Having built up an enviable PR career at both small boutique companies and multi-national brands in-house, Jo Tutchener went on to set up Beauty Seen PR which has fast gained a reputation as a leading beauty PR company. Jo talks to Your Beauty Industry about staying relevant, standing out in a crowded industry and the importance of a good team.
How did you start your career in beauty?
I actually fell into the beauty industry - I had always really wanted to work in fashion, loving the glamour and excitement that came with it. I started my career in fashion at Exposure, before moving on to Purple PR. The move to beauty came when Purple was approached to represent Ruby & Millie. I was one of only three Account Managers at Purple at the time, and the only girl. This teamed with the fact that I begged my Director to let me manage Ruby & Millie (being a big fan of the brand and having loved cosmetics all of my life) meant I found myself entering the world of beauty.
I clung on to my fashion clients and ran them side by side for a while, but before long we were approached by more and more beauty brands and I was faced with the decision to either choose fashion or beauty. My Director had to literally peel my fingers off the Jade Jagger press folder, but by that point we represented Ruby & Millie, SKII Skincare, Helmut Lang Fragrances and Agua Spa so I had to make a choice. Even though I had always been obsessed with beauty products, I was nervous that beauty wouldn’t be as glamorous as fashion – something I now know to be a crazy thought.
A large influence on my decision to move into beauty was the UK’s beauty press. I quickly developed great relationships with the beauty journalists; they were such great girls (and very cool!) and a lot of them became good friends who I spent a lot of time socialising with outside of work. The same goes for Ruby Hammer and Millie Kendall, two creative, dynamic, chic girls running an amazing cosmetics company. I knew then that this was the industry for me, and my fear of beauty being a world of perma tans, twin sets and pearls had vanished.
What made you want to work in PR?
I was doing my A-Levels and deciding what I wanted to study at university. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just wanted to be a TV presenter (which is hilarious as public speaking is not exactly my favourite part of my job!) when my father suggested PR. I didn’t really know what it was apart from ‘being good with people’ but trusted my Dad who I knew, knew me inside out, so applied to various PR courses across the country.
How did the reality of PR compare to your expectations?
I didn’t have huge expectations to be honest. I was a little alarmed when I started my PR course and found myself listening to lectures about crisis management for oil companies or airlines. It wasn’t the glamorous world I had hoped it would be, so I decided to move onto a more creative course, Fashion Promotion, which was basically fashion PR, styling, photography, advertising and graphics which was right up my street. It was this course that made me realise exactly what I wanted to do and which world I wanted to live/work in.
When I started working in PR it was even more exciting than I had imagined, it was so much more creative than I thought it would be, and I loved that. I looked forward to going to work every day, never knowing what may happen, who I was going to meet and what new exciting opportunity I could discover for my clients.
How did you find the transition from being employed to self employed?
I think you have to be a certain type of person to set up a business where you don’t have anyone checking up on you; you have to be 100% dedicated and focussed and very driven. To be honest I didn’t find that side of the transition hard. I loved the challenge and learning about the business side of running your own agency.
I had run the beauty division at Purple for many years, then moved to Estee Lauder which was like my finishing school, the Harvard of the beauty industry – a fantastic company and I learnt a lot about business, and came out of it with a far more commercial view and understanding of the industry. The combination of my experience at Purple and Estee Lauder (two very different companies each equally as valuable in shaping my PR vision) meant I felt ready to open a PR company that fused my experiences both agency and client side, which would bring the best of both worlds to my clients.
The fact that I have Exposure behind me at Beauty Seen means that not only do I have the support of two of the people I admire most in the industry (CEO’s Raoul Shah and Tim Bourne) but I also get to work with their Chief Financial Officer, James Burgon who has been my godsend. I always say to my friends who may have difficulties running their own agencies that without James things would be different. A great financial/legal brain is an essential part of making a company a success in my mind! It also frees my mind up to do what I love – the PR!
"I make sure we have a killer team"
How did you make Beauty Seen PR as successful as it is today?
Bottom line is hard work…and lots of it. Having a clear vision. Making sure we have a killer team. There are 15 of us now at Beauty Seen and I can honestly say each and every one of them brings something unique and special to the company. Only working with brands we really believe in. Loving what we do, which is very important and what kept me going during the early years. Having a true passion for what we do is essential.
Another big change and positive move for Beauty Seen was my decision to take on a business partner. Michelle Boon joined me as Joint Managing Director in November 2010, just after our 3rd anniversary. I decided in order to grow the company I needed a business partner, it was getting too much on my own and Michelle was the obvious choice seeing as she has been a close friend for the past ten years, and also has an amazing reputation in the industry, having achieved outstanding results as the European PR Director for Revlon. This means we can now take the agency to the next level without spreading ourselves too thinly, which is very exciting indeed, and for me, having someone to share that with is great.
There are a million beauty PR companies around – how do you make yours stand out?
We have very high standards, we choose fantastic girls to work in the agency who have the same passion, work ethic and enthusiasm, we work very hard and love what we do and I think everyone can see that. We always try and offer something different, to stay relevant, to offer new ideas and collaborations regularly and to live and breathe our brands. For example our events division, Beauty Seen Backstage brings a lot of opportunities to our clients; we create spa concepts backstage at high profile events such as The BRIT Awards, MTV EMA’s, MOBO’s and some of the UK’s leading festivals which provides either consumer facing activity or celebrity seeding opportunities.
What are your top tips for getting into beauty PR?
If you have the opportunity to complete a work placement within a PR company, this is the best way to get your foot in the door, to make an impression and make some extremely valuable contacts as well as getting a feel for whether this is the right industry for you. I know this is limited to whether you can afford to work on a small salary, but I personally worked evenings and weekends so I could afford to complete a placement that I knew would be valuable to my career and it paid off as I was offered a job. Five of our employees started as interns with either Beauty Seen, or with friends in-house, who recommended them to us and a CV with experience is a lot more attractive to prospective employers.
What’s the best job application you have ever seen?
I had one girl (girl A) contact me telling me exactly why she wanted to work at Beauty Seen, it was well thought out and made me want to meet her instantly as she was obviously so passionate about the agency. When I interviewed her she didn’t quite have the right press contacts for the position, so I fed this back to her when I let her know that she didn’t get the job. Next time we were recruiting an emailed popped up from girl A requesting another interview. During the interview she was keen to show me how she had listened to my advice and built up some very impressive press contacts in the six months that had passed. I was so impressed that she had listened to the advice and acted on it, and for her obvious passion for the agency… she got the job.
And the worst?
One girl sent her CV with an airbrushed, and I kid you not, wind machine posed photo of her on the front. It instantly went into the bin.
If you had to do it all again, is there anything you would change?
I would have taken a risk and employed a great Account Manager straight away. I am not sure I could ever go through what I went through opening the company again. I left Estee Lauder on the Friday and opened Beauty Seen on the Monday. I opened an empty laptop with nothing on it, no filing systems, no documents, nothing. I had four clients from day one - Ruby & Millie, Cowshed, Paul Labreque Luxury Hair Care and BRITs Spa with just myself and an intern to manage every single editorial placement/request/mail out/send out/price request/reports/image requests/press appointments/press days, as well as setting up/running the company, new business pitches, budgets, forecasting etc. I have no idea how I did it. I was existing on around 5 hours sleep a night, sometimes less, for the first year and a half. I aged about 10 years during this time! Three and a half years on there are 15 of us, thank goodness!
"I was existing on around 5 hours sleep a night, sometimes less, for the first year and a half"
Who inspires you?
Lots of people inspire me; friends, family, my business partner, but the people in the industry who have inspired me the most would have to be Ruby Hammer and Millie Kendall (co-founders of Ruby & Millie and Hammer & Kendall) who are both such amazing women, so creative, inspiring, hardworking and strong but still manage to keep the human side of their personalities, warm, caring and real. Both girls have inspired me time and time again while working and socialising with them over the past 12 years. Great girls.