Can’t decide which waterproof mascara to buy? Want to know the best fake tan on the market? Ask beauty queen Michelle Blancato, General Manager of BEAUTYDIRECTORY and beautyheaven.
As the GM of Australia’s biggest beauty industry and consumer websites, BEAUTYDIRECTORY and beautyheaven, Michelle has the power to influence the purchasing habits of more than six million Australian women every year. That’s a pretty penny – considering the cosmetic and toiletry retailing industry was estimated to be worth $3.7 billion in Australia during 2015-16, according to IBISWorld.
So how did she get to the top off the beauty throne? Here, Michelle shares her career path, the highs and lows, challenges, insider goss’ and advice for other women with their sights set on the top job…
From workie to General Manager: the golden career path
Oodles of women working in the beauty industry start out as work experience students, collecting mail and coffee for staff. But few have gone on to become a General Manager at one of Australia’s leading publishers, Bauer. Michelle did, though.
“My ambition for a magazine career was cemented after doing work experience at SHE magazine in the mid-90s,” explains Michelle. “I completed a Communications degree at Western Sydney University, and was lucky enough to land a job as editorial coordinator at ACP Custom Media’s FOXTEL magazine when I graduated. From here I was promoted to sub editor before moving over to the Kids’ Titles as features editor. A couple of years later I packed up and moved to London without a job, an industry contact or a return ticket. Nevertheless, I picked up a steady stream of freelance work writing and subbing for magazines at BBC Worldwide, Future Publishing, IPC and Emap.”
“A few years later I returned home and continued to freelance for a while before landing the Chief Sub Editor role at ACP’s Cosmopolitan Brand Extensions (Cosmopolitan Bride, Pregnancy, Health and Hair & Beauty). Due to a spate of office pregnancies I was quickly promoted to Deputy Editor then Acting Editor. I loved the titles but I was drawn to the digital industry, so I applied for the role of Online Manager at a small digital publishing company. Much to my surprise, I landed the job. Six years on I’m still here, now as the General Manager of BEAUTYDIRECTORY and its sister site beautyheaven, working for Bauer Media who acquired us last year. There are 36 of us in the business, we work with over 600 beauty and health brands, and beautyheaven is Australia’s leading beauty reviews site with around half a million visitors a month.”
Tough gig: the challenges and lessons learned
Working in the beauty industry and media is not all powder puffs and manicures. Her biggest learning? “The realisation that working in media is tough! It’s not always a high paying or highly resourced industry but, on the flip side, the industry is filled with creative, smart, inspiring and funny people,” explains Michelle.
“Also, I’ve learnt that being successful doesn’t mean working on the biggest titles. I’ve always been drawn to smaller teams and niche titles, and I decided long ago that I would only work on titles I was passionate about. As a result, I’ve never felt undervalued or minded the hard work because I’ve always loved my job.”
And challenges? “It has been to find ways to broaden and develop my skill set,” admits Michelle. “Usually this has happened when I’ve moved jobs and someone’s been willing to take a chance on me doing things I haven’t done before. This has been crucial to my career progression.”
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Moving from magazines to digital: the challenges
Going from print publishing to online is a whole new ball game. You have to learn to write for ‘Google keywords’, shorten your sentences, and be the first to publish to beat your competitors. So what other challenges did Michelle face?
“Aside from the fact I knew nothing about digital when I started?! And that’s not an exaggeration,” laughs Michelle. “I had never seen the backend of a site, didn’t have a clue what terms like CMS, CPM, Mrec or ROS meant, and had never heard of Users, UBs, PIs or Pages/Session. I was pretty bloody useless at the digital gig for the first three months!”
Michelle moved to the digital world in 2010, when the web had just started to claw away print sales and readers.
“There were challenges in the media industry then,” explains Michelle. “A lot of businesses were hesitant to invest with a digital publisher; it was the great unknown. We had to do a lot of education around what we did and how it could benefit our clients and their customers. Looking at the current media landscape, it’s clear that tide has turned.”
“Luckily, a big part of my job was building a team and I think that’s where I proved my worth. I’ve been hugely fortunate to find amazing women who want to come and work alongside me, and that is probably the most rewarding thing.”
The fierce digital landscape: staying ahead of the game
There are countless beauty websites and bloggers to compete with, so how does Michelle stay ahead of the game? “Being agile, constantly wanting to learn, supporting each other and having a positive attitude is imperative,” she says. “I’ve got a team who believe in what we do and want to deliver the absolute best for our clients, members and audience. ‘No’ is never an option. Any idea or suggestion or ‘what if?’ is always on the table. We will move mountains if we think it’s going to make us better. The only problem is that we don’t have an endless supply of time and resources to get through our wish list!”
“The motto ‘one team, one dream’ is often thrown around in here and it’s a pretty accurate reflection of how we work.”
Work life balance: juggling family, health & a business
Any female boss will understand the pressures to juggle life’s hat trick – family, work and health. So how does Michelle do it?
“I’m not sure if I manage it or if it’s a complete fluke,” she says. “I have two awesome children (a one- and a three-year-old) and they consume every second of my life when I’m not at work. My husband is incredibly supportive and even though he works fulltime, he is the master of the daycare drop-off/pick-up routine, and makes sure our ‘life admin’ gets done. He actually makes me look pretty bad in terms of what I bring to the table!”
“I work slightly adjusted hours to cater for daycare, and do emails in the morning and at night at home. I rarely attend evening events, minimise interstate travel and make sure that the management team gets together twice a week so we’re across everything that’s going on. It also helps that I feel fully supported by the team. I trust them and the decisions they make when I’m not in the office, and they’re fully aware that I’m only a phone call away if they need me.”
Office culture: finding a happy workplace
“I inherited a business with a reputation for its great company culture so I feel the pressure to continue that!” admits Michelle. “Essentially, I want people to want to be here. We spend most of our lives at work and I think it’s a terrible disservice to a person and the business if someone is just turning up to go through the motions.”
“Thankfully, we’re a pretty happy bunch and the creative ideas and enthusiasm are always flowing freely. I really appreciate honesty, foresight, different points of view, and anyone who brings a bit of sass to the mix (something we’re not short of in here!). The fact we like a Friday drink together probably doesn’t hurt, either.”
Golden advice: Michelle’s top three tips for women wanting a job in media
- “Don’t be complacent. Being the new person and pushing yourself out of your depth is scary. But it’s also exhilarating and exciting. My idea of hell would be staying in a job because it’s comfortable or safe.”
- “Find a mentor. I’ve worked with incredibly strong, professional and generous women who have all given me time, experience and support to move up in my career. A single conversation with someone you admire can have a hugely positive impact on your day, outlook and career.”
- “Be inspired. Go find something you want to do! It’s an exciting time to be working in media so just get out there and give it a crack. And for those less-than-ideal jobs? Take what you can from them. Even if it’s the knowledge that this something you won’t want to do again.”