Episode 110: Camille McDonald, Advisor and Brand Consultant

In this episode, hear the story of Camille McDonald, a multi-decade beauty industry veteran who came up during the peak of Christie Brinkley’s popularity and most recently retired as President of Brand Merchandising at Bath and Body Works. Well, “retired” is a word we’ll use loosely here, because her idea of retirement has been diversifying her knowledge base from fragrance to skincare, and embarking on a new career in consulting. Plus, get a senior executive’s eye view on the state of retail and how to stay relevant in your chosen field of work.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® hosted by Jodi Katz, Founder and Creative Director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody, it's Jodi Katz, your host of WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® Podcast. Thanks for tuning in. This week's episode features Camille McDonald, she's a consultant. She spent many years of her career at Bath & Body Works, and is now embarking on a new role, and it will be really interesting for you to listen to that transition from corporate roles to consultant. If you missed last week's episode, it featured Georgina Gooley, she is the co-founder of Billie. I hope you enjoy the shows.

I am so excited to be sitting with Camille McDonald, she is a consultant. Welcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY®.
Camille McDonaldGreat. Thank you.
Jodi KatzI'm really excited to have you here. I'm grateful for meeting you, we met at an event a few months ago, we sat next to each other. And I loved hearing about your history and your career, and what's next for you. I'm so excited to have you on the show.
Camille McDonaldRight, thank you.
Jodi KatzLet's talk about your career in fragrance, a very long career in the beauty industry, specifically fragrance, and most recently the President of Brand Merchandising at Bath & Body Works, where you worked for over a decade.
Camille McDonaldYes.
Jodi KatzBefore retiring.
Camille McDonaldYes.
Jodi KatzThere's a lot to unpack there, so let's start with this, why beauty?
Camille McDonaldWhy beauty, is I got hooked on beauty early on, because, and I have a funny story to tell you about that, Mark Laracy at Charles of the Ritz gave me my first opportunity. But I originally wanted to be a broadcast journalist, and it only took two experiences in broadcast journalism to tell me that I didn't have the stuff to be a broadcast journalist.
Jodi KatzWhat happened?
Camille McDonaldIt just, it was literally too hard. Back then, because I also wanted to make money, it was really hard for women to break in. So nowadays, it's easy for women to break in. But back then, it was harder. And because I really wanted to make money, I basically said, "What can I also apply my writing skill to," and I'm always rewriting everybody's copy, "to basically do what I like?" And so I switched from broadcast journalism to beauty, because often we were writing about nothing back then. Now new technologies are driving the market, but back then it was fresh scrub beauty with Christie Brinkley, it was the glamor of Sophia Loren. And all of those things moved very slowly, you can remember when fresh scrub beauty was in play.

