Communicating beauty’s touch-and-feel element into the virtual age, adjusting product launch strategies sans brick-and-mortar retail support and finding sensitive ways to even talk about beauty are just some of the challenges that both agencies and in-house publicists are facing. It’s not easy to do, on top of the usual, fervent beauty product and news cycle — certain publicists are still schilling Earth Day or 4/20 news or “self-care during coronavirus” pitches.
“Right now, the power is in the pivot,” said Jodi Balkan, president of beauty agency Bold PR. “Working from home doesn’t stop us from getting things done.”
For instance, U.S.-based publicists may have started the week of March 9 asking for in-person desksides, as was the case with communications agency Foundation for its client Zoe Foster Blake, founder of Go-To and Gro-To brands. But by mid-week, virtual desksides were the name of the game for agencies including Autumn PR, which represents Moon Juice and Uma Oils; Bold PR, in promoting Bloomeffects; and CBD brand Lord Jones.
Bold PR is just one company that has had to convince editors and influencers that experimential beauty launches and events could be communicated over Zoom. Other clients in its roster of 35 include Fenty Beauty, Pat McGrath Labs and L’Occitane.
“A lot of our clients have been with us for a long time, so we had to ensure they wouldn’t feel a disruption in what we provide,” said Balkan. She explained most outreach was met with an immediate yes; 10 of 12 proposed virtual meetings, for example, were set up without a hitch.
Poke PR founder Emily Parr said she “borrowed inspiration” from what was making her “feel as close to normal as possible”: Zoom livestreams in the fitness world. She has now set up Zoom group meetings for spring launches of clients including Briogeo.
“We offer to mail a physical sample of the new product release to the editor’s current address, if they are interested in experiencing the product, and we send Zoom group meeting details for those who want to learn directly about the product from the brand. There’s that optionality,” she said.
Tractenberg & Co. has also taken to that strategy; it is mid-flight in developing virtual launches and meetings for clients such as Sally Hansen and Eylure London.
“Coronavirus has made us all rethink what we are talking about,” said Jacquie Tractenberg, founder and president of beauty firm Tractenberg & Co. “You can’t be tone-deaf in your outreach, but you also can’t be depressed and scared. Our team has to strike a balance of where we stand in the bigger picture of the news.”
Beyond desksides, launch strategies and pitches have had to be significantly tweaked, said Tractenberg, who has 60 beauty and lifestyle clients. Still, she said, some press and influencers are looking for respite from the 24/7 coronavirus onslaught, and the beauty category does provide that.
Alison Brod, owner of her namesake PR firm, said this new style of working isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Beauty media inquiries are still flying. We are hearing from clients that influencers are driving more sales and people are being experimental, both from boredom and desperation, so they’re learning how to color their roots at home or give themselves a pedicure. We are doing some of our best work,” said Brod, who explained that clients such as Nails Inc. have seen in-bound requests for product from influencers soar past 100 individuals. Brod and her team helped develop the brand’s DIY manicure lessons on Instagram with celebrity talent.
Smaller firms, like The Hours that works with indie beauty brands like Circumference and Soft, have also seen a shift toward more creative content.
“We’ve provided our clients with specific content ideas, latching onto brand ambassadors to uplift the community. They’re taking a new approach to self-care through guided meditation sessions and incorporating what people already have at home,” said Kara Lacey, co-founder of The Hours. “Media-communications-wise, we’re finding that publications want to hear from the personalities behind the brands more than usual.”
For JJBPR founder Jennifer Bickerton, who represents Ziip and The Harmonist, maintaining sensitivity and nuance is her No. 1 priority right now.
“It has been a very tough and, quite frankly, completely shocking few weeks. We have adjusted our outlook and attitude when it comes pitching influencers, media and how we work,” she said. “We are approaching our communications from the point of view of the person we are pitching or speaking with because, again, it’s a fragile time and emotions are high. To put it mildly, we are treading lightly.”
As Brod expressed, “We are all forever changed — both positively, in that you can get quality work done virtually, and negatively, because some smaller brands might not make it.”
And like other business that have not been able to ward off the one-two punch of a potential economic recession and a global health pandemic, bigger beauty PR companies have had to pull back more immediately. Tractenberg said the company had “several layoffs at the administrative level.” Alison Brod Marketing and Communications has also reportedly had a few layoffs. Brod only said, “We’re in the painful process of restructuring.” For its part, BPCM made cuts to its fashion team and two employees were laid off from the beauty side of the business, in tandem. Beauty clients that BPCM represents include Hermes, Maybelline and Augustinus Bader.
“As beauty industry sales have increased during this time, BPCM’s beauty business has remained quite strong, and so that division accounted for a smaller portion of the layoffs,” said Vanessa von Bismarck, co-founder and partner at BPCM. “We are actively focusing on pivoting our best beauty practices to accommodate this new reality and are speaking now more than ever to our community to work together with purpose and efficiency. Editors and influencers are still writing and posting about beauty, and we are offering a deeper level of consulting and counseling to our clients.”
Balkan said Bold PR has not made any layoffs to its 23-person team.
“We’re not doing layoffs. It’s not that we are unaffected by what’s going on, but I have my eyes on the recovery, and the team that I have with me now is the team that I want with me then,” said Balkan. “We’re just going to have to operate a little smarter. Fortunately, many of our clients, even some who typically are later in their payments, are making sure that we’re a payment priority. We’re doing the same for our vendors because we are all part of the same system, and that’s the only way we will all survive.”