Desiree Marr

As Told By: Desiree Marr, Freelance Beauty Copywriter

Last updated on: 2019

As Told By

Meet Desiree Marr, Freelance Beauty Copywriter

She’s a wordsmith wizard, copy guru, caffeine-fueled copywriter and everything in-between. Say hello to Desiree Marr, former Sephora editorial content director and current twin wrangler. From inside the fashion closet to the beauty gates of Sephora, Desiree has always had a passion for writing and now lives out her dream career as a freelance beauty copywriter. Keep reading to learn more about what a day in the life for Desiree looks like, freelance life tips and where she draws creative inspiration from.

  • My name is: Desiree Marr
  • My social handles are: Believe it or not, I only have a small personal one. I write social posts and ads for clients, yet I barely use social media. (Shhh.)
  • Find my website at: desireemarr.com

1. Tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get your start in the beauty world? 

My foray into the beauty world was propelled by my career in fashion. Initially, I wanted to be a marine biologist, but my dreams sank — terrible pun intended — after I flunked college chemistry. Fortunately, I’ve always been a word nerd, so I thought, “I may as well be a writer!” I majored in English at UCSB, interned at a local news station, and worked at a San Diego publishing house. But ever since my first trip to the San Francisco Esprit outlet (RIP) circa 1987, I’ve been obsessed with fashion. I never thought about combining my two passions until Project Runway’s Tim Gunn inspired me to apply to Parsons. On a whim I wrote an essay about how I wanted to be the next Diana Vreeland and… voila! I was accepted. Heading east to the Big Apple, I studied Fashion Marketing, then interned my way all over Conde Nast. Following graduation, I enjoyed a stint in the infamous Teen Vogue fashion closet and interviewed to be an assistant at Vogue — spoiler alert: I wasn’t chic enough — before being hired at Lucky magazine. From there I contracted as a stylist, market editor and fashion editor at numerous mags (and rags) where I got to style D-List celebs, including the cast of Jersey Shore. It’s funny — I ran into Tim Gunn a couple years after I moved to New York and thanked him for giving me the courage to follow my dreams. He probably thought I was nuts. 

Beauty itself was a wonderful accident. As a fashion closet minion, I always coveted my beauty closet counterparts. Besides their glowing skin, they were just so cool — Cat Marnell would waltz in late with smeared mascara and an I-don’t-give-a-f*ck attitude. And veteran beauty editor Caitlin Kiernan was always getting $600 haircuts for free. Plus, unlike clothing samples, the beauty team got to keep all their product. That sealed the deal! When I returned to California, I planned on freelancing at Sephora for a few weeks and ended up staying for almost five years. I spent two years helping launch Sephora.com 2.0 and its Canadian counterpart, and two and a half years directing editorial for almost 600 Sephora inside JCPenney stores.

After my twins, I was pretty much forced to slow down and freelance. I was scared I wouldn’t find work, but have been pretty busy ever since. My favorite kind of project is branding/rebranding. Being able to help turn someone’s dream idea into a full-on brand with its own voice, identity and story never gets old.

2. You were formerly the Senior Editorial Content Director at Sephora inside JCPenney. What was your biggest takeaway from working for this beauty retailer?

Wow so much. That place is impressive. Sephora employs the brightest, most talented people — many of whom I still work with post-Sephora. And they are a marketing machine. I definitely honed my marketing skills there. Whereas my time in fashion was more creative-led, Sephora is all business, which isn’t a bad thing. It is a business! That’s why Sephora is killing it and magazines are dying. Luckily, I don’t have an ego when it comes to my writing — I’m selling lipstick, not writing my memoir. So I write to sell. 

What I love about Sephora is that they are disruptive, inclusive and fearless. They truly celebrate diversity and believe that there is no one-size-fits-all beauty. As a mixed-ethnicity gal, this really resonates with me. Plus, their customer service rocks and their innovation is unparalleled. Working with so many cross-channel teams was eye-opening for me. Creative could love your copy, but Marketing may not. Or the Merchant team could have entirely different objectives. You learned to compromise. Ultimately, Sephora taught me that the best copy is the kind that best serves the client.

Professionally, I got to work on dozens of brands, each one with a unique look and feel that I would be tasked to translate into the Sephora voice. It was challenging and rewarding. During my time there, I worked on everything from campaigns to direct mail to digital to in-store copy. Also, the gratis is awesome.

