Instagram and influencers–love them or not, they are here to stay and have become an integral tool for all brands to get their messaging out. Permele Doyle was prescient in her willingness to leave her rather amazing job at Tom Ford and co-found an influencer marketing agency, Billion Dollar Boy at a time when companies still weren’t convinced of Instagram’s influence. Today, her growing company which has offices in London and New York, has worked with everyone from L’Oreal to Nars to BMW. Here she shares how she convinces the naysayers, her takeaways from her former job and her role model (who was sort of my boss at one point).
Tell us who you are and what you do: I am a New Yorker with a background in PR, in beauty PR specifically, and left to launch with a partner in London an influencer marketing agency four years ago. I spent a lot of time between New York and London, but I’m based in New York and also down in New Orleans. I’m lucky enough to head up this great team in New York of BDB, together with our London office we now have 50 people.
Tell me a little bit about your career path to launching this company. You were at Tom Ford in beauty, correct? Exactly. I was brought in right before the cosmetic line was launched as part of this tiny communications team–myself and an executive director. It was really my first real job. I’d worked in London a bit a year out of college, but it was a rough recession year. I wanted to worked at Estee Lauder where I’d interned a few summers before in their internship program which was incredible, but they were on this hiring freeze when I graduated. It was a tough time. I had the opportunity to move to London and then came back. Estee Lauder was where I wanted to work and then this great opportunity at Tom Ford came up.
It was an incredible experience to be a part of this crazy small team and help launch the collection internationally across all aspects of communications, which was print, digital and, at the end of my time there, slowly, slowly social media. It was interesting because I was part of the big corporate structure of Estee Lauder, but Tom Ford was this sort of small, chic underdog at the time and it just got bigger and bigger each year.
That must have been an amazing learning experience and an opportunity to do so many things. It was an incredible experience; I got to plan events internationally, great press events in London or Venice. It was also this very desirable product; pitching it was not challenging because everyone loved him and loved it. Then it was also interesting to be a brand that has a living, breathing, really big personality behind it and honoring that and making sure everything we did was specific and didn’t go outside his very distinct point of view and brand identity.
So then what made you go off and co-found Billion Dollar Boy? It was 2014 when social media and Instagram was just picking up and some brands were figuring out “We’ve got to be on this and start telling our story on this”. I was young, I had Instagram, and I liked it. I thought, “this is something we should be doing.” But it was met with a bit of resistance even from the top up at Tom Ford. At one point he had this quote saying “I’ll never be on social media. Twitter is stupid. I’ll never be on it.”
That was luxury fashion’s take at that time on all of that.
I thought it was such an opportunity and they let me get involved in the strategy for getting Tom Ford on social, working closely with the fashion team, and the digital team which was brand new. They let me run a first tiny influencer program when we launched this lipstick collection called Lips and Boys, which was this 50 lip colors named after men and boys’ names. I said we should send them to digital personalities, I don’t even know if we were using the term influencer yet, who have men in their lives with those names, boyfriends or husbands or sons. There was some really good pickup.
But there was only so much I could do at Tom Ford, I knew this is where everything was going and I wanted to be a part of it. I’ve been talking to my friend Ed for a long time and he had the idea to do a blogger database, before anyone. I was giving him advice on the brand side, how we were working with bloggers, and he said “Permele you should help me.” I said “No, but you really should be working fashion, beauty, lifestyle. That’s the direction it’s all going.” He was like “well, will you come help me do that?”
The idea of leaving Tom Ford where I had been for five years with this big name behind me was terrifying. But then as we started I knew, I had to do it. I took the leap and left to start Billion Dollar Boy.
How did you get if off the ground? It started with literally just me and we got this big first deal with Coach for a holiday campaign working with 35 creators, unique people on Instagram–illustrators, artists. I hired one person, Julia, who still is with us, to help me with that. Now we’ve grown into a full-fledged office.
