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08th May 2014

What It’s Really Like… Behind the Scenes at Benefit

We meet the Director of Story and Voice at Benefit Cosmetics.


They say the grass is always greener and this can certainly be the case when it comes to jobs so in a new series of articles, will be sitting down with people in a series of professions to get a true picture of what it is like to walk in their shoes.

This week we spoke to Helen Gaughan, the Irish-born lady who’s now living a fast-paced life in San Francisco, where she is the Director of Story and Voice for Benefit Cosmetics. Helen told us about her background, her day-to-day workload and what exactly goes on behind the scenes at one of our all-time favourite beauty brands.


Helen Benefit

Tell us about your background and education…

Interestingly, I would say that my education was very far away from this line of work. I did a B Comm at UCD, which is kind of a million miles away. You know when you’re young through, when you pick your thing in university that you’re going to do, you’re sixteen or seventeen and you don’t know what’s going on.

After I left there I asked a friend what she was planning to do next, and she said: “I’m going to do marketing”, and I thought: “Oh, you can do that?”

So I started gradually. I went into advertising, then I switched to the creative side of advertising which I stayed in for a long time, working with agencies in San Francisco. It was after that that I started up my own consultancy business. I met with Benefit Cosmetics after being a fan of the brand for a long, long time and it went from there.

Did they come to you, or did you chase a meeting?

It was a little of both really. I had written to them in 2009 I think, saying: “Your brand is awesome, I want to write for you!” Then other clients came in, they didn’t have a spot for me, whatever.

And then a couple of years later I was working with some other brands in the United States and Benefit had been looking around for somebody to do what I do. I was recommended to them, they got back on to me and I just thought: ‘Hell ya!”

Of all cosmetic brands, branding is a huge part of what Benefit do… was it daunting to come on board knowing how important that element of the company is?

You know, no! I have to say I really welcomed it. I’d been in the industry a long time and there are lots of brands who just do one thing. Sometimes that one thing is great, but there’s a very narrow range of expression for that brand. What’s great about Benefit is they break all these sacred marketing rules. Everything’s supposed to look the same, you’re not supposed to look outside the box, but they have the courage to go out on a limb and take a chance. They commit to that, so if anything I was excited. I felt like I had an affinity for what the voice was. They had such an incredible history. Have you heard the history of Benetint, the iconic product? The Ford sisters had a shop in the Mission in San Francisco, where I live, their first little shop. An exotic dancer came in and she was fed up with not having ‘expressive’ enough nipples in her many sets. So they went home and cooked this thing up in the bathtub… and it became Benetint lip and cheek stain! (Ed’s note – we will never look at Benetint the same way again.)

How does the process work, what state does the product come to you in?

We do the names, and everything in the art and the packaging comes from that. So the better and more evocative the name is, the bigger the world it creates. You get to express yourself in so many different ways through that, and use so many different forms of inspiration.

We actually work very early on with the product innovators, because Benefit is all about the instant beauty solutions. Right at the beginning we work with those guys to figure out what the product really is and how it will be positioned. Then we work with legal through some vigorous tests; we have to be really sure it does what we say it will. All the while we’ll be brainstorming about a name. The next stage is to come up with one very clear line to say what the product is and does. After that we work on the copy for the packaging. The inspiration really can come from anywhere.

How do you measure engagement with your buyers?

There are sales, of course. But we really pay attention to who is talking about it. If the campaign is a little sassy and out-there you’ll be seeing tweets, Instagram posts people will be talking about it.

Do you think being Irish helps you in your professional life in any way?

I think there are a lot of Irish people who could do my job! The wit and that sense of fun and not taking anything too seriously is a perfect match, and Benefit really does love the Irish audience. It works both ways; the Benefit sense of fun appeals to the Irish buyer too.

What’s your personal favourite from the campaigns you’ve worked on to date?

I really like The Porefessional. It’s so clear and she has these amazing adventures! It shows you the power of coming up with a great name, as we’ve been able to do so much and develop so much from her beginnings. There are a lot of exciting things in store for her!


We suspect there are many more great things in store for Helen too…