How I Landed It: Youthforia’s Social Strategy Manager, Emily McDonagh
From a gig at Go-To to a big cheese in San Fran…
By Ruby Cotton
Content Producer / April 01 2022
Emily McDonagh didn’t do things by the book. At age 16, she said sayonara to high school in a bid to swap learning from textbooks for writing in magazines. It’s a decision McDonagh puts down to “the stress of performing, alongside a brief streak of teenage rebellion.”
Despite her advice to those reading to “please, stay in school,” our How I Landed It interview with McDonagh makes a compelling case to ignore this guidance entirely. From her days working for Zoë Foster Blake at Go-To (where she was in charge of making Aussie marketing US-friendly, or as McDonagh calls it “swapping Vegemite references for peanut butter puns”), to her upcoming podcast Bra(i)nded (where she’s interviewing the “brains behind the brands you love”), and her current role as Youthforia’s PR and Social Strategy Manager, we’d hardly call it a misstep.
Around the time the pandemic hit, McDonagh was already making waves in the beauty industry, surrounded by an impressive group of peers that she describes as “smart, savvy and serum obsessed.” Having just finished up at Go-To, Emily jumped over to Atelier, the private manufacturing company behind some of the world’s leading beauty products, where she worked as the company's product lead.
But despite the border lockdowns, harsh quarantine laws and near-lethal time differences that came along with COVID, McDonagh was dreaming bigger. She had her sights set on San Francisco – more specifically, Fiona Chan’s Youthforia; a brand pioneering “good for your skin makeup”. So good, in fact, that the brand defies every skin care rule and encourages you to sleep in it. And guess what? She landed it.
Make no mistake, McDonagh’s dream-like resume is no stroke of luck. Her determination to be in control of her career has been the driving force behind her clever upskilling, ability to identify a life-changing opportunity while flicking through Instagram stories, and possibly the most impressive of all, never sleeping on a TikTok trend.
Feeling inspired already? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Set yourself up somewhere comfy, grab a coffee, notepad and pen, and get ready to soak up all the A+ tips McDonagh shares as she runs us through the exact path that landed her where she is today.
You might even want to block out your calendar for the afternoon because she’s also left us with a stack of resources to read, listen and subscribe to…
Let’s go from the top, what was your first-ever job?
A rite of passage, McDonalds! I was lining up at 14 and 9 months ready to earn my own money and spend it all on One Teaspoon shorts and Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse in the wrong colour.
And what is your current role now?
I look after all things brand, PR and social at Youthforia. We’re a TikTok native beauty brand formulated to be so good for your skin, you can sleep in it. I love that we sit at the intersection of skin care and makeup, selfishly it’s a sensitive skin girl’s dream.
Yes, we’re very familiar with Youthforia at BEAUTYcrew! Particularly the colour-changing blush oil *dreams*… So tell us, how did you get into beauty? Were you beauty-obsessed early on?
Definitely a learned love as I grew up! I dreamed of working in magazines thanks to the Carrie Bradshaw, The City and The Devil Wears Prada trifecta of ‘00s content.
I tried the fashion cupboard, interned at my local community magazine and had thought I’d land an editor’s gig. Alas, that was not to be. I was MECCA-obsessed and an Into The Gloss forever-scroller once I’d finished university but getting into beauty in Australia can be tough, the roles at that time were few and far between. I landed on the agency side instead working in PR and social for an automotive brand (without a license mind you) and it was a big pitch effort the whole team was working on for a major beauty brand that solidified beauty as my dream destination.
Working at Go-To and then Atelier, now Youthforia - has felt like home in the best way. Being surrounded by fellow beauty nerds always makes for enjoyable work!
Are there any other qualifications or experiences you think are helpful for people wanting to enter the industry you are in?
Getting into university without an ATAR was terribly tricky, but I’m forever ecstatic I did it. After hopscotching my way into a Bachelor of Arts (Media) without finishing high school, I spent a couple of years working and missed studying. So I looked into doing an MBA but was entirely too young to do that and landed in a Master of Commerce (Marketing) at the University of Sydney instead - and I’ll be done by the end of the year!
I don’t think you have to do postgrad to work in marketing but I find it adds a world of value and deeper thinking. When I was completing my undergraduate, social media marketing was in its infancy and bloggers were the only influencers around, so if you’re attending school thinking it’ll be wildly current - expect a lot of Facebook references and not a whole lot of TikTok discourse.
Tell us about relocating from Sydney to San Francisco?