What did you take from your previous job and apply to what you’re doing now? What was really valuable is that perfection and execution that I learned at Tom Ford. It was such attention to detail and so specific; anything short of perfect was not acceptable. It had to be so thoughtful. I think that sort of execution, how important execution is, was really valuable. Being at Estee Lauder was really valuable, understanding how bigger companies work, but I also learned some things I didn’t want to take away, like being hierarchical and political. At Billion Dollar Boy, we believe that concepts and good ideas come from everywhere, especially in this business that it is appealing to young people. Some of the most valuable ideas are from 22-year old employees.
I feel like we’re at a point where people sometimes roll their eyes at the idea of bloggers and influencers, but at the same time, it really seems to be the next wave of advertising and it’s here to stay. I would love your take on this. How do you convince the naysayers and where do you see things going?
For some brands we talk to it’s already a standard part of their marketing strategy. It’s a line in their budget. It’s so understood that this is a crucial part of marketing and PR. Then some other brands we talk to, especially some of the smaller up and coming brands that have risen through becoming really popular really quickly, have said things like “If I see #ad or if I see a sponsored post from a brand, that brand is dead to me.” But you have to keep up and be a player in this. You have to own the conversation of your brand on social.
Then we also try to show them that there are these interesting creators out there who you can work with to tell your brand’s story in creative ways. You can empower these really interesting creators and voices on social. And you can reach really big and targeted audiences. It can be done in an elevated way. I think that’s why luxury brands feel comfortable with us. Plus we can help find stylists, artists, and photographers who have digital audiences that you can work with if you don’t want to work with huge fashion or beauty bloggers.
Companies have some control but by using influencers, you’re also letting your story be shared in a way that perhaps you won’t understand or even like. Do you find that you really have to educate some of the brands?
Some brands are more comfortable than others. I went to this conference and I heard the Cynthia Rowley VP speak and she said, “When we work with influencers, we’re really trusting them to know what appeals to their audience and what works and we really have to let them do that.” I think that’s the right attitude. Ultimately the best partnerships are when you convince the brands to trust the influencer.
What have been some favorite campaigns you’ve worked on? One of my favorites was this fun campaign with Mulberry who was struggling, because they went through a lot of changes in the company and have only one store in New York in the US. They’re so big in the UK, but they wanted to grow brand awareness again for them in the US. We created a campaign for the launch of a bag collection called the Amberley. We came up with the concept of New York hidden gems and looking through the lock of this Amberley bag to unlock your New York hidden gem. We partnered with three influencers who we knew could create really beautiful video content, such as their personal gardens or views of Brooklyn.
I love the work we’ve been doing for Dirty Lemon, which is a fun functional beverage brand. Coca Cola just invested in them. They’re really cool; they have a drink for sleep and one for beauty that has collagen. They’re fun, quirky and have a sense of humor. We challenged the creatives to use unexpected angles, really out of the box, funny surprising content ideas, which is a challenge but rewarding.
Going back, when you started Billion Dollar Boy, what came easiest for you? Then the reverse, what was the hardest thing or something that surprised you? I think what came easiest was this sort of belief, excitement, and necessity of helping brands tell their story on social. I think also doing our own branding and positioning, which was something I always wanted to do. I helped with our brand identity.
The hardest was definitely learning what it’s like to actually put yourself out there and sell yourself and your company. I think I really underestimated the learning curve and how different it is from selling a Tom Ford lipstick that everyone is excited about. I was always giving products to people. To be on the other side asking and having to convince someone of our worth and what we’re selling, and yet not appear we’re selling too hard; that was definitely sort of the most challenging.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed: Genuinely liking and being curious and interested in people because it’s a people business. Meeting with people, understanding what they need, what you can help them with, I think that’s been one of the easiest parts. I’m curious.
Three words that describe Billion Dollar boy: This is hard. Our copywriter came up with, “English wit at a New York pace” so I’m stealing it.
Three words that describe you: Warm, detailed–sometimes for the worst, sometimes for the better, and probably punchy. I can get very hyper and punchy in the office.
Role models: The first person who always comes to mind is Annemarie Iverson. Have you ever met her?
I worked for her.
Yes, well sort of. When I was at Harpers Bazaar under Liz Tilberis, Annemarie was the beauty director. I was in fashion features and the fashion features director was Sarah Mower, who now writes for Vogue and lives in London. I worked for Sarah but since she was in London, most of the time Annemarie would be in charge of the copy and the edits and moving things through. I’ve known her for years.
She’s incredible. When she was at Estee Lauder, her desk, or I should say, her beautiful office, just happened to be right next to my desk. She officially reported right to John Dempsey but she was a huge mentor to me and she still is and I would go to her for everything–how to approach job reviews, ads and promotions, plus we are very close friends. Then the other one is a dear friend of mine Kara Young who was a big supermodel in the 90s. She is one of the funniest, wisest people I know and who I go to a lot for advice.
Best career advice you’ve received and/or would share with others: When I was an intern, we had four hours with Leonard Lauder, which was this incredible experience where he gave us all of this advice. What stuck with me a lot was he said, “When firing people, convince them that you’re helping them. If you’re doing it correctly, they will actually be thanking you because it’s good for them.” I always thought it was really smart but not always easy to do. And then someone recently said, which I really like and I think people need to remember, is actually the importance of just showing up. It’s half the battle. We worry so much about, “I don’t know if the presentation looks good,” etc, and all that stuff is important but just being there is half of it.
What motivates you? My partner Ed who is the constant optimist and has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met. Also my father who is a brilliant advertising marketing person.
Does your father give you advice? Yes, sometimes too much. He’s learned to curb it a bit. He had his own agency and he worked on the I Heart New York campaign for New York state. He had this exciting advertising career and so he understandably is very excited that I’m in this sort of new wave of advertising. Sometimes his advice is just so valuable, especially about clients and creatives. The big thing is let creatives be creatives. They’re on their own schedule. Let them do what they’re going to do.
Life goals: To establish a successful, inventive desirable company for clients and to be in a position where I can always work and do something interesting, yet be able to be in different places and not tied to one location because I’m quite nomadic. My parents are a bit too. I think that’s the big goal of mine.
Daily goals: My new goal is to get to inbox zero, but it rarely happens.
This is a question I don’t know if you can even answer, but favorite sites and people you follow? You must follow a million people. I love Jessie Bush for fashion. Athena Calderone for cooking. For inspiration, I love Chandelier Creative and Luke Edward Hall. For work, Business of Fashion, Glossy and T Magazine are probably the top.
Daily rituals: Besides Instagram?
How do you unplug? Long Epsom salt baths, but it’s hard because I find it relaxing to bring my phone and look at Instagram; I should probably stop that and just be by myself. Then walking, I love walking around New York, New Orleans. I love looking at houses, stores and streets; that’s one way to get me off the phone.
Hidden talents/hobbies: I wanted to be a filmmaker and made a few films in high school. I’m very excited to be working on a side project that I’m hoping will turn into a documentary.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: Probably a dress I bought at Marni, which sounds a little superficial but it was this beautiful palm print dress and I wore it about 25 times to every single party I could have imagined. It was the most expensive thing I’ve ever owned, but I really enjoyed it.
Favorite small indulgence: I will never not spend money on good coffee which is a very millennial thing to do. And there’s no better feeling than getting a blow dry.
Album currently on repeat: Definitely Spotify, listening to Vampire Weekend and Coldplay, and then my friend’s band which is doing so well, called VHS Collection. I’m so proud of them.
Scent that brings back memories: Fracas always reminds me of my mother. And Clarins sunscreen reminds me of a very happy summer memories being on the Mediterranean in Italy.
Lucky charm: I don’t have one even though I’m so superstitious about everything and check my astrology every day.
Favorite hour of the day: Definitely 7:00 to 8:00 PM, the quiet time after work, either walking home or going to dinner after a good day.
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