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4 Australian beauty writers on how they make a living

IMAGE VIA @EMILYALGAR/INSTAGRAM
WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

Forging a career in beauty, one serum review at a time.

Beauty journalism is seemingly glamorous from the periphery. The viles and vessels and pots and potions. The pans of powders and press kits and events. And, of course, the fairytale ‘beauty cupboard’. But there’s a big abyss between receiving PR samples and being paid to write about matters of self-cultivation. For a slim stable of Australian beautyphiles, this is a reality.

And it’s not just sitting at an editorial desk anymore. There’s new, self-made roles and one-woman consultancies have been forged. They’ve worked their epidermal layers off and stuffed their bathroom cabinets full to get where they are now. If an authority figure ever tells you (be it a teacher, a mentor, a parent), that your If You Could Be Anything Job is futile, think again.


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While beauty journalism roles remain lean, someone needs to talk about the new Vitamin C it serum. Just like we rely on political reporters and nightly weather, someone has to tell these stories. And that someone – if you are just unrelenting, talented and obsessed enough – could be you. 

We’ve rounded up a list of creatives who A) can really, really write and B) have an unfailing love affair with lacquers, industry leaders and the magic of makeup. These are women who work professionally in a realm oft-simplified and painted as being ‘superficial’. I asked them how they’ve turned an elusive dream gig into the real red-hot deal. And if there’s one commonality here, it’s that they all worked hammer and hair tong to get where they are now. 

Kelsey Ferencak, Body+Soul‘s Beauty Editor

 

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A post shared by KELSEY FERENČAK (@kelseyferencak)

Give us your career journey elevator pitch.

I did work experience at Dolly when I was in year 10… I loved it so much, I came back in year 11 and 12. I’m not much of a student and I didn’t get into uni. Instead, I went to Macleay College to study journalism while interning once a week at Dolly, which served me well, as I got my first job in media (editorial coordinator at Dolly) before I had even graduated. From Dolly, I hopped over to Cosmo and Cosmo Bride to be a junior subeditor and production coordinator, which lasted six months before I was made redundant. I was 20 or 21 at the time and was hit pretty hard by it. I never thought much about whether or not publishing was a ‘safe’ industry, I just always knew I wanted to work in magazines – so instead of taking the redundancy, I took a job at Woman’s Day (WD). It wasn’t where I envisaged myself working, but I’m glad I took the role.

I learnt so much working at Australia’s best-selling weekly magazine and under some of the best journos in the biz. While at WD we launched Yours magazine – a print publication dedicated to women over 50 – before I did a materinity leave cover for the beauty editor. After a year in beauty, I was hooked, and another beauty ed role came up at NW and OK! magazines. If I’ve learnt anything from working in mags, it’s that timing is everything. After a year or so working on NW and OK!, my old lifestyle editor at WD was heading up Body+Soul and poached me for their new beauty editor role… three-ish years later, I’m still here!

The pandemic really put everything into perspective. A lot of my beauty editor friends and colleagues lost their jobs, but I think working in publishing really makes you resourceful and resilient. They’ve all adapted and picked themselves up – it’s really inspiring to watch. I started my own consulting side gig, Kelsey Ferencakwhere I do everything from copywriting to PR workshops, brand building and general media/beauty advice. My brother and I also joined forces to create a wellness brand… we’re launching soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

Free samples don’t always come with monetary incentives to write/share/razz a brand. How did you begin to set intentions or expectations early?

I’m lucky – I work in traditional media, so I’ve never had to have this conversation. I have strong relationships with PR and brands and it’s just part of the process. But if I were to give advice, I’d always be upfront – tell them how you work so there’s no issue later on and always ask for their expectations first so you can manage them.

If you were accosted by a budding beauty writer in Mecca and they asked you for advice, what would it be?

Shoot for the bloody stars. Find your niche and your unique voice and stick to it. I love following beauty writers who have their own shit going on.

@kelseyferencak

Danielle Gay, Gritty Pretty’s Beauty Director

 

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Give us your career journey elevator pitch.

I was interning at Vogue (and finishing off my journalism degree at UTS) when the editor-in-chief, Edwina McCann, hired me as her assistant. This was 2014 and at the time, I’d filled in for the previous assistant for days or weeks at a time when she was unwell or travelling. So, when it came to hiring a new assistant, McCann asked if I wanted the job. At the time, it came off the back of two years of consistent interning, so even though it felt like it happened overnight, it definitely didn’t.

Oprah always says this thing about luck being like “preparation meeting opportunity” and I’ve felt like that describes my early career because, yes, I was in the right place at the right time but I was also well prepared to do the job. It was difficult and tiring to persevere through university, a retail job and interning, but my advice is to stick with it because it pays off.

My official job title was editorial coordinator at Vogue Australia and no, it wasn’t like The Devil Wears Prada. Well, it kind of was – at times I was tasked with carrying ‘The Book’ across the city to get it to our editor-in-chief if she was off-site during deadline (doing one of the million things you probably don’t realise an editor-in-chief of a magazine even does, like sitting on cultural or charity boards and judging fashion prizes). It was challenging but it was the absolute best way to start in magazines as you’re really touching every part of the brand.

