Erin Starkweather is so chic–one scroll through her Instagram and you'll see what I mean. Since high school, she's been drawn to nice things. It's what led her to her first job working at a curated fashion boutique in North Carolina. It's what attracted her to her odd jobs of hostess at the "one super nice restaurant in [her] area" and front desk worker at a "super nice luxury gym" in Raleigh.
After college, with fashion as her first motivator, she worked with modeling agencies and fell in love with wellness. From there, she pivoted to CAP beauty, where she used her PR degree and can-do attitude to run their socials and build their community. She's now the LA-based Head of Marketing + Events at Saie where she collaborates with influencers across the globe. She pairs the clean beauty brand with unlikely candidates like Jon & Vinny's and Uncle Paulie's to engage Saie's followers in surprising ways. When asked for her secret to success she explained that it essentially boils down to a few things, "What kind of event would I want to be invited to?" and "What would I personally want to Instagram?"
This interview took place over the phone between Ella in Brooklyn and Erin Starkweather in Los Angeles.
EJ: How did you get to where you are today?
ES: I've always had a job since I was like 16, regardless of whether it was an internship, or anything that I could do that would kind of help me in the long run. Even before I could work, I was so excited to get a job. I wasn't a good student and I didn't do very well in school, but I was always very work-oriented. Looking back there were some things that I was like, "Oh that was so silly of me to do." But in the long run it kind of all built up to where I am today.
What was your first job?
I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina in high school, and there weren't a lot of cool places. I was really into fashion and beauty, and two women who grew up there and had moved to New York came back and opened a really cool boutique. I wanted to be just like them. I was like, "Please let me work for you. I'll work for free." I just wanted to go in and help, and learn how to buy and how to style. So I started interning for them when I was 15.
I was obsessed with anything nice and anything that didn't feel like I was in North Carolina. After that, there was a super nice luxury gym that opened by us. So I was like, "Oh my god, I need to go work there and be at the front desk." And so I made some friends there. And then, there was one super nice restaurant in my area, so I wanted to go be a host there. All those like little things taught me a lot even just being 16.
Did you always see beauty as the end goal? When did that path begin to develop?
Definitely not, I always loved fashion. I loved clothes. I loved shopping.
I mean, don't get me wrong, I was always into makeup and I loved purchasing beauty and watching tutorials on YouTube, and things along those lines. But, I always thought that I wanted to work in fashion.
I went to Belmont in Nashville. My first job out of college was working at a modeling agency there. I decided I wanted to move to New York and briefly worked in the modeling industry there, which is kind of how I got into beauty. I was surrounded by all these models all the time. Specifically, I worked with new faces and it was just kind of frustrating to see them trying to maintain their bodies, so I got into wellness through that. I quit my job, I decided that I wanted to be a nutritionist. I was reading Into the Gloss, and there was a story about a new beauty and wellness store in the West Village called CAP Beauty. And I was like, "Oh my gosh, I want to work at this store while I'm going to school to become a nutritionist." So, I emailed them and told them that I was so obsessed with them, and I wanted to work with them.
They asked me to come in for an interview and I was so excited. I was like, "This is gonna be amazing. I can't wait to work in the store. I'm going to get all these products." We totally hit it off, but they didn't want me working in the store. They wanted me running all of their social and doing all of their communications. So, my plans kind of changed. I started working there when I was 23, and I've been in beauty since then–specifically clean beauty.
PR is something that is constantly changing and evolving–even with the slightest Instagram update–did you leave university feeling like you knew how to be a marketer?
No, not at all. I'm not saying it wasn't of value, because in some ways it was. College taught me how to write really well. Having writing as a skill really does a lot for me. There's so much that you can do with that and apply to so many different things. So, being able to communicate well was a great learning experience from college.
But in terms of PR and marketing, I don't think that I've really used anything that I learned in school. Maybe some people do because they wanted to do PR for a pharmaceutical company or something, but what I learned doesn't particularly relate to what I do now.
How did you start building your current artillery of knowledge?
I got really lucky with my job at CAP. I'm the type of person where if you ask me to do something, I'll just figure it out. At CAP, they wanted me to do PR. They were like, "You know how to do that, right? You learned PR in school." And I was like, "Yeah, sure. I totally know how to do it. I'll figure it out."
One of my girlfriends, who I also went to school with, worked at a PR agency in New York. And so I was like, "Hey, can I take you out to dinner and ask you some questions?" So basically, she just told me what she did on a daily basis. And so I turned that into something that I could adapt to what I was doing for CAP. It was basically figuring it out and building relationships with writers, and putting myself in the position of like, "If I was a writer and I was writing beauty stories, how would I want someone to pitch this to me?" What would I want to receive? What would I want to get in the mail from a beauty company?
In my current role at Saie, I don't do PR. We have a whole PR team for that, which I'm thankful for. But, I think so much of my prior PR job experience comes to what I do now, which is marketing. I work a lot with influencers now, and so much of it comes down to just thinking, if you were in the shoes of that person who's getting a million things in the mail all the time, and companies are trying to reach out to all the time...what do you actually want? What would truly catch your attention, not be annoying, and really make you engage with the brand?
