It’s been a busy two months for Robbie Cantonwine who’s ushering in a new chapter in his career since being named Partner at PR agency, Battalion. The move comes after Cantonwine proved himself to be an instrumental asset and advisor to brands navigating the pandemic, as well as helping to land major new clients—more on that later! Ever the gentleman, we wanted to get to know him better and hear about his untraditional route into the industry—aka, he’s proof that hard work and genuine relationships will get you everywhere—and to understand how he gained his “rare PR IQ” (as his boss Jim Kloiber put it.) Pull up a chair!
Congrats on your appointment to partner! How will this new role build on your journey so far at Battalion?
Thank you! This new role comes after almost four years at Battalion. I will still be co-leading our blue-chip portfolio of
clients with founding partner Jim Kloiber, and we plan to work together to shape the roster we bring in on a retainer
capacity as well as our project-based clients. With my personal background and interests, I am looking forward to
growing the fashion and menswear vertical of the business, and to working closely and collaborating with Jim in this new role. Our personal strengths perfectly balance Battalion’s well-rounded offering, and where we are an exact match is in our dedication to our work and professionalism.
What are some highlights of your time at Battalion so far that you’re most proud of?
Overall, I think a major turning point for my career was the start of the pandemic. PR and marketing either became
the most important or lowest priority for brands and I was able to help Battalion ensure our worth and strategic
guidance was indispensable to our clients during that uncertain time. I don’t want to attribute much to luck because
we worked extremely hard—coming out stronger and more successful than ever. Beyond doing great work prior to
March 2020, I think this time really showcased my ability to be a strategic thought-partner who was willing to do
whatever it takes to get the job done. For a specific highlight, I have to say working with then-HRH the Prince of Wales, now-King Charles’ charity The Prince’s Trust on their first US gala fundraiser. That was one of my career benchmarks.
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What’s making you the most excited for this new chapter at the firm?
I am most excited to be the boss. I am a bit of a control freak, so the role of partner feels right. When there is no one above you, you quickly learn to trust your instincts and have confidence in your abilities—there’s no room for imposter syndrome. I am getting to flex these creative and strategic muscles that I have always had and now I have the platform to use them. It’s really rewarding to see your ideas, feedback, and work make direct impact for clients. From big to small, I love what I do, and this new chapter just solidifies that I get to do it without limits, as long as I want.
Tell us about some of your clients and what you’ve been working on.
At Battalion we have roughly four broader categories: Watches, Jewelry, Fashion, and Philanthropy. Our client Breitling is arguably the most exciting brand in Swiss watchmaking right now; whether its setting industry standards by launching the first fully traceable watch with lab grown diamonds and fair-mined gold or throwing events with their unmatched roster of ambassadors like Charlize Theron, Adam Driver, Misty Copeland, Chloe Kim, and Brad Pitt. Another exciting space in watches is the pre-owned category, and we are currently working with our client Watchfinder & Co., owned by the same parent company as brands like Cartier and Van Cleef, on launching a nationwide partnership with Nordstrom. On the jewelry side, we are honored to represent three parts of the De Beers umbrella—with De Beers Jewellers, De Beers Group, and Lightbox Jewelry. We are currently in the process of debuting Lupita Nyong’o as De Beers’ first global ambassador. For fashion, our client Jack Carlson and his mini empire of brands including Rowing Blazers are always launching exciting collaborations. A lot to come soon there! And then finally, we will continue to support our philanthropic clients like New York Botanical Garden, The Prince’s Trust, and The School of American Ballet for their annual events. Excitingly we have just started planning SAB’s annual Ball which raises money to help benefit student scholarships, wellness programs, infrastructure, and world-class personnel. And we will have some exciting news coming from The Prince’s Trust in the coming months. And that’s all just this week…[laughs].
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Phew! What people and mentors have been most instrumental in your career so far?
It takes a village. It has to start with my parents. I learned about the importance of a hard work ethic and always treating people with respect from their example. All the good things I am and have achieved is because of my parents. There have been many other important people along the way, but my first true PR role was at Comme des Garçons during the time the MET Costume Exhibition and Gala was honoring the brand’s founder Rei Kawakubo and I have never seen the level of creative, yet strategic thinking matched equally by a work ethic as I did in my former boss Daphne Seybold. I received a crash course in the power of PR at its most high level and it was invaluable in my trajectory. It was also door-opening to have her as a reference and that job on my resume. In my professional career, I haven’t had a mentor more instrumental than my current business partner Jim Kloiber. He has sharpened my skill set and given me a platform to do what I love. When someone you respect so highly has an unwavering trust in your abilities it really creates an environment that allows you to reach your full potential. I feel like I am giving an Oscars speech and I’m forgetting to name people, but I also want to mention my former boss at Dior, Ariel Filartiga, and BOND ST owner Jonathan Morr, who I would be remiss to not thank for their influence in my journey.
Ok let’s take it back to some of those roles! You moved to NYC in 2013. How did you initially get a foot in the door then?
Like a moth to a flame, I decided to move to NYC without ever having been to New York before. In my gut, I knew I had to be here. My career trajectory isn’t the most traditional, because I didn’t have the luxury of taking unpaid internships after college, so I applied online to Barneys as a sales associate the week before I left for NYC, interviewed on my second day in the city, and started working there within a week. And then it was really off to the races. In New York, you just go day to day and blink and it’s been nine years. Barneys led to Dior, which led to Comme des Garçons, which led me to agency life. There were some bumps in between and I never moved to New York imagining I would be working in retail or as a host at a restaurant, but those are truly the jobs that sharpened a skill set and manifested a rolodex of contacts that are the most valuable to me today in my career. And that is the beauty of New York—there is no right path there is only your personal path and what you make of it.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the PR industry post-pandemic?
Maybe an anti-climactic answer, but I haven’t seen any drastic changes. A lot of the shifts that the PR and marketing
world experienced during the pandemic were well on their way and I think the pandemic just expedited their timeline. I
think now, more than ever, top boutique agencies have a real value proposition over historically large agencies given the fast-paced, nimble nature of this post-pandemic digital communications landscape. I’d rather have one to two highly skilled publicists handling my business, as opposed to a distro email with 15 recent college grads running the account. No tea, no shade! I think a lot of companies realized how quickly things can change with the pandemic and leaned on their agencies and outside resources more than ever. The role of a PR agency is much broader than what it used to be and the lines between all silos of marketing are not just blurred, but non-existent at this point. As a PR professional you have to be
able to think 360 when it comes to building a brand, or maximizing a brand’s ROI.
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On that note, what advice would you give to graduates now trying to find their first role in the PR world?
First, don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the internship experience your fellow PR hopefuls have. An outside mindset is often the most valuable and if you are smart you can pick up internship level skills, like sample management, clipping, and media monitoring in less than a week. If you are a recent graduate looking to get into the PR world, my advice would be to dive into NYC, or whatever city you are working in, headfirst. Know what new restaurants are opening, know where brands are hosting events, read the Daily Front Row weekly media moves, read WWD every day, go to Barnes and Noble and flip through all the print magazines to see what editors are writing what types of stories and what brands are advertising where, go out and start building your personal rolodex of interesting people. There are so many free resources that can make a junior level team member a covetable asset of a PR team—you just need to be motivated enough to come to the table with accessible knowledge.
How can those entering the field now stay innovative and creative when it comes to PR?
Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, I think good PR professionals go through life always looking at things through the lens of the job. If you want to work at an agency, and be successful, you need to be a jack of all trades and find outlets and interests outside of your traditional work that keeps you fresh and plugged in. Whether it’s a genuine interest or simply awareness of fields like music, sports, business, art, design, entertainment, and tech, you take all this back and apply it strategically to your clients. Being good at PR is being good at connecting the dots. Our job is to engineer and tell the stories of our clients in fresh and impactful ways, and you have to be well-rounded in order to connect all the dots necessary to get through the saturated noise of today’s media.