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3. Since then, you’ve done freelance copywriting for many well-known beauty brands, including Urban Decay, Estée Lauder, Crabtree & Evelyn, REN and Biossance. How do you work to communicate and develop each brand’s unique tone of voice?

For most of the big brands, I don’t develop the voice as much as I try to pay homage to it. For a brand like Urban Decay, you CANNOT mess with their voice. It’s too iconic and millions of UD addicts would stab me with their 24/7 eyeliners (shade: Perversion). Of course I strive to make each voice clear, consistent and compelling. I read somewhere that the average consumer spends approximately 10 seconds “reading” content. So I need to cut through the copy clutter and get consumers to buy ASAP.

There are a couple big retailers that I am currently helping re-brand, which is always tricky because you need to attract new customers without alienating their current ones. One beloved beauty giant that I am working on is about to shake up decades of tradition for a whole new EVERYTHING. I get to help create hundreds of new product names, descriptions, you name it. Now that’s fearless!

But no matter what brand I work on, I tend to write in a friendly, conversational style. I generally steer clear of what  -call “Hey, hottie” language. It’s an outdated voice I cannot do because I am NOT that girl. I also struggle with precious, highbrow or uber girly copy. I like to be clever not cheesy, authentic not arrogant and fresh not forced.

4. What does a typical day in your life look like?

A typical day is atypical. I wake up to Nespresso coffee, a busy inbox (East Coast clients are already up and running), and three hangry kids. I have twin toddler boys (one with special needs) and a sensitive 5-year-old girl. My husband and I get them off to school, activities, what have you, until our nanny swoops in to save the day. I usually have at least three calls with clients or agencies while juggling pickups, emails and actual writing. I drink a lot of coffee, spend a lot of time color-coding three calendars and attempt to get a pilates or Peloton class in when I can. After the kids go down, I pick up my laptop and start my second (third? fourth?) shift. And I try to take Fridays and late afternoons “off” to spend time with my kids. That’s the beauty of freelance life.

5. Can you tell us more about where you draw inspiration from and what your creative process looks like?

This is going to sound crazy, but I don’t have time to browse websites, magazines or eclectic shops for inspiration. However, I am inspired by all kinds of branding in my day-to-day life: on billboards around Los Angeles, on taglines in Facebook ads, in the marketing emails I read, on the e-commerce sites I peruse while shopping for my kids. Ironically, I stay off social media for the most part because I want my content to be as fresh as possible. Except when I’m writing client posts, that is.

Desiree Marr quote

6. What is one thing you have accomplished in your career that you’re extremely proud of?

Professionally, I wrote every single homepage, email and landing page for both Sephora US and the (then new) Sephora Canada for over a year. It was crazy intense, yet I lived to tell the tale. Personally, being involved in my kids’ lives, while working from home is what I’m most proud of. Except when one of them runs in screaming about  their poop while I’m on a conference call. (True story.)

7. How has your background in the fashion and magazine world helped you get to where you are today?

I’d say connections more than anything. When magazines starting going the way of the dodo bird, writers and stylists started jumping ship to work for big brands. (We finally wised up to the idea that a livable wage was more valuable than red-carpet invites or fashion closet access.) Former Allure editor, Catherine Scroop, hired me at Sephora and from there, the editorial team grew into a sorta Bay Area Conde Nast. 

8. Can you share a few tips of advice for other copywriters and digital freelancers?

Find a fantastic mentor and suck every piece of brilliance out of them. I was fortunate enough to learn from the utterly talented Kimberley Brizzarola, first at Sephora and then at women-led Bartlett Brands. I’d follow KB to the ends of the earth, but in a totally normal, non creepy, #girlcrush kind of way, ya know? Also, stay in touch with your network and don’t diss former clients — word-of-mouth business is your best business.

9. What is the one beauty product you could never live without? 

I feel like I could live without any of them, to be honest. Especially makeup, as I rarely wear it. I feel so LA saying this, but does botox count? Retinol, peptides and all the acids just aren’t cutting it anymore. It’s time to bring out the big guns, er needles.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Interested in learning more from professionals in the digital marketing and beauty industries? Check out the rest of our As Told By series.

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Ciera is a content creator, social media strategist and world traveler currently exploring Southern California. With more than six years of experience developing content, Ciera combined her love for writing, traveling, photography and creativity into her lifestyle and travel blog, Life with Ciera. In her free time, she loves going to the beach, cooking new vegetarian recipes and playing with puppies. To see more of Ciera, visit her blog at www.lifewithciera.com.