I held the position for two years before McCann promoted me into the digital team. From there, I rose through the ranks to become the digital editor and head of brand, before I decided to pursue one of my true loves – beauty! – full-time. Eleanor Pendleton reached out to offer me the beauty director position at Gritty Pretty and I knew I couldn’t say no. Writing about beauty and wellness all day really is the best job in the world!

How do you mine through what I can only assume is a BIG trove of beauty samples at Gritty Pretty?

This is the fun part of the job. We do have the mythical and magical Gritty Pretty Beauty Cupboard which is just as amazing as you’re probably picturing. Personally, anything new that comes across my desk, I’ll trial in some capacity and that ranges from swatching it on my hand (especially if I’m already familiar with the product or brand) all the way to taking it home and testing it out for a couple of weeks. Sometimes, products just stick – for example, I recently took home the Emma Lewisham range and was instantly converted and used every product until it was empty.

Other times, it’s something I already love and use (like a Rationale serum). Alternatively, once I’ve tested any given product and feel confident that I understand how it works, I’ll pop it in the Gritty Pretty Beauty Cupboard so I have it on hand for any stories I’m working on or for shoots. Sometimes it is hard to believe that this is part of my role (!!) – it really is a dream job.

If you were accosted by a budding beauty writer in Mecca and they asked you for advice, what would it be?

If you love writing and talking about beauty, start doing that. You really do have to build up a body of work. Not everyone has the option of being able to work for free to gain experience and so the internship route may not be suitable but it could be as simple as trialling the products you’re already buying and using and microblogging a review on your own Instagram feed, creating your own Substack for your friends or closely analysing the writing of your favourite beauty editors to see how they do it. This will still help you to hone your voice and prove your passion when the time comes to start applying for paid opportunities. 

@danielle_gay

Emily Algar, freelance beauty writer, editor and copywriter

 

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Give us your career journey elevator pitch.

From high school, I was determined to work in magazines! I studied journalism at uni and during that period I interned at a few boutique PR agencies and Girlfriend Magazine (the memories) before I landed a gig as the editorial coordinator at Beauticate. I loved my time there so much, it’s a fantastic website. I then moved to Byrdie, where I worked as the beauty and wellness content producer for three years until it folded. I went freelance following that redundancy, but inevitably ended up at Vogue working in the digital team and across special editorial projects.

Again, that was incredible, but I left to join Grazia as the beauty editor across both the digital and print mediums. I was in that role for almost two years (and it was a wild, exciting, rewarding time) before I decided I was ready to go out on my own again. So I moved from full time to that of a contributing editor. Now I write for different titles, plus I’m back at Byrdie, but the US-based website. I also work as a copywriter, content strategist and occasionally am lucky enough to create paid-for content on my Instagram.

Free samples don’t always come with monetary incentives to write/share/razz a brand. How did you begin to set intentions or expectations early? 

This is a tough one, but honesty is often the best policy. I’ve started to politely turn down products I know I’ll have no use for – my read on this is that it’s preferred by brands and PRs as well. Plus, why waste it? I always do my best to cover what’s new and cool, but being honest from the outset and not accepting products [is best] just because it is often the best way to go about things. And if something feels off or confusing, just ask! It might save you a headache in the long run. 

If you were accosted by a budding beauty writer in Mecca and they asked you for advice, what would it be? 

Keep going, be nice to everyone, don’t shy away from hard work, keep gossip to a minimum, cold email editors (guess their contact details, if you need to), follow up, make the most of social media and write as much as you can to hone your skills. And be open to other work – beauty writers (sadly) do a lot more than just write. Also, do your research! Know who you’re talking to, who they write for and their most recent work. It will absolutely get you noticed for the right reasons. 

@emilyalgar

Gemma Watts, beauty writer and editor and founder of Glow Journal

 

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Give us your career journey elevator pitch.

How many floors are in this building and is it one of those speedy lifts or an old slow one? I started working as a fashion writer when I was around 18, and was promoted to a fashion editor role within a year. While working as a fashion ed and finishing my journalism degree, I was headhunted by L’Oreal Paris to work as a beauty writer for their Australian editorial platform. I did that for a year before being promoted to the platform’s beauty editor, which I did for a subsequent year (while still working as a fashion editor and still studying. Don’t ask.), before completing my degree and moving into my fashion role full time. Within a few months, I realised I much preferred writing [about] beauty over fashion so I took on a few freelance clients, then I left my job and started my own business, Glow Journal, a beauty copywriting business, editorial platform and podcast, which I’ve now been running full time for four and a half years.

Free samples don’t always come with monetary incentives to write/share/razz a brand. How did you begin to set intentions or expectations early?

I actually think my attitude towards gifting shifted in line with the industry overall. It got to a point where brands began emailing to the tune of “We would love to send you this gift in exchange for a post,” which gives us the ability to say Yes” or “No” without ambiguity. Brands are really understanding now, in my experience, and they’ve been that way for a few years. If a conversation hasn’t taken place around posting expectations, then there’s no obligation to post.  

If you were accosted by a budding beauty writer in Mecca and they asked you for advice, what would it be?

Take the time to learn, to play, and to speak to experts in the beauty field when you’re unsure. It’s not enough to say “Love this moisturiser!” and leave it there. If you want your audience to trust you and to find value in your content, they need to know that you’ve physically taken the time to use the product and get to know what it doesn’t do, what it contains and so forth.

@gemkwatts

Hungry more? Head here to find out what a day in the life of a beauty editor looks like.

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