There’s surely no doubt in anyone’s mind that 2020 was a year destined to grace the cover of every future history book in existence. It was a year that created extreme upheaval all around the world – across many different industries, lives and professions.
It’s also no secret that in 2020, the beauty industry had to adjust to a new world order prompted by COVID-19, with some repercussions likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
However, the Australian beauty world is now hopeful the industry will slowly start to recover in 2021 and that COVID will soon take a backseat once again.
To gain more insight into what 2021 has in store, BD recently sat down with a number of reputable beauty publicists – who provided widsom about everything they learnt last year, sound advice to help get us through this year, and what we can now expect from the beauty industry.
Reflections and predictions
When asked what 2020 taught her, Petra Bergman of Allison + Partners/The 6AM Agency said she believes COVID has shown how resilient the industry is and that “you don’t have to be able to leave the house to want good skin." According to her, consumer demand for beauty was stronger than ever last year.
Georgie Quigley PR founder and director, Georgie Quigley, feels optimistic about 2021, expressing how incredible it has been to witness the way companies have adapted and how quickly they have been able to do so.
“I think the biggest positive to come out of COVID is just the relaxing of relationships between PR, brands and media,” she said. “I think for brands and PRs in particular, having to have Zoom calls from our homes rather than our offices helped us to see our relationship as more of a partnership, rather than PRs working for brands. There is a new level of empathy and understanding amongst us that I hope we all take in 2021.”
Meanwhile, Hive HQ publicist and director, Jessy Marshall, believes 2021 is going to be a memorable one (and hopefully in a good way). With the majority of her clients having to reshuffle product launches from last year, it has given Hive the time and opportunity to finesse its 2021 strategy – a feat that has thankfully worked out in everyone's favour.
According to Marshall, now more than ever, the beauty world is also looking at Australian brands to take the lead, with 2021 being a great year for local up and coming brands to make noise.
“The biggest COVID positive for me has been seeing homegrown brands really have the chance to shine,” she said. “COVID was daunting, but if you adapted there were benefits to be had. Brands who took advantage were able to stay relevant and truly communicate with their audiences. Suddenly small Aussie brands were able to compete for eyes and ears, with large internationals, on a relatively even playing field. Engaging key opinion leaders, influencers and talent, or media became easier if you were willing to do the work.”
Stellar co-owner and director, Hayley Cole, shared the same positivity, predicting that the beauty industry will continue to see positive growth. She thinks that self-care remains an important focus, and that this industry, while far from immune to the impact of recession and pandemic, continually proves to be a "fairly resilient and incredibly innovative one."
It’s also beneficial to learn from 2020, said Cole, who like many others has been tested in ways she could never have imagined, however is now grateful for the many good things COVID brought with it.
“It’s taught us resilience, innovation, gratitude, the value of being agile, and balance (dare I say the b word!). It’s been exciting to watch a growing tendency to support ethical, people-focused and local businesses and I hope we can continue on this path in 2021.”
Cole cited other positives she felt resulted from last year, including improved brand innovation and communication, transparency and authenticity when it comes to consumer demand and delivery (such as sustainability and clean beauty) and inclusivity in the beauty industry.
The fate of virtual events
While hosting an event online may have seemed impractical and unfeasible before the landmark year of 2020, virtual events proved to be somewhat of a saving grace during such unprecedented times. After all, the reality of the beauty world is that the wheels never stop turning, no matter how socially distant we should be. New launches still need to be promoted, the media still needs to learn about products in order to work with them and networking is still an important key to business success.
One PR who particularly enjoyed the benefits of online events was Quigley, who told BD she definitely thinks companies have recently become conscious of the return on investment.
“I think that virtual events really offer that – particularly across traditional media channels,” she said. “By hosting events virtually, companies have been able to reach media outside of the event hosting city, which they may not previously have anticipated approaching – a definite positive. Virtual events have also proved to be a great time effective option for traditional media, allowing them to be able to attend the event sans travel time and sometimes in their pyjamas.”
Bergman agreed, adding that these events can be more cost effective and appropriate, depending on their objectives, leading her to believe that some online events will remain in place. However, she thinks that our collective love of "a decadent floral and the opportunity to clink glasses face to face should see the return of the in-person event", providing COVID numbers don’t hinder this.
Cole was also excited for the potential return of traditional events, saying, "I am certainly experiencing virtual event (actually, virtual anything) fatigue and I don’t think I’m alone. While 2020 has taught us that we can all work more efficiently, I believe there is still a desire and a purpose for real life experiences.”
Cole predicts we will see a mix of virtual and real-world events, but they will shift to a ‘less is more approach.' Brands will be more conscious of people’s time, the impact on the environment and of their own budgets being used most effectively.
2021 could present the perfect chance for brands to once again host in-person events, according to Marshall.
“They were incredibly missed,” she told BD. “Smart brands and agencies will innovate, be cautious with large crowds, and do high-quality, lower scale, one on one or small group events before jumping into huge launches. Our industry is full of creative genius, and 2020 allowed us to slow down and use that creative energy. I expect 2021 events will reflect the best of those innovators in our field.”
2021 product launches
When it comes to brands and agencies adopting particular product launch strategies, it seems to ultimately depend on individual factors, including brand size, the target audience and even unhelpful delays in manufacturing and sourcing of products and ingredients due to the pandemic.
“From how we announce launches, to seeding the products, to looking at who we target with the product, we must adapt and creativity is key,” Marshall said, also pointing out that 2020 saw a dramatic change in the media landscape, meaning the number of editors and titles have dropped dramatically, leaving most remaining staff members overwhelmed with pitches, emails and sendouts.