Do you feel there was a lot of trial and error in the beginning?
This sounds silly, but I feel like there weren't too many misses. By the time that I came into doing this, there was already talk about mailings being wasteful and those kind of things. So it's legitimately always been: what would I want to receive if I was on the receiving end of this? And it just always worked. So I thought, let's keep going in this direction.
And then in terms of dinner parties and things like that. What kind of event would I want to be invited to? What would I actually want to go to? What would I personally want to Instagram? And that strategy, just seeing people super interested in what we were doing, we ran with that.
So to recap, you were at CAP beauty where you were the PR Manager and Content Editor, and then you went freelance. What drove you to that decision?
I was at CAP for almost three years, and everything was super fantastic there. I made so many relationships with smaller brands who were asking me to help them do things. I thought it would be an amazing opportunity for me to go out on my own and expand what I'm doing. So I actually started working with a lot of brands that we sold at CAP. I really helped them with their brand strategy and PR on a smaller level. It was super fun getting to work with a bunch of different brands on a lot of different projects. When I first started I remember thinking, "I will never go in-house again."
After about a year of freelance, I was really starting to miss working with people in an office and having a team. I was freelance consulting for Saie and the founder Laney [Crowell] reached out to me, and I was like, “I have to go.” Saie is such an incredible brand.
By that time, you had been exposed to so many beauty brands. Why did Saie stand out?
I think with a lot of wellness and beauty brands, it's so small. From the get-go, Saie was like, "We want to be big." Their strategy was more along the lines of a fast-growing brand. Now, we are a super fast-growing brand that wants to be everywhere, not like a niche, small wellness brand.
And there's totally nothing wrong with small brands. I'm obsessed with one of my old clients, F. MILLER. They are so chic! So amazing! But their goal isn't to be everywhere. At Saie, it was just super exciting to have the opportunity to have the resources to do these activations, and do these marketing initiatives that a lot of other brands weren't doing.
And then the other thing that I loved about Saie is that it's cool, and our marketing is amazing, and our shoots are so chic, and it's clean, and it's sustainable. But it's not only for people who are looking for clean and sustainable products, it appeals to everyone. And I think that's what clean beauty was missing, something that didn't feel so granola, you know? It appeals to anyone who's interested in beauty, regardless of the fact that it's clean or not.
What does your current role as Head of Marketing + Events consist of?
My role is everything that falls under brand marketing: social, photoshoots, producing photo shoots, activations.
What has your most recent week consisted of?
We're launching in a major key retailer in January. This week has been a lot of organizing assets from past photoshoots, to get all of our product pages ready. We had a new hire last week, so a lot of it has been training her on how to handle newsletters and all the stuff that she's working on. And then we have a photo shoot coming up on December 16, so a lot of planning for that.
What skills do you think are most important for your current role?
Being really adaptable in what you're working on is super important. Being able to recognize brand identity, and making sure that everything is super on-brand for all of the different touchpoints that you're working on. Being super hard-working, super diligent about everything that you're working on, and very detail-oriented.
I used to work at Milk Studios in LA, and my boss would always say, "There has to be a pen and paper by every single phone, and the pen has to be this exact way," which sounds really crazy, but I think people noticed.
Absolutely! Yes! Yes! That's exactly what's so important. A lot of my job comes down to these mailers and events. We have to make sure that every single aspect of it is super important.
For example, the other day, we were doing this birthday mailer for Saie’s one year anniversary. And we have these cakes that we were shipping out to influencers, and on Sunday, we got a picture from the woman who was baking them. And we had these cards inside of the box. They were sealed. And we were like, "Oh my God, this would look so much better if we had the card on the outside of the box." So on Sunday night, I had to repack all these boxes, drive to Pasadena, and switch them out just so that we could have the card on the outside of the box. You can't settle! Doing things like that makes such a difference on the ROI of what you're doing.
What did the birthday activation consist of? How far in advance did you have to start planning?
The birthday thing was definitely more last-minute than it should happen, just because we had our biggest launch of the year directly before that. We realized that it was our one year anniversary and that this was a major moment that we needed to celebrate. Saie is so much about community, so we really wanted to engage our community in the celebration.
We did a photoshoot with Amanda in New York who helps with a bunch of creative. And then we did a large mailer of Milk Bar confetti cookies and our best-selling, amazing mascara to around 500 influencers and micro-influencers, 50 of our top customers, and then some press. And then we did a large delivery of custom Saie cakes to 25 larger influencers in the LA area.
We also did a smaller mailer of Saie Lilac cupcakes to micro-influencers, who we have really good relationships with, who made content with us for those. Throughout our birthday week, we had an overall birthday campaign happening on social where we shared a lot of the content that was being made. And then we did a cake giveaway for our community. We sent a cake to someone on Instagram, and then are also currently doing a giveaway to kind of wrap everything up. We do a lot of things with influencers, but we always like to make sure that we involve our community too.
As you’re working directly with these community members, what advice would you give to a micro-influencer or someone who wanted to grow their platform and work with more brands? If someone reached out to you, what would make you actually respond or be interested in them?
I'm not really picky with following size, it's more so along the lines of, does your content align with our content? Because at the end of the day, if you have a lot of followers, it's amazing and I would love for you to share our product, but what really is of value to me is taking photos that I can then share on Saie's platform. So I think that keeping your message really short and to the point and telling me why you want to try Saie's products while making sure to mention that you'll share them in a post. I would love it if you shared the product in a post on grid. We get super excited about that! When we send people things, I love when they share their photos, but they also send us more photos in DM saying something like, "feel free to use these photos!" I'll always include you on more mailers if you do that sort of thing.
How did the birthday project ideation come to fruition? You mentioned collaborating with Milk Bar, how did that work?
So the Milk Bar idea was actually from one of my co-workers, Michael [Irwin], who does product development. He was working on putting together a box for this mailer. It's a lot of work to get these boxes custom-made, so he called me with the idea to just put Milk Bar is our regular boxes.
Our whole team is super collaborative. So that was totally his idea, and he doesn't even work on these sorts of things. It just so happened that he was working on the box. I reached out to Milk Bar and they were super easy to work with. I feel like that's one of my favorite parts of my job, being able to collab with brands that really have nothing to do with beauty.
We once did a custom sandwich with Uncle Paulie’s in DTLA, and sent those out to a bunch of influencers. But then the next day, it was available for order on Postmates for anyone, and we paid for the first 25.
What is workflow like, given the current pandemic?
Laney and I are super close. We text all the time, on the weekends, literally non-stop regardless. So that wasn't super different for me. When COVID-19 started, I was living in New York and a lot of our team is in LA. I hated not going into an office, and I felt so lonely. Laney went to the Hamptons, and it kind of made me realize that I wanted to move to LA where some other members of our team are. I moved to LA and now I get to work with Michael who I mentioned, and Emma is out here too, so it's like a little bit more normal with our micro workgroup.
But it's been super interesting to pivot our strategy because in February, before all this was happening, we had all these events and in-person activations planned out. Doing lunches and dinner parties was such a big thing for us, and we had a lot planned so, pivoting that was a project in itself. But I think we've done it really well, and it's been super effective to change our marketing strategy to these super creative mailers and getting the buzz going that way.
What was your most exciting project to work on and why?
We launched our first multi-shade product, which is called Slip Tint. And we had a huge photoshoot in LA for that in July. It was this big three-day shoot. It was our biggest content spend ever. That was super exciting to see our campaign video that came out of that. It was such an achievement for us as a brand to have this nine shade product. We had 12 models at the shoot. It was a super big moment for us to have that launch. So that was both exciting and incredibly stressful, but so worth it.
In terms of a fun exciting project, we did this collaboration with Jon & Vinny's where we sent everyone pizza and wine for one of our launches, which I personally thought was so fun. It's so iconic LA.
What advice would you give to someone that's emerging in marketing and PR?
Reach out to as many people as you can. Make connections. Use Instagram. I think that finding my aesthetic niche has helped me a lot in terms of getting a job and finding clients. Having taste and your own personal aesthetic speaks a lot towards the creative things that you're going to conceptualize. I think when I started working at CAP, they definitely were like, "This girl's Instagram is so cute. I feel like she can do our Instagram well." And not to just hash on Instagram, because I don't think that's always the most important thing, but it has helped me make a lot of connections and expand my career in a way that I don't know would have been possible otherwise. Just share the things you love and are interested in, and it doesn't have to be constant. You could have three photos.
DM people. Email people you want to work for. Tell them you want to work with them. Start interning and working as soon as you can.
It's super funny because Michael–who does product development for us at Saie–reached out when I was at CAP. He wanted to intern and he was so persistent. He just kept following up, and following up, and following up, until I was finally like, "You guys, we have to hire this guy. He really wants to work here." He was my intern for like six months, and now he works with me Saie, and is also one of my best friends.
What do you like about the beauty industry today?
I like that there are a lot of options, there's something for everyone. I also like that a lot of companies are thinking about sustainability more and what ingredients you're actually putting on your skin. I think that things are getting more inclusive, there's not just one standard of beauty that all beauty lines are trying to speak to. I like that there is more intentionality.
It's hard, because I'm not a huge beauty consumer beyond Saie, and I think that's why I'm so obsessed with them–they hit all the points that, as a consumer, I like.
I really think that you were the best person for marketing for Saie because you actually love them. What's your favorite product?
I love Mascara 101, it is incredible. I mean, the fact that it's clean is mind-blowing, because it's truly just as good as Diorshow or any of the iconic ones that people love.
But really my favorite product is Glowy Super Gel. It's a skin illuminator, I put it all over my face before I put on foundation and people are constantly like, "Oh my God, your skin looks amazing." I think it's just Glowy Super Gel and you're getting tricked.
For the 10-songs Erin listens to while she works, look no further:
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Saie and Tate VanderPoel Smith
Special thanks to Polaroid.