I always wanted to live abroad for the life experience and career-wise too. Sure, everything is bigger in Texas but even in California, the work feels extra-large and the exposure to opportunities is front row. When I was still entertaining the dream of being a writer, New York seemed to be the post. But as my partner wrapped up his Ph.D. studies we investigated where to go, London (too rainy), New York (too chilly), Boston (even icier still) and San Francisco came up trumps for both of our careers. I found the job at Youthforia via a writer’s Instagram Story, it was for a more junior role that I was a little unqualified for but I emailed Fiona (Youthforia’s founder) anyway and we Zoomed from there! I was extremely stressed about finding a job as my partner had already been offered a role, so the clock was abuzz.
But in the end, Sydney’s lockdown meant I started working from Sydney for the first few months. Waiting for consulates to open and border restrictions to lift while managing a PST timezone was challenging but so worth it when we finally landed stateside in November!
What does your current day-to-day look like?
Before work, I wake up, make coffee, savour my skin care routine and scribble in my Five Minute Journal. Enjoy a little view of the city from my balcony and then it's into work — AKA my desk as we’re largely remote. At the minute it’s a little elongated as Fiona’s working from Singapore for the month, but we’ve nailed down how to function across timezones after my stint in Sydney! I log on, check my emails from any east coast writers and influencers, and then dive into social. I’ll scope out trends on the rise, creators blowing up, and take note of any mentions we have on social — so I can send immense thanks and squeeze them into the social calendar. I’ll catch up with Abigale our wonderful content creator and social whiz, Ale who takes the most stellar product captures, Kat who takes care of all things customer and admin, and our broader team to check in.
Then it could be anything from partnership meetings, content calendar sorting, pitching stories, packing boxes and sending products to new Internet friends, diving deep into our social stats or having a delightful coffee with a creator nearby. I’ll jet to the gym mid-morning, enjoy the outdoors pending SF’s temperamental fog and then jump into writing in the afternoon. This could be captions for social, blogs, or cute emails for future send. Then as Fiona wakes up in the afternoon/early evening we catch up on to-dos before wrapping for the day. Bookend that with an adorable university class twice a week, podcast planning (I’m launching one called Bra(i)nded), or article-writing, and then I’m done for the day!
What do you consider the most challenging part of your role?
Knowing how to prioritise and when to say no. As a growing team, with unfortunately not unlimited bandwidth, some things need to be put into the nice-to-have category, not the must-do-or-you-don’t-get-an-arvo-treat category. My rule for this is if it takes less than five minutes, do it now — don’t add it to the to-do list. And if it takes longer than that, assign it a time to work through it that’s honest about how important it is.
And the best part?
Meeting and collaborating with incredible artists, creators and writers — the beauty community is all kinds of lovely. I love finding emerging creators and makeup artists and watching them grow alongside Youthforia, or when we work with a creator and they have me in tears/fits of giggles or my personal favourite — explaining their Aussie or British humour to my US colleagues. Case in point this capture from the splittingly-funny Maddy Lucy Dann.
What’s one thing people wouldn’t expect you to be responsible for, but you are?
As a small team building something special, we all pitch in at all levels. People might be surprised to know it's me in DMs and I still draft every outreach message to creators, so I can ensure that it makes each and every influencer, customer or otherwise feel seen and special!
Being in charge of a brand’s social media, how do you ensure the content you’re putting out to the world is as unique, engaging and on-brand as possible?
It’s a balance of creativity and science and consuming a whole lot of content outside of beauty alone for inspiration. We look to fashion and tech for this but I’d be a sizeable liar if I said it wasn’t tricky given how zippy everything moves these days. We’re incredibly lucky to have a founder who lives and breathes TikTok — a social media manager’s dream — and we use TikTok as our key channel to test, trial, be a little wild, and sometimes adorably unhinged. For most brands, that top channel is still Instagram so it gives us a bit more room to move and be less contrived in our content. Our very best content is always answering customer questions big or pore-fectly small, providing education and expertise with a dose of fun!
Ok, jumping back to pre-Youthforia days, it’s the question so many Aussie beauty obsessives want to know — what was working at Go-To and with Zoë like?
A dream come true, Go-To is a truly fairy-dust-covered brand, and what Zoë (and the team) has brought to life, how each peach bottle makes women across Australia feel, is pretty incredible. You feel that magic in the room for sure. Zoë is especially gifted at making every touchpoint — personal or brandwise — feel memorable, cherishable, and thoughtful.
How do you adapt your tone of voice depending on who you're working for? Do you have any tips for writers?
Working for a brand that cherishes copy and every word like Go-To taught me discipline and restraint in my writing, a skill that informs how I write and code-switch every day! I picked up a wealth of tips from the stellar bunch of typists there and keep this pinned in my mind whenever I’m stuck drafting a blog that I just don’t love or a social caption that doesn’t quite land yet. Namely, read your writing aloud, you’ll get a better feel for the cadence and be able to simplify. Editing is always easier than writing, so get it onto the page and you can refine from there. Many, many times until it sings — or thereabouts.
Generically speaking, that helps a bunch to make your writing top-notch but establishing tone is trickier. I always find picturing the end consumer in my mind alongside a more aspirational reader helps. For Doré, that could be a forever fan of Garance’s street style who’s grown up with bloggers rather than TikTokers — are they going to appreciate my reference to Emma Chamberlain, no matter how brilliant? Perhaps not. Adapting language to meet the needs of your audience means you leave your ego at the perfectly-painted door and write as persuasively and emphatically as you can for them, first and foremost. That’s the difference between writing for a brand and writing for yourself. At Youthforia there’s an overarching tone and a channel-specific strategy, we dive into the data to make sure we’re speaking the lingo of each domain. And test oodles of terms and structures until it lands!
Where do you look to for inspiration?
I’m a podcast and newsletter fanatic. Newsletters I adore include LeanLuxe, SnaxShot, DTC Newsletter, Gloss ETC, Anxiety Beers with Hannah Baxter, After School with Casey Lewis and Sable Yong’s Hard Feelings. I get a delightful dose of writing to soothe my pen-etched soul and all kinds of marketing and beauty updates to feel suitably informed.
In terms of job applications, do you have any tips or tricks to stand out?
Personalise everything, it makes ALL the difference! When I applied for the role at Go-To I peach-ified my cover letter, resume and sent a deck of ideas — designed especially for that role. In the process, the deck of ideas never made it past the recruiter and my adorably hued application had a fruit tree full of references to it. Thankfully that little mishap built intrigue not bewilderment and I made it to the next round. But don’t scrimp on the little things.
To anyone who reads a job description and doesn’t apply once one single bullet point doesn’t match their skills, no more of that. When I landed at Go-To I had zero beauty experience, zilch. More often than not a job ad is a laundry list of possible skills, so what’s the harm in applying yourself and actually sending it in? Sure, you’ll have to put off devouring the next Bridgerton episode viewing but I promise it’s worth it.
One last tidbit too, reach out to people you admire. I do it all the time and the worst that can happen is they don’t respond. Don’t take it personally nor harass them incessantly, but you never know when that cold email or witty LinkedIn DM could turn into a big moment or possible springboard! And you can never anticipate where people will end up!
On your days off, what are you reading or listening to?
I am a podcast fiend so I’ll be deep into podcasts Skinny Confidential (this lion tracker episode is beyond), Second Life with Hilary Kerr or Naked Beauty Planet with Brooke Devard. And when it comes to reading I adore a finish-in-one-sitting kind of rom-com or a change-your-life sort of self-help book. (Ask me about habit-stacking I dare you.) Recently that’s been anything Colleen Hoover types into existence and a bunch of sport coach bios.
What are your top 3 can’t live without beauty products right now?
Three alone feels rude to my overflowing bathroom cabinet but if I must…
1/ Youthforia Pregame Primer ($50.70, Youthforia): My forever evening, hydrating must - I wear it alongside SPF most days (Ultra Violette I smuggled into the US en masse, obviously).
2/ iS Clinical Active Serum ($143, All Saint Skin): I had to find a new skin care wizard here in SF (Isabelle McLeod, an angel) and she recommended the IS Clinical range, the active serum is doing divine things for my dry skin.
3/ Saie Sun Melt Bronzer ($39.60, Cult Beauty): I was always a powder girl but this creamy clean wonder is subtle and superb.
Who are your three favourite beauty creators on Instagram to follow?
1/ Gloss.etc : For all the beauty updates and reviews I need, a snackable delight. I have followed Sarah since her Girlfriend Magazine days and will do almost anything beauty-related she tells me to do. Almost.
2/ Tiffany Lee: She’s an esthetician, makeup artist and I trust implicitly every recommendation she makes. With skin like hers, she’s doing something right.
3/ Kelsey Deenihan: A celebrity makeup artist who does the likes of Hilary Duff and Lucy Hale. I follow for inspiration and false hope that I can pull off a neon green liner moment.