La Mer. Bobbi Brown. Origins. MAC Cosmetics. Aveda. Clinique. Bumble and Bumble. What do these brands all have in common? You may not realize it, but they are all under the umbrella of global prestige beauty company, Estée Lauder Companies. Founded nearly 75 years ago, in 1946, this family-controlled, public company has grown to include 28 brands. Alexandra Trower, EVP of Global Communications and member of the Executive Leadership Team at The Estée Lauder Companies since 2008 oversees brand communications, corporate communications, internal communications and crisis communications for the entire company. She visited the Columbia School of Professional Studies on Feb. 18, 2020 at the invitation of the M.S. in Strategic Communication program for a fireside chat with Academic Director Dr. Rebecca Heino about the field of strategic communication.
Ms. Trower shared the history of communications at Estée Lauder Companies (“Telegraph, Telephone, Tell a woman”), the scope of her work with the company, her approach to crisis communications and the philanthropic work of both Estée Lauder and its brands.
“I am lucky to be a businesswoman that does communications,” Ms. Trower said of her role.
For the nearly 100 people in attendance at her talk, Ms. Trower also shared her thoughts on how to move up in the field of strategic communications and took questions from the crowd. Here are her top insights she shared with current students, alumni and community members:
“If you are a really strong communicator, the field you practice in does not matter.”
When Ms. Trower started in communications, she first worked in the financial services sector at Invest, JP Morgan and Bank of America.
“All of us are here because we can tell a narrative. I was part of asset management communications -- everything from 401K to providing private banking services to wealthy clients -- which was about serving clients’ hopes and dreams,” Ms. Trower said. “Not to be crass, but the aspiration of money is not that different from the aspiration of beauty. At Estée Lauder, I found a workplace of quality, integrity, aspiration and helping people. The transition was not that difficult -- and if you are a really strong communicator, the field you practice in does not matter.”
Cross-culturalism and local relevance are key to communications.
Local relevance is a key tenet of our approach to our consumers around the world, Ms. Trower said.
“From New York City headquarters, we can't understand all the needs of each specific area of our global market, so we look to local markets to understand what people really want there, such as shade of foundation,” she continued. “We knew we weren’t going to grow from sitting in the GM building, so our CEO travels at least a third of the year...and actually goes in people’s bathrooms to see what beauty products they use."
In the past 10 years, the balance of beauty brand communications has completely shifted.
“We are in a great moment in time because with social media every individual has a voice,” Ms. Trower said. “We pay attention to what people post about us and post on our brands’ social media. You can know early on what audiences care about.
“Ten years ago, there were lots of beauty magazines and almost to a person all the beauty editors who were around at that time are gone. It used to be: Who cares if this review is on the dot com? Now, it’s almost: Who cares if it is in print?
“Influencers are key now, but I’m not sure when the influencer bubble will burst. Actually, smaller, micro influencers yield more because people have trust in that authenticity.”
There are three things Ms. Trower looks for when hiring new employees.
“Of course, number one, I’m looking for smart, articulate, critical thinkers with great communications capabilities,” Ms. Trower said.”
But she also really looks closely for the following traits:
ALACRITY - “Cheerful promptness -- people who love what they are doing and understand what it takes to deliver."
INTEGRITY - “If you don’t have this, forget working for me. Trust is paramount on my team."
LIKABILITY - “During a crisis week, we may be working 12, 14, 18 hours a day so it is important that you are someone who people enjoy working with."
Data analytics is the most important area of focus for a future-proof communications skillset.
A current M.S. in Strategic Communications student asked “What future-proof skillsets should students focus on today for work in communications?”
Ms. Trower responded: “You’ve got to love data. It’s your best friend. Embrace data and be fluent in it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to know how to code, but you do need to understand the language.
“Likewise, make sure you understand the business you are communicating for. How is your company making money? And how can you contribute to that bottom line?”
Ms. Trower also recommended that newer employees raise their hands for upcoming opportunities and be proactive about seeking out advice from those further along in their careers in organizations. She specifically complimented an M.S. student who had emailed her asking to interview her about her career path, which she gladly gave.
“No one loves anything more than being asked for advice,” she said. “Nicely done.”
Learn more about the M.S. in Strategic Communication program at Columbia University.