The Tricky (And Costly) Question Of Whether To Handle PR And Marketing In-House Or Outsource

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions relevant to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 36 brand founders and executives: How do you market and advertise your products? Do you work with a public relations agency or handle PR in-house?

Connie Cho Founder, Ollie Belle

We started working with ChicExecs, and this was a completely different method for us from just simply advertising on Amazon or social media. I’m the farthest person from a risk taker, so entrusting our brand to them without knowing much about PR agencies was a scary experience, especially during uncertain times. 

It’s been a learning experience for us, and they were able to help me look at different sources of advertising and get our products into the hands of different people I would not have reached or thought of reaching otherwise, and maybe pushed me to want to hopefully take more risks in the future (fingers crossed).

Jennifer Lee VP, LAPCOS

We work with a PR agency, Michele Marie PR, that specializes in beauty and celebrity outreach, and we facilitate a variety of paid advertising initiatives, primarily on social media. We started investing in a few new PR and marketing tactics in 2020, including affiliate partnerships, video advertising and retargeting through our various e-commerce channels.

We are looking forward to testing some new activities and avenues like Amazon Livestream for a more engaged product demonstration. However, the core of our support comes from organic traffic from influencers and users spreading brand awareness via word of mouth, and positive reviews and testimonials. There is no better PR than great, accessibly priced products that work.

Ieva Deroui Founder, Ametrine Organics

I have worked with a PR company and also tried an outsourcing advertising company, but weren’t satisfied with either and ended up canceling them both. I found it to be too expensive for the results it could bring. Each service can cost a minimum $2500/month, and it could take at least six months before you start seeing any results. If budget is not your concern, then I’m all about it—working with the right partners can turn out to be very successful.

Personally, I found better returns from investing that money in my own education and learning everything about ads, what the best way of marketing would be and really learning those new skills myself. You, as the founder, know your products best, your target audience, your budget. It is more beneficial in the long term to invest this knowledge in yourself, and tweak it as you go.

Preeti Luthra Founder, Pure & Cimple

Marketing a brand needs a comprehensive ecosystem of websites, social media, retailers, etc. No startup brand has the capacity to invest in all channels at once, but instead must invest in steps. We too are building this ecosystem in phases.

After our soft launch, the first thing we invested in was a Shopify-based website. Pretty straightforward, and we did it ourselves to begin with. Instagram and Facebook were the next steps. It’s important to build a community around your brand, connecting with audiences that share common values. These platforms, especially Instagram, provide space to tell your story and reach out to like-minded customers. To leverage this, we are tying up with nano- and micro-influencers.

Moving forward, we’re taking professional help for content building for website, social media, running ads, etc. With the help of a local agency—we work with Brand Matrix—we have entered into our first online retailer, Amazon UK. Although quite resource intensive, we are navigating our way through running sponsored ads and brand ads. If executed properly, this can be a major channel for us.

For most small businesses, there are many missing elements in this area. It would be a game changer to have a platform where small businesses like ours can learn from each other and share and swap resources.

Britton Hardin Co-Founder, NFZD Beauty

We're currently only marketing on Instagram. However, we have consulted a PR agency in hopes of making a greater impact in the space, and the firm we’re considering for our rebrand is House of Success, founded and led by our fellow Howard University alum Sakita Holley.

VALERIE OBAZE Founder and CEO, R&R Luxury

With my career background being in PR, marketing and branding have always been at the forefront of my mind. We use a range of different tools to advertise our products, from social media to influencer engagement as well as traditional media relations and word of mouth (or word of “mouse” in this climate). 

Social media, specifically Instagram, is a tool that we use to our advantage daily. It allows us to connect directly with an audience of existing and potential customers. With helpful features such as Instagram and Facebook Shop, which are linked directly to our Shopify website, it is easier than ever for customers to purchase directly whilst scrolling through their feed. We are now starting to explore other social media platforms that are popular amongst our target audience such as Pinterest.

Influencer engagement works in two ways for us: 1) We get amazing, well-shot content which we can use and repost to encourage other people to purchase. 2) The influencer’s followers are likely to trust their word and often come to shop, if not, at least follow us on socials. As a brand, UGC (user generated content) works extremely well for us. It’s a great way to show new and potential customers how our current customer base and influencers use our products. 

We also work with a fantastic PR agency in London, Capsule Comms, who handle all of our U.K. comms and PR. They focus on traditional media and have helped us to get featured in a number of high-ranking publications including British Vogue, British GQ and Daily Mail in print and online, amongst others.

Tiffany Buzzatto Founder, Dew Mighty

In 2020, I did all the PR and advertising, a one-woman show while bootstrapping! Our first product, Jelly Serum Bar, required such high product education that I thought this pathway was best and, let’s face it, our budget was important to reach our other growth and company sustainability goals. 

I will say, the amount of emails not returned, PR samples, and digging throughout the world wide web for editor contacts is a full-time job, so I always did a happy dance when we were published in an article and the big knock-me-out-moment occurred when YouTube skin guru Hyram, aka SkincarebyHyram, reviewed us alongside Shelbi, aka Shelbizleee. It goes to show with enough grit and a great product you can achieve a lot.  

I knew that, if I was going to focus on our next big growth goals I had to default to an expert PR person, which is why we hired Christina Moore at CMPR this January. Christina is a veteran who's focused her talents on many of my aspirational sustainable brands, so it seemed like a natural fit.

Tiffany Brown Founder, Bathe Brand

Instagram is our primary platform for marketing. We’ve really been able to learn more about our current customers and convert new customers with direct engagement. Our DMs are a hub for product Q&A and have been essential in connecting the dots for customers who want to know more about how our rituals can be implemented in their daily routines. We’ve also partnered with a PR firm, Meg & Munro, to help with brand partnerships and media opportunities.

Blake Mitchell Co-Founder, Cleanli

We work with the boutique agency, Caro. Early on, we were tossing around ideas for launch and how to spread the word. We considered a few avenues. Do we look at social? PR? Digital Marketing? 

For social, we felt that there is already tons of noise out there. And, from an advertising standpoint, there was a roadblock of restrictions for a brand launching in this space during the pandemic. We quickly shifted realizing that, originally, we created our product with our friends and family in mind wanting them to stay healthy and sanitize daily. Since we couldn't advertise using social/digital marketing, we started by seeding product and building community in a more traditional way. 

We place a lot of value on the idea of a micro-influencer, someone who is an authority in their community. Through our product seeding, we have come to understand more about our customer and who the product resonates with most. Additionally, we are taking a unique approach by utilizing our partnership with retail locations carrying Cleanli to get in front of our target demographic. 

Personally, I have experience in growing brands through retail, so we decided to focus on unique retail opportunities where our target customers frequent (coffee shops, yoga studios, etc.). Finally, we are utilizing PR to grow our brand awareness and create a narrative around Cleanli as a personal care brand for when we expand our product line.

Lauren Lovelady Co-Founder and CEO, Each & Every

Social media is our primary channel for advertising and is crucial for our business because that’s how we have found that consumers discover products. We plan and buy paid media in-house and work with partners like Small Girls PR for earned, organic and influencer media.

Kayleigh Christina Co-Founder and COO, CLEARstem Skincare

We use social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter to market our products. A big pillar for us is education, and social media gives us a direct connection to our consumers and allows us to educate on different platforms.

Marketing and advertising initiatives that have been extremely successful for us have been: being interviewed as founders on aligned podcasts, podcast advertising, hosting IG Lives, Zoom webinars, email marketing, blogging and Facebook/IG ads. We also work with a PR agency, Covet Relations, that works to connect us with editors, high-level influencers and bloggers.

MARC RONERT Co-Founder, Hush & Hush

We do a lot of our marketing the old-fashioned way. Currently, all PR and marketing efforts are handled in-house. Our team is constantly researching new outlets, influencers and like-minded brands for us to partner with. There’s a steady exchange of phone calls, emails and DMs. We do social media and online advertising, simply because there’s no way to gain traction and visibility without it, and it has been successful for us. Our team of sales reps, who are in the field, also serve as a means of marketing our brand on more of a local level. Also, we see a lot of return on email marketing. I do think one reason for our success is because of the quality of the products and the results that are seen. Good results and positive feedback are advertising in and of itself.

ALEXANDRA DJOUKANOV Brand Manager, Orpheus Skin

Sara (our founder) and I have extensive experience in marketing, and we’re both responsible for the ideation of the marketing campaigns and activities. We do almost everything in terms of content production, ad creatives and campaign assets in-house with a small, but talented team. But we heavily rely on our partners to execute our ideas in a way they are relevant to the market. 

We’re lucky to have found amazing partners—our friends at Nouveau Communicationshelp us make the most of our marketing efforts and connect us with key media outlets, influencers and celebrities. We just recently started working with a new, digital agency based in California to help strengthen our online presence and focus our messaging. 

We also work with consultants who specialize in compliance, ensuring all marketing claims used are well substantiated and unambiguous. Marketing a skincare product is really challenging in the U.S. and having an uncompromising, high-quality product is the essence of success.

Alisia Ford Founder and CEO, Glory Skincare

We’ve used SEO and social channels (non-paid) such as Instagram and Pinterest to raise brand awareness. We received quite a lot of organic buzz about our Glory SkincareBox. Many influencers and notable brands have featured us on their social channels, such as Kylie Skin, For Love & Lemons and Ole Henriksen. We were also featured on Beyonce’s Black Parade Route and Harper’s Bazaar. To continue this momentum, we most recently enlisted the help of Six One, a PR agency. We’re really excited about the partnership, and look forward to more people learning about Glory and what we have to offer.

Ines Fakiri Founder, Masdar Selfcare

I made the choice not to invest in PR in the beginning as I envisioned a more organic, social media-focused approach to beauty inspired by #Skinstagram. I myself am a super-fan of skincare accounts like Skincare by Hyram. Word of mouth is powerful, and that's what my demographic is sensitive to. 

The pictures I use are almost unretouched, and I share a lot of valuable content on socials such as skin types-based routine ideas that facilitate imagining the product in pretty much any routine or setting. Additionally, I chose to put myself out there as the entrepreneur behind the brand, which helped customers to identify with me, especially on TikTok, where the entrepreneurs' struggle and daily habits are very popular.

Melody Akhavan CEO and Founder, Dermasuri

We use Hawke Media to create strategic social media advertising plans for Instagram and Facebook. They help us create a strategy to reach our target audience while being smart on budget.

Awa Mballo Tall Founder, AMFA Beauty

My products are mainly marketed on my site, Afrikrea.com and in some concept stores. I am on social networks, which are my main showcase. However, I work with the Anna Toure PR agency for all public relations.

Shinji Yamasaki Founder, RE:ERTH

We have been working closely with Elyse Koenig Beauty & Wellness Consulting since our launch in the U.S. as our PR agency, and we also advertise on social media channels.

Emma Zwissler Founder, The Sunday Standard

It’s been a huge learning year for us, in part due to COVID, but also because as we continue to grow we’ve needed to find new ways to fuel that growth and it’s required some trial and error. In the past, we’ve relied heavily on in-person pop-up events, word of mouth and email marketing. This year, we’ve made some shifts in our marketing plan and have started leaning more into paid social media marketing and advertising, and that has been (mostly) a success. We’ve brought on a social media management team to get that off our plate, although they are not managing our paid social media. We’ve also started to dip our toes into working to get more media placements in collaboration with a PR Agency, Meg & Munro.

Mila Moursi Founder, Mila Moursi

For 30 years, it’s been more of a conservative growth. We are a confidential spa and offer our clients our complete discretion, so it’s really just old-fashioned word of mouth that’s helped me grow. I’ve never had a big PR agency, though I have a boutique agency now. I’ve never had a marketing person. Our success is largely due to word of mouth and time. The products are time-tested and the treatments we do are time-tested, and that’s how it’s always been.  

Jessica Busick Marketing Manager, Soapbox

We use a blend of tactics that we layer to promote our products. We have a PR agency that consistently pitches our brand and products, and promote campaigns we're running throughout the year. We worked with a digital marketing agency on a Q4 campaign promoting our brand and specific product-focused ads.  

We work with influencers on a rotating basis throughout the year as well to reach new consumers, build brand awareness and encourage trial. We have also partnered with groups that promote and support products on a retailer level. For example, we have worked with a group that creates more enriching product pages on Walmart.com for an overall better shopper and brand exploration experience.

Michelle Scheumesiter Founder, PhilanthroBee

Because of the pandemic, we have had to really rethink about how we were going to move forward with the business. We had to pivot from some of our retail strategies to marketing more of a grassroots campaign. You see, we launched the product line in March with some retail contracts lined up. Unfortunately, several of the retail locations were spin and pilates studios that had to close down their operations once the pandemic hit. At the moment, we have an in-house marketing team working on day-to-day operations for social media and engagement. We also brought on this wonderful PR firm to help give us some much needed media exposure with the larger media outlets.

TORI BODIN Founder, Dazey CBD

Our team has done all the marketing and advertising for the past two years, but we just recently decided to partner with a PR company, ChicExecs. Last summer, we were included in Nordstrom's New Beauty pop-in and we published our recipe book, "CBD & Chill," in August. It felt like the right time to engage some extra manpower and help us spread the word about some of our proudest achievements. 

Kelley Martin CMO, Skyn Iceland

We work with a PR agency for editorial coverage as well as one that specializes in makeup artist relations. We have also recently expanded outreach with digital influencers in the beauty and health/wellness space via product seeding, relationships and content partnerships. Our focus is on smaller micro-influencers that really have an engaged audience. We also utilize paid digital media focusing on search and social leveraging with a performance media agency. As for our brand Instagram channel, we focus a lot on product content via posts and Stories, and have been testing new formats such as Lives and Reels.

Safi Tshinsele Van Bellingen Founder, Nebedai

I use my website and social media, Instagram and Facebook, to market my products, and I work with the wonderful agency, Anna Toure PR, for PR and marketing.

Christie Kerner CEO, My Little Mascara Club

It’s funny, we get into a business because we are passionate about the products and the good they do to help others, but it doesn’t take long before we realize that much of our efforts will have to be focused on growth, which generally means partnerships and marketing. Even for those familiar with marketing, the habits and trends of buyers have been different from usual the last 12 months. So, we have to constantly be reading the data of our efforts and adjusting.

My north star in our marketing strategy is empathy. First, that means understanding who I’m reaching. So many potential buyers out there, but without focus it’s hard to stand out. Second, it’s about learning which messages resonate with them the most. There are a lot of cool things I can say about the benefits of my products, but it really helps to say them in the order and way that my customers best relate. Last, it’s about showing up where they hang out (digitally since I’m DTC), so they can learn about us. OK, actually last-last, it’s about retargeting so they get reminded to make a purchase if they didn’t have their CC handy when they first found us.  

Before I really zoned in on the elements of our strategy, it was easy to have hit or miss success. But,the more I tighten up our strategy, the clearer our results. I like to keep the strategy portion of things in-house.  That’s not to say I don’t relentlessly seek out other founders and experts for advice! But, in the earliest stages, I think it’s key to be guiding that personally as the data I get back also guides the development of my business model. Our marketing mix includes the following components: SEO, blog content, paid social, social content, affiliate, community, email, PR, influencers, ambassadors, referrals and rewards, OOH, social proof, PPC, in-app and other display ads, and so much more. If you ever feel like it’s a massive effort to lift your brand up to success, you are right!

Tools and software tips: I use tools like SimilarWeb to learn from the successes of other companies and discover new places to show up and meet new customers.  For pretty product pics on a budget, I’ve used Soona then had SelfMade turn them into fun graphics. I don’t think we can ever underestimate the importance of making sure our customers find our site easy and compelling (conversion rate matters), so I was super happy when I found Builder.io since they make it possible to make Shopify stores that feel custom without the custom price tag.

Giovanna Campagna Founder, Joaquina Botánica

We primarily market our products through earned media placement, social media, organic influencer seeding and e-mail marketing. Joaquina Botánica is inspired by my Colombian heritage, and our mission is to share and celebrate Latin American natural ingredients and beauty philosophies with the world. As a new brand introducing this unique perspective, I felt that it was important to invest in PR at the get-go so that we could properly tell our story. I am proud to be working with Project MM, a New York-based agency known for representing the top clean beauty brands. We have been able to beautifully share the inspiration and vision of the brand since launching a month ago.

PAAYAL MAHAJAN Founder, Essential Body

So far, everything has been primarily word of mouth. I also work with Little Pieces in New York for handling my PR.

JASMINE LEWIS Founder and CEO, Vie Beauty

At this time, we do not work with a PR agency or any third parties. We do all marketing in house. Utilizing influencer marketing, email campaigns and our social media channels has helped tremendously. We also receive a good amount of referrals from current customers sharing their love for our hero product, 30ROSES. As we continue to grow as a brand, we will start to utilize third-party agencies to boost our current engagement and marketing strategies.

SELMIN KARATAS Co-Founder and CEO, Kazani

I worked with a branding agency who worked on the branding, and they gave us the branding tools to post content and pictures on social media. Once I had the foundation, I started posting my own pictures and content. At the moment, I am not working with a PR agency, but I will be looking to work with someone who can handle our social media.

I advertise my products by word of mouth and also from the website. The website is the face of the company, and it should be perfect. I am always tweaking it and updating it. Another way to advertise is through SEO. Once you have the right keywords and a good website, it's integral to do SEO in the backend. Email marketing is one of the most important assets a company can work on. I haven't been sending a huge amount of email marketing, but that is also on my list.

Shalom Lloyd Founder, Naturally Tribal Skincare

Let’s face it, one can have the best product or service, but if no one knows about it, it might as well not exist. Marketing is critical! I don’t currently use a PR agency, although something we will do in the future, we are not there yet. We market by doing the following.

Messaging: Across industries and markets internationally, ethical conscientiousness and traceability have certainly become a buzz and even requirement for consumers. Consumers are so well-informed and savvier than ever before. Provenance, authenticity and heritage appeal to shoppers and are becoming an increasing priority. We have truly finessed our messaging to fit our three pillars (efficacy, planet hugging and ethical sourcing, and empowerment).

Channels: Using our defined messaging, we identified channels through which these messages can be targeted and disseminated to the right audience via social media, our website, newsletters, independent retailers and, of course, the high street/premium retailers. Shopping channel appearances have been a key part of our marketing strategy, where we sell products in volume whilst creating awareness to millions of people

Advertising: Advertising in targeted media is critical. For example, my brand is a luxury/premium brand, and Vogue is a great fit for us, so we were delighted to be contacted for an advertorial. Being featured in Beauty Independent’s list of 200 Black-owned brands was absolutely brilliant, and these features tend to have knock-on effects. 

Collaborations: This is where you get the brands that align with your ethos and values, work with them, tap into their captive audiences and develop a win-win partnership. This is where we tap into U.K. government agencies who champion and support, “Made in Britain and Export.”

It is all about value. So, whether a customer is looking for efficacy, vegan, want products that are absolutely not tested on animals, have love for our planet or want a quality brand with a conscience, we target our marketing and speak their language using the channels best placed to reach them. Customer engagement is absolutely at the core of everything we do and is something that I personally love.

David Petrillo Founder, Perfect Image

We try and let our products do most of the talking. Our priorities are in product development and listening to our customers' concerns and what they are looking for in a product and what sort of struggles and difficulty they are experiencing. Then, we design around those aspects in addition to our extensive research on ingredients and performance of those in studies. So, we do get quite a bit of business through word of mouth. We are also working on establishing ourselves as a source of information in the chemical peel industry, and [providing] knowledge for consumers who struggle with skin concerns and confidence in their skin.

Regis Haberkorn President and Co-Founder, Priori Skincare

We combine social media posts, paid online ads and PR through an agency. Additionally, our network of spas and med spas are our best product advocates and are so passionate about Prior that they promote it to their customers.

Isabel Aagaard Founder, LastObject

Primarily with Facebook and Google ads. We use an agency for both, but we are very involved in creating creative assets for them. We also use a PR agency. Our newsletter is also a great source.

Ben May Founder, Skin Woof

The specifics of our marketing strategy have evolved over time, but they have primarily revolved around social media, both influencers and digital advertising. When we launched in 2017, we started by sending out our products to a number of influencers to get their feedback asking them to share their thoughts with their followers. There were a mix of macro- and micro-influencers, and one thing we learned early on is that micro-influencers generated much better engagement and worked better for our brand. 

Our biggest waste of money and lesson in the early days is that paying lots of money to influencers with large followings to promote your products does not equal results. There has to be a synergy between your brand, the influencer and their following. This is why micro-influencers tended to work better for us and where we focus our influencer marketing efforts today. Their honest feedback really resonated with their smaller but more engaged following.

Once we had built up a bit of momentum, we added in some Facebook paid advertising to the mix in 2018. We have had mixed experiences with advertising agencies that ran our ads for us. We experienced better results running the ads in-house, and that is what we do to this day. We know our target audience well. We can make changes quickly and produce lots of content. I would advise any beauty and wellness founder to at least understand the basics of Facebook advertising before hiring an agency to do it for you. You can start on a small budget and build it up. We aren't against outsourcing it again in the future as we continue to grow. However, as it is something that is so important in driving sales for our brand, for now, we take full control of that ourselves.

More recently, within the past year or so, we have expanded into more traditional marketing channels, including PR. We have been working with Louisa Clack PR for managing all of our PR, including product placements, journalist requests and sample requests. We have had a good response to upping Skin Woof's PR efforts with a number of placements in U.K. national magazines, including Platinum and Natural Health as well as many more. In our position, it made sense to outsource our PR as it is a time-consuming activity that we did not have the in-house expertise for.

JUNKO GOMI CEO, H2O+

As a brand, we are really focused on delivering vibrant experiences to our customer. So, we try to make all of our 360-marketing efforts vibrant and engaging. We do partner with a PR agency to help us drive brand awareness and influencer outreach. Our goal is to find influencers who capture that vibrancy and are truly fans of the brand so we can build a long-term partnership that feels genuine and authentic. We use paid search and social to help galvanize consumers with an interest in the brand. We look to our social media channels to really connect with our consumers/community and learn from them. Email lets us maintain a relationship with consumers and gives us a chance to treat loyalists with early access to new product launches.

Michele Snyder SVP, Global Marketing, Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare

We market and advertise our products through a multifaceted, 360 approach. For us, we feel it’s essential to cater our strategies and content via an omnichannel lens, appealing to our key retailers’ audiences and methods while diversifying our approach based off of our brand’s key learnings. Through these strategies, which include digital advertising campaigns, live social content, trial programs with reviews, and path-to-purchase programs, we hope to meet consumers where they are, both new and old. And, with previous consumers, our goal is to tether them further to the brand through unique content strategies. In order to build these strategies, we rely on an external digital agency and handle all PR internally.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to [email protected].