“PRs need to respect this change and find ways to make the media's role easier,” she said. “So, in planning launches and events, meaning and purpose are far more important now than ever. If that means sending the product out with no event, then do what is better for the relationship, and better for the editors' time. There are so many brands and so many PR agencies, the key for media now is respect – respect their time and in turn, they'll respect our pitches.”
And while Cole says events are a very traditional way of launching products (mainly because they tick a lot of boxes, such as product in hand, photo opportunities, direct communication between parties, putting a face to the brand and generating social content), she believes these days, there are equally effective ways to achieve the same outcomes that are much more cost effective to the client, less time consuming and more environmentally friendly.
Meanwhile, Quigley thinks that product launches will be planned to be more multifaceted than ever before and not be approached with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality.
“Brands and PRs will be looking at different ways they can tap into various audiences in order to get the best ROI. For example, while face-to-face time is so valuable and given the year we had in 2020, there has been a positive buzz for media wanting to return to that,” she said, citing an excellent point she overheard from Fairfax’s national fashion editor, Melissa Singer.
“Melissa spoke about the different ROI for someone such as herself within a traditional media publication, compared to influencers attending a fashion event. The ROI for an influencer to be able to capture the stylish fashion show at a beautiful location and seed that content out to their followers is vastly different for her. While lovely to attend, theoretically the ROI Melissa gets for that time isn’t quite as extensive and may have been able to achieve a similar outcome via sending a look book. PRs are highly conscious of the media's time, and I thought that this point was really interesting to consider.”
A more sustainable future
When questioned whether they believe product PR send-outs will be more environmentally friendly in 2021 and the future, all respondents agreed that while brands should already be doing everything they can to ensure a more sustainable world, there is always room for improvement.
“I think Instagram has actually been a really positive tool to push this,” Quigley said. “After witnessing beauty media in particular opening press kit after press kit, you realise just how many they receive and are exposed to, and not only how important this is but how some of the brands are overcoming this.”
Additionally, Quigley said more brands themselves have sustainability listed as an important part of their ethos, so she feels that gifting media press kits that reflect that is of importance, saying, “It would seem a bit hypocritical to be sending media products that are housed in recyclable packaging that are then wrapped in layers of bubble wrap.”
Marshall, who boasts a strong portfolio of sustainable and savvy start-ups, agreed.
“If you are not already conscious and thoughtful in how you send press kits out, you are already behind. Sometimes sending it in a paper bag with a note and press release on email is just as impactful as a creative mailer. It all depends on the announcement, the brand, and their purpose; sometimes we lose sight of that. Editors have already said we need to decrease packaging with send-outs, this is not a 2021 thing, it should already be happening.”
The brands pioneering this change
Some brands ahead of the sustainability curve include Bergman’s leading skincare client, Rodan + Fields, which now partners with Terracycle to recycle all product containers. Bergman’s other client, personal care brand, Burt’s Bees, is also a leading global citizen with sustainability at its very core.
“Burt’s Bees invests globally in communities that support their supply chain, helping to safeguard access to clean water, support women’s and children’s empowerment and promote health, safety and biodiversity,” Bergman said. Additionally, the brand’s packaging is recyclable curbside, and there is an average of 52% post-recycled (PCR) content in all its plastics. Burt’s Bees avoids over-packaging, limits mixed materials and uses innovative recycled materials where possible. The brand also partners with the Wheen Bee Foundation to support bee health.
Another innovative brand – while new to the beauty world but with sustainability front of mind – is tbh Skincare.
“One of my brands, tbh Skincare, in particular is doing a remarkable job on this,” Quigley said. “Their product tubes are made from sugar cane and most recently, they have partnered with Impact International for their sustainable forest initiative to offset all of their carbon production. It’s looking like they may even be in a position to be carbon positive – watch this space.”
Meanwhile, Cole, who said she believes climate change, sustainability and authenticity are all trends that are here to stay, works with leading beauty brand, Arbonne, who is proud to be a Certified B Corporation.
“Also known as ‘B Corps’, businesses with this accreditation are those that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose,” Cole said. “We have also noticed other clients among our portfolio becoming more interested in speaking to their sustainability efforts than in past years, and are proud that so many of our clients really are doing great things in this space.”
Overcoming hurdles in a post-COVID world
While COVID-19 numbers are still an ever-fluctuating issue in some Australian states, all four PRs are hopeful we will soon be living in a post-COVID world. And although even that doesn’t come without its share of obstacles, our respondents agreed that it’s important to recognise the positives, while learning from the negatives.
Cole told BD she thinks there will still be plenty of hurdles, although she prefers to see these as opportunities.
“Brands have learnt that things can be thrown on their head in a minute, so I believe this will lead to a lot of diversification in the industry,” she said. “This will look like more locally sourced and produced ingredients through to manufacturing and supply chain; smarter spending on marketing and distribution; and a refreshed approach to communications as a result of changes to the media and how businesses operate with more remote set-ups, and in many cases, more conscious spending.”
And according to Marshall, if COVID has given us anything, it’s that creativity and perseverance go a long way.
“Of course, the post-COVID world will have its challenges,” she told us. “Travel, International Press, and the ongoing economic issues will present problems as many businesses and countries get back on their feet. Like all hurdles though, we should face them with positivity and resilience, and for the world of PR, COVID has also given us a burst of creativity and a higher resilience.”