So then, I went to Charles of the Ritz, and Mark Laracy walked in the door, and said, "You have absolutely nothing to offer me."
Jodi KatzAt your job interview?
Camille McDonaldYes. That was the job interview. And then he left me hanging for 45 minutes, while all the other people convinced him to give me a chance. And then I drove the conversation by saying, "You left me hanging for 45 minutes, you can always fire me. Fire me if it's not working out." And so he did give me a chance, and that's how I basically became a beauty era person.
Jodi KatzIt was a copywriting job?
Camille McDonaldNo, it was not a copywriting job, it was a director of marketing job.
Jodi KatzOh wow, good for you.
Camille McDonaldI landed somehow in that. So he, honestly, he gave me the chance. Because on paper, I had absolutely nothing to offer, but except a desire to get into beauty. And I remember saying that someone will hire me sometime, because I'm determined to get into beauty. Because it gave me an opportunity to write basically, and then I discovered all the other things that got me addicted to it. It was fun. He never brought it up again, so he must have been happy. And I'm still here.
Jodi KatzSo sitting in that room, waiting 45 minutes for someone to come back and talk to you, you could have gone the other direction, "I'm never going to get this, they're not going to take me." What gave you that spark to say, "Just hire me and fire me if it doesn't work out," where did you get that confidence from?
Camille McDonaldI went to a girls' school, so I think Smith College was a girls' school, and they've never varied from that. And I think that confidence came from just, "Of course they're going to hire me, they have to hire me, because I want this job." I think it was just that confidence that came from being schooled at a girls' school.
Jodi KatzI love that. Let's talk about your career at Bath & Body Works. It was over 10 years, but how many years was it actually?
Camille McDonald13 years.
Jodi Katz13 years. So where did you start at the beginning of the 13 years, and what did you feel like was the best accomplishment when you left?
Camille McDonaldWell, my team and I added a billion dollars to the top line, so that's a soundbite that you can't ever get away from. I think we proved our value.
Jodi KatzThat's so awesome.
Camille McDonaldYes. We proved our value by doing basically just that, and it was a tough company though, it was a very tough company.
Jodi KatzWhat made it hard?
Camille McDonaldThe ever-changing priorities, the priorities of the day were never what you thought they would be. I tried to be organized and lead my team with conviction, but it was the ever-changing priorities. You never knew what the day was going to hold, which actually has its own piece of addiction to it. I always say you live and die by the cash register ring at noon. If the category, the new category you were testing for instance, didn't make the register ring at noon, there was an assumption that you would fix it or clear it, basically. And I'm exaggerating to make a point, but it's not that far off from what we were tasked to do. And I believe that you have to have confidence in what you're doing, in order to lead a team there, basically.
Jodi KatzLet's talk about this idea of shifting priorities, because I've seen this in entrepreneurial, small companies, this is just the way it is. I never imagined that gigantic corporations, that the priorities of an organization as big as Bath & Body Works could shift from day to day. That's really what the experience was like?
Camille McDonaldYeah. I was, for instance, I always trained the sales associates on whatever category we were in, and I basically had to properly train all of those sales associates in order to make sure that they knew what they were doing when they were in store.
Jodi KatzYou mean the thousands of associates?
Camille McDonaldYeah. They just played it basically for all of the associates, when a new floor set was coming.
Jodi KatzThis is at a time when beauty wasn't moving as quickly as it moves now.
Camille McDonaldThat's right.
Jodi KatzSo how could you even mentally, emotionally keep up with these shifts?
Camille McDonaldI got addicted to it basically.
Jodi KatzWhat does that mean?
Camille McDonaldYou never knew what a day was going to bring you, and so as a result, you had to be enormously malleable in how you approached your day, and just say, "Okay. Now we're changing priorities." Because we had to squeeze more out of every day basically, and I got addicted to the process of ever-changing priorities.
Jodi KatzRight. So it's almost like the way that we feel addicted to our phones, like when's the next email.
Camille McDonaldExactly right. And by the time I left, it was like that for sure, because you had to keep up with your emails.
Jodi KatzSo as the leader of the team, you find a way to cope, but how did you coach your team to cope with this?
Camille McDonaldBy picking like-minded people who I felt got it. You either, Les taught me this, you either get it or you don't get it. And like-minded people who thought the way I thought, basically were who helped me put that billion dollars on the top line.
Jodi KatzSo this is a huge accomplishment, it was, I'm sure, not very easy. I hear that there was a really interesting commute involved in the job, what was that?
Camille McDonaldI was back and forth to Columbus every week, basically. So that was tough, but again, when you ... Part of why it took me so long to get acclimated to retirement is that I was in a different place every week. And it seemed like an adjustment to be home all the time. So that was interesting, and I think it was part of why it took me a little time to get acclimated to retirement.
Jodi KatzDid you have New York Mondays, and Tuesdays in Ohio, was there a fixed schedule?
Camille McDonaldNo, there wasn't a fixed schedule. You never knew when you were going to be required to be there. So every week basically, I sat down, Mondays were always in New York, so I sat down with my assistant, and said, "What do we got this week?" And it was, because it was every week basically. But they did have a shuttle that went back and forth from Teterboro, so it was great. That part was great.
Jodi KatzRight, you didn't have to deal with the airport.
Camille McDonaldYes, exactly.
Jodi KatzThat makes, that inconsistent schedule makes everything else in your life have to shift around it, like your personality.
Camille McDonaldYes, that's true.
Jodi KatzYou probably can't have a dog with that type of schedule.
Camille McDonaldNo.
Jodi KatzAre there things that you had to give up to be able to maintain that lifestyle for that many years?
Camille McDonaldYeah, and I think that's part of why, again, I was more acclimated to an upset life then, and I think that was part of why it took me so long to get acclimated to retirement.
Jodi KatzRight, because you're used to a more chaotic schedule.
Camille McDonaldExactly.
Jodi KatzAnd now you have control over your time, which is two completely different ends of the spectrum.
Camille McDonaldRight, exactly.
Jodi KatzI want to dive into this retirement, because you have so many great stories. But before I do, let's talk about retail advice, because there's a lot of retailers struggling now. There's a lot of small businesses establishing themselves with Green and Clean, and everybody trying to become the next generation of retailers. And then there's a lot of people listening who are district managers, area managers, store managers, and they live and breathe by the cash register.
Camille McDonaldThat's right.
Jodi KatzWhen you work for a company like that, and you're not the senior person, you're working in store, you're working a region-
Camille McDonaldAnd you're taking orders from someone.
Jodi KatzRight, you don't have control over all of marketing, everything, all the rest of the machine, how can you bring sales to your store?
Camille McDonaldSo I'm going to give some advice, and say experiences matter. So I tell my millennial customers who are holding us to a higher bar of innovation, responsible sustainability, authenticity, and natural ingredients, or they want to understand why it's not natural, I tell my clients in skincare particularly, "Tell your customers about the shelf life of organics." Because you will, so it won't come as a surprise, because it can be shorter than normal, so it must be a conscious choice to choose organics. And if you tell the truth about what is in or not in the ingredient list, I believe and I'm giving this advice to the district managers and all of that, because experiences matter.

And when we, if you tell the truth about making that conscious choice, and also tell the truth about what's in or not in the ingredient list, those customers will thank you. And I believe in complete transparency. If you have complete transparency, you will get a reputation for being one of the few straight talking brands. Back at Bath & Body Works, we brought, we tested it out locally in Columbus and New York, to bring back the hand massage, which I'm sure you remember. And it was an easy emotional connection, because you have to recognize that some customers don't have time for it, and we did it on Saturdays to be fair, but you have to recognize that some clients don't have time for it, and they want to walk in and get what they came to get.

With that said, it was an easy emotional connection, because when someone is massaging your hand, it's magic. You have to slow down and focus on the product.
Jodi KatzIf an area manager, a store manager doesn't look like they're going to meet their month, does clientele-ing still work, like calling your customers, reaching out to them directly?
Camille McDonaldYeah. If they believe their product performs, that's the first criteria. And when it came to Bath & Body Works, it was really just transporting someone, or capturing a favorite memory. But that, because you had to transport someone somewhere, to deliver on the value, it was ... I think that you can create experiences that are in the store, and we proved it with the easy emotional connection that our hand massages brought us.
Jodi KatzSo let's skip ahead now to retiring, you have so many incredible lessons, with some to share with listeners, and a lot of people are actually thinking of pivoting careers. We get a lot of feedback from people who are looking to make changes. So you had a steady job for decades, as we talked about, but you described the process of looking for a new challenge once you retired as pivotal. You told me you had the arrogance of always having a job, what does that mean?
Camille McDonaldYes. It means exactly what it says, to be honest. The pace at Bath & Body Works was insane, and we were rearranging our priorities mid stream, and it was just insane. And so I pivoted basically, because I refused to go down with the ship, I pivoted and honestly converted to take a deep dive into skincare. Because I needed to diversify myself, I had been in fragrance forever. I pivoted and took a deep dive into skincare, and I can honestly say I'm enjoying it. Because I was a little bit sick of fragrance basically, and also you have to diversify yourself when what you're doing is not working. And so I took a deep dive into skincare, and literally, I know now, all the hot ingredients that are driving the market, I know whether it's the hot ingredients driving the market, or every skincare trend in the ingredient list. And I can now fashion a skincare line from scratch basically, to say this is what you need.

And it's working basically, because I define myself by what I do, and as a result, it's really working for me now.
Jodi KatzBut getting to this spot was challenging, right?
Camille McDonaldYes.
Jodi KatzYou told me that you thought you'd leave Bath & Body Works, and brands would roll out the red carpet.
Camille McDonaldAbsolutely. What was wrong with that thinking?
Jodi KatzThere's nothing wrong with that, I would think that most people in your situation would think, "Okay, right. Now I'm a free agent, I'm super marketable, I've had all this experience, I increased the business a billion dollars." Where was the red carpet, Camille?
Camille McDonaldIt wasn't there. No. And here's why, I think that again, the millennial customers are holding us to a much higher bar for authenticity, responsible sustainability, blah-blah-blah. When they don't see natural ingredients, they want to know why it's not natural. So I think that all the rules are changing, and I didn't keep up with the rules, because I was closeted in this almost fake world of fragrance. And I'm still grateful for it, I have one fragrance client, so I'm grateful for that. But I basically was buried at Bath & Body Works in a fragrance world, that probably could not be replicated anywhere else.
Jodi KatzRight. So the red carpet didn't get rolled out, and you were waiting for the phone to ring.
Camille McDonaldThat's right.
Jodi KatzOr calling people I'm sure you've known for many years, and wondering why they're not calling back.
Camille McDonaldThat's right.
Jodi KatzWhat did that do to your ego?
Camille McDonaldIt took a beating, but again, that confidence that I got from Smith College, basically said, "I'm not going down with the ship." So I diversified myself, took a deep dive into skincare, and I also know the hot ingredients driving the market. I had worked with Pat Wexler, Dr. Pat Wexler, developing a line of products with clinical skincare, within clinical skincare. And it was enormously successful, it climbed to 51-million, which I have to say, give credit to the network of stores that Les had. But with that said, I positioned it, and I positioned it basically using common sense.

And I was enormously proud of the results, and so I built on that basis. Because I was already in the chronology that you get into when you have ingredient driven skincare, so that was great. And I also, I'm thinking we're entering a golden time for skincare. Because for two reasons, one, the millennial customers understand from an early age they have to take care of their skin. And the baby boomers will pay anything if it works. So that's interesting, and then there's the Gen-Zers that are the sons and daughters of the millennials, who are just hitting college age, college and high school age. And so I think that there's a deep dive into skincare, which will keep it the fastest growing category in beauty basically because of all the technology that's now driving the bus.
Jodi KatzI think you mean the Gen-Xers have the children who are the Gen-Zers, because I'm a Gen-Xer, so the older Gen-Xers.
Camille McDonaldSorry, yes.
Jodi KatzBut basically you're saying, everyone. So I actually love talking about Gen-X, because that's what I am, I'm 43. And we're like the forgotten segment of the population, and I think we actually probably have the potential to be the most active. Because we are educated, and now we've just, I won my freedom. My kids aren't in diapers anymore, they're off in the world, they're all adults, so I have time to take care of myself. So I hear what you're saying, I love that you were able to be confronted with this ego crashing situation. And this happens to a lot of people, not just when they want to pivot careers, but they get fired from a job, and then they're devastated.

It's hard to climb out of that hole. I love that this persistence you had in the very beginning of your career paid off again when you wanted to change directions. But how much time did it take you, and what kind of work did you need to do to be able to say to yourself, "Okay, I was stuck in a fragrance hole, that's not relevant to me anymore. I need to educate myself, and then find new opportunities." Was that a six-month period, a year-long period?
Camille McDonaldNo, it was maybe six to nine months, because I had the base from the Pat Wexler brand, and I could just add to it and update it basically. So I think it was probably six to nine months, and by the nine-month mark, I was getting clients.
Jodi KatzGreat. So this is really, it's a lot of hope for the people listening at home. Was there any situation where a friend of yours in the industry, or even a friend outside the industry said, "I think people are stuck on your history in fragrance."
Camille McDonaldYes, absolutely.
Jodi KatzWhat was that conversation like?
Camille McDonaldThat was actually one of my closest friends, Marina Maher said, "I think that you're stuck in that fragrance world, and fragrance is the least active category right now. So you need to diversify." And I was already thinking about it, so that is what did it basically. By that time, I was already knee deep in diversifying my profile. Because I needed, and I chose skincare because of what was driving that market, and I don't think it's going to slow down. And all the new technologies that are very exciting, I can almost pinpoint who should go after what now. Because I know, it's funny, the skincare that Clinique did back in the day with the Richard Avedon shots and all of that, putting that toothbrush gave me an idea that I'm trying out with someone else, because they've abandoned it.

I'm thinking now that it's time to bring that back, because it's just a billboard message. So we're trying it with someone else.
Jodi KatzWhat is this next stage in your career look like for you? Are you going to take a full-time job at a company, are you going to stay as a consultant? What do you think is going to happen next?
Camille McDonaldWhat's interesting is I'm interviewing now for a full-time job, but I'm not sure it's going to work out. I'm really happy and feeling relevant to the new market, and that's important to me, because I define myself by what I do. So we'll see if the full-time job works out, I have to move to Great Barrington, Mass, and it's a mess. But it could be interesting, because I would get to build a team again, and I love building a team.
Jodi KatzAll this stuff is way more fun when you know the people you work with. I've been a freelancer through the years, and it's lonely. It evolved into being what my business is now, which is a team. But knowing that there's people to support you, and you support them, and watch their growth-
Camille McDonaldYes, yes. There's nothing like it basically. When you're as motherly as I am, and you watch people develop, there's just nothing like that.
Jodi KatzIt's super fun. And it's a really great way to inspire and be inspired. I'm so excited that you're sharing your story with our listeners, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today.
Camille McDonaldGreat.
Jodi KatzAnd for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Camille. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes, and for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram @WhereBrainsMeetBeautyPodcast. Thanks, Camille.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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