BBR7 Thought Leader Q&A: Cindy Engstrom – Founder & CEO of Sircle Advertising

“My common thread in my career is technology woven with consumers. It is our job as beauty professionals  to make sure the beauty consumer can find all of the information she wants.”

Beauty Biz Roundtable BBR7 attendees who were lucky enough to sit with Sircle Advertising Founder & CEO, Cindy Engstrom, listened eagerly to her in-depth presentation on Humanizing the Online Brand – Consumer Connection.”

Based outside of Seattle in Kirkland, WA, Sircle Advertising was founded in April 2009. Cindy Engstrom is the Founder and CEO of Sircle Advertising, Inc., the company which has built a social media advertising platform delivering a rewarding way for consumers to engage in the advertising value chain while empowering brands to drive customer acquisition. The platform has been implemented on and the upcoming

1. For those of us who didn’t have a chance to sit at your BBR7 roundtable, please share 3 keypoints from your roundtable presentation of ““Humanizing the Online Brand – Consumer Connection.”

  • Online marketing presents challenges because you can’t look someone in the eye and say “welcome to my store” or “how can I help you today?”.  New tactics are required.
  • Marketers have social media fatigue. We must pause and figure out what truly resonates with the consumer (targeted emails are welcome but the volume has to be appropriate, twitter and facebook were  not popular among the attendees).
  • I talked about how my tech company has created a solution that enables brands to humanize the online experience by connecting with consumers via product sampling to drive in home experiences and “moments of truth” with consumers.

2. Please tell us about your career path/progression. The road to… where you are now? How did you get started? 

I refer to myself as a marketing sociologist because I love watching people and seeing how consumer behavior might intersect with emerging technology.  I got a great foundation in retail running a small company. From there I jumped into the growth phase of the Internet (we’re still in it mind you!) and am now on my 3rd tech start up company.  I get really excited about bringing technology to established business process and modernizing that business process to make it better for consumers.  Whenever you improve things for consumers, your business growth follows.

3. Why did you choose this career? Why the beauty industry? 

I’m new to the beauty industry on the professional side but of course have been an active participant as a consumer for many years.  I was also a model briefly (I wasn’t very good at it!).  I remember when MAC launched and I was so excited to receive a MAC make up bag full of new products.  Sampling is enduring.  Back before digital the only make up that made you look fabulous was MAC.  My common thread in my career is technology woven with consumers.  I feel so lucky that the current part of my journey lets me learn about the beauty industry. I have been so impressed with how smart people are (of course! It is a $40 billion industry!), they know their stuff and they are an elegant bunch, they really stick together and help each other.  So as I am a new comer, I literally cannot believe all of my new friends I’ve met the last three years. 

4. Who/what are your biggest career influences? 

Initially, my Dad.  He taught me how to be relentless.  Growing up he always had the briefcase open on his lap  doing work. He showed me the value of sales plans and metrics.  As he was in CPG sales, I would tag along with him on the odd weekend store visit where I would see him straight up some of his company’s products.  To this day I have to straighten products as I go by!  Through the eyes of the consumer, you have to always be on.

My Mom taught me to be tough.  Thanks Mom!

I have been so unbelievably lucky with the bosses I have had.  Bosses who knew that marketing was critical and could see I had a good talent at it.  With tech start ups there are no manuals.  You have to make well- informed decisions every day, you have to carve the path and I am very comfortable calling the plays and following the path.  I believe in a plan until the goal line.  I’m fanatical that way.

Lastly and perhaps most important, I have always worked with teammates who work their guts out.  They inspire me to be better to be tough, to not whine doing one more red eye and walking straight into a meeting.  I love my teammates.  They make it fun.  If I’m not having fun then I get really sad at work.

5. Who is today’s beauty consumer? How are they changing?

I am in awe of today’s beauty consumer!  She is so intelligent and caring. She wants to know ingredients and that the company producing the product is socially responsible.  It is so refreshing.  She is discerning.  She is experimental.  I grew up wanting to look like Christie Brinkley (who is gorgeous) but I am a brunette so my odds of looking like her were low.  But there was ONE ad to influence us all.  That has completely changed and you see that in how confident today’ beauty consumer is in her own beauty strengths.  I am so grateful the world has changed because I have two daughters and I want them to feel confident and see how beautiful they are in their own right.

Christie Brinkley is still gorgeous and if I woke up looking like her I would still be jazzed . 🙂

6. What do beauty professionals need to do to continue to connect/attract with today’s beauty consumer?

Information!  You have to be transparent.  Let them “look under the lid” as a good beauty friend of mine says.  Respect her time, dote on her, have a relationship with her.  It is our job as beauty professionals to make sure the beauty consumer can find all of the information she wants. 

7. What do you see as the latest trends in your industry?

So much is changing right now!  Given that consumers do such a great job of research and their confidence in one just one or three models of beauty, emerging edge brands get a lot of attention that even a decade ago they would not have received.  This is the power of the Internet.  I think more competition obviously creates a stronger market because everyone digs in to be better.

In tech, we are just scratching the surface on how retail is evolving.  It is very energizing to hear how different beauty brands and retailers are evolving.

8. What attributes make a great leader? Tell us about your leadership style.

Charismatic.  You’ve got to be able to get me excited (please don’t bore me).  You’ve got to be super smart.  You’re the Commander in Chief so be smart and make the calls.  The best leaders I’ve seen are very agile meaning they make the right strategic moves even if they found themselves somewhere they didn’t expect.  Some people say this is like playing chess, it isn’t chess is too slow, to me it is like doing Kung Fu.  You have about 500 moves to choose from and you’ve trained so it’s picking the right move at the right time.  No easy feat.  The other critical leader attribute is communication.  Email, texts, verbal meetings and phone (I hate the phone but should get better at that).

My leadership style hopefully contains a few of the points above.  I want people to be excited to be around me.  I want them to feel special that they get to work on something groundbreaking.  I want my team to know I am giving it everything I’ve got to help us win because I see my team giving it everything they’ve got.  In my current role, I’ve tried to be more patient and I think that makes for a great leader.  I wasn’t as patient over the years as I should have been.  This extends to doing business with other companies.  Each company has a pace and you have to respect that pace. 

I’m also a voracious reader.  I spend several timeslots during the day reading breaking news and research.  If a leader is to set the vision then the leader should be well informed PERIOD.  This also means reading material that gives you a different perspective by this I mean, pick up a copy of Teen Vogue sometime and read it! Go ahead and flip through the National Enquirer!

The last point about my leadership style is trust. I trust the people I work with.  I have to.  I am not a control freak.  If I wanted to do everything myself then why would I have a team?  A great boss of mine uses the analogy of Power Ranger suits.  Each team member has a Power Ranger suit so trust what they do.    

9. What kinds of qualities do you look for in an employee/when hiring a candidate/someone to join your team? 

I look for charisma and hunger and intelligence.  I want to see that you like to win and that you hate to lose.  I like to see people who can tell me their opinion on the spot (that tells me you are thinking about the business if I ask you a question you might not be expecting).  I can’t work with people who don’t do email …I live on email. I can hear people’s voices on email. It is my medium.  By extension, I only work with people who are good writers.  I’m not the best writer but I can get a clear point across so I need to surround myself with great writers.  Over the years when interviewing people I would spring a writing assignment on them to just write a page about whatever they wanted at that moment.  I need to know you can write AND hit a deadline.

 I value professionalism.  When we are at work, we work hard and then around 4pm we start to giggle and we have material that SNL would kill for. 

Again, more than anything will/hunger is so key for a start up company.   You have to pull off a miracle on a budget once a week so you had better be willful! 

10. What is the best way/strategy for someone interested in your company to employ to get a foot in the door? What makes a candidate stand out? 

I try really hard to be accessible to people. I love to help people if I can.  Lots of people have helped me and so I must give back. To that end, if you reach out to me then please at least have some idea about what my company does or the industry we are in.   I love it when someone emails me and says “I just saw this new cool brand the other day that is trying to break into targeted sampling …” or “I know an awesome engineer you should meet”.  Toss me a bon bon and you’ll have my attention.

I really appreciate statistics.  We are still a bit shy as a society to have “player stats” (think baseball) but we are getting there.  I would love to know: how many new brands have you launch?  How many patents do you have?  What types of ecosystems are you familiar with?

You can hook me with some new research.  I spend so much of my day reading that I am just so delighted if someone sends me a link to a story and a soundbite.

Coming from the start up perspective, a candidate stands out who can show  that she/he can play their position but also step in as an ultimate utility player.   There is always something to do at a start up that isn’t getting done!

10. Any other advice/words of wisdom?

Have fun.  Life is too short to not have fun!  Every start up I’ve been at we would hear “I wished I worked at your company”.  The bond between a well-chosen team is a bond that lasts forever even when the band goes separate ways.

I almost left my first tech start up company for a more dependable big company job.  I spent many days going through the decision process.  I realized I would regret it for the rest of my life not knowing how that journey could have turned out for me.  It turned out very well!  It was exhilarating and financially rewarding, plus it set me on my course of a being a tech start up executive forever.

For more details on Cindy and Sircle Advertising, visit:

Click here to view photos of  Cindy and other Thought Leaders from BBR7

Hosted by Mazur Group, the Beauty Biz Roundtable (BBR) series brings together 100 Mid to Senior Level Beauty Executives in a roundtable format that fosters networking and idea sharing. This is NOT a lecture or panel discussion. BBR attendees have the opportunity to sit down in small group settings with industry peers. Past BBR attendees and Thought Leaders have come from every major beauty company here in the West including Stila, Dermalogica, John Paul Mitchell Systems, Neutrogