The Interview: Kelly Marks, Co-founder of Pure PR
Kelly Marks is the Co-founder of Pure PR, first launched in 1999 with Cara Ward. Fast forward to 2023, the company now boasts a portfolio of global clients within the beauty and well-being space.
Marks boasts over 25 years of experience working with the world's best beauty brands and the most influential contacts in the business. Her clients include e.l.f Cosmetics, Moroccanoil, Ilia, Malin+Goetz, Keys Soulcare and Hello Sunday.
When Marks established her PR agency, many beauty brands kept public relations and marketing in-house. PR has since developed and has today become a much larger entity - today, PR teams are uncovering multi-faceted ways to engage the consumer, from influencer marketing, to pop-ups, to television and radio product placement.
TheIndustry.fashion talks to Kelly Marks about how the job of a PR agency has evolved over the past two decades, her work with current clients, and what makes beauty PR so worthwhile.
How did you start in PR?
I came out of university with an Art History degree and spent a couple of weeks working at the Royal Academy.. and I’ve never been so bored in my life. Although I loved what goes on at the Royal Academy, I just knew I couldn't be a part personally because it was just too slow.
I like to work fast, so I think PR really suits me. I started off working after university in 1996 at what was then Halpern Associates. I stayed there for three to four years and by the time I left, I had worked my way up from Intern to heading my own beauty division.
Cara (my business partner) and I left our jobs and set up our office for Pure with two computers and a dial-up modem - a time when you paid for the internet!
Once we set up, we won our first client on the second day, which was a company called Curtain Exchange. The next day we signed a big L'Oreal-supported hair salon chain called Seanhanna. We were up and running and never looked back!
What kind of work do you specialise in at Pure PR?
We specialise in 'beauty and wellbeing' and 'interiors and design', which is a unique and very specific combination of brands. I head up all of the beauty and well-being, and then Cara heads up all the interiors and design.
We've got a team of about 18-20 people and we are based in central London. Over the years we've worked with my favourite brands in the industry (or maybe that’s unfair to say as I’m biased). We currently work with brands like e.l.f Cosmetics, Moroccanoil, Key Soulcare and we just started working with Hello Sunday.
We've probably worked with over 100 brands. We do like to work with what we call 'best-in-class' brands, which means brands that we feel have got a valuable place in the industry, whether they're high street, mid-range or high-end.
You've been in the industry for over two decades, what are some of the shifts you’ve experienced first-hand?
It was just print media back in the day - that's all anyone wanted and that's what we knew worked. PR is so different now. I think brands want so much more from PR than they ever did before.
We still do the kind of traditional PR, which is still so important with print and industry press such as broadcast and TV. The influencer side of things is enormous! For lots of our clients, it's the larger piece now.
We used to just think about what the client brand wanted...but we now think of it completely the other way around - the consumer is now number one. In order for consumers to see why they need a product, PRs need to feature it, write about it, do videos on it, and more.
It's also about giving brands an overview of competitors and seeing what other people are doing. We also look after a couple of our brands’ social media. We do e.l.f's and Moroccanoil’s social media, for example, which has been brilliant. We absolutely want to do more of that, especially for beauty brands. We feel that social media is an important link that pulls everything together.
When we started with e.l.f, for example, I think they had about 3,000 followers, now they're at 330,000. Through our work with them, e.l.f Cosmetics UK has been the fastest-growing brand in terms of social media reach. With Moroccanoil, we've increased their followership and engagement hugely. Being able to bring the brand together with the consumer is what I think makes PR so exciting now.
How do you see PR evolving in the future?
We’re always looking for new opportunities. We're constantly looking to do something different. For me, it's about getting brands into the mainstream culture.
I can't be any more specific but there's a massive TV show on Netflix with a new season set to come out soon, which we’ve secured product placement for some of our brands in. That’s not through paying for anything, that's through our own connections. So working with props departments, makeup artists, hairdressers, and the people behind the scenes. It is important work but it takes patience, it does not happen overnight. It's a multi-layered approach, but when it works, it's amazing.
Can you tell us more about your recent e.l.f activation?
We wanted to do something new and exciting for e.lf. and we had the opportunity to partner with a young British musician called Caity Baser. She was already using our products and we had already sent samples to her, so that came organically, which we love. She resonated with the brand and was happy to talk about it. So immediately that felt like a great fit. We’re working with Catie to supply her fans with e.l.f makeup at her upcoming shows.
Specifically, what we do at e.l.f is to provide vegan and cruelty-free products for every eye, lip and face. Essentially, quality products at great value for everyone is the messaging. So this partnership wasn’t just about supporting Caity, but also her fan base. It's definitely something that the Pure team is excited about because and it’s an example of how PR has changed over the years.
We want beauty brands, of course we do - that's our bread and butter. Beauty PR excels when it takes a product and puts it into culture, such as getting e.l.f into concerts. You know, I would never be scared to approach anyone, any brand, anything to find an opportunity for our client. I think I learned that really a long time ago when I was a junior.
I was in some nightclub somewhere and a very famous model walked in. We were both in the loo and she was playing with her hair in the mirror. At the time, I had a client’s lip gloss in my pocket and I said to the model, "oh, do you want to try my lip gloss, it's really nice". By the Monday morning I've got coverage on this particular product on this particular model. You’ve just got to take every opportunity.
Do you get strict briefs from brands or are you free to push the boundaries of PR?
So we've worked with our clients for a few years now and they've always been very generous in their trust in us. I think that that's what makes a relationship really work. It's the smaller brands that are most strict and are less willing to take a risk. They often want something done the same as everyone else, and that doesn't really work for us.
Do you have anything else in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
So we've got a lot of good fun stuff coming up. Actually, Moroccanoil is a sponsor of the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool! I can't say any more than that!