the right people.
Sarah: It’s going back to those two words that we’ve used way too much this morning: authenticity and really being strategic.

Taken from System No. 22 – purchase the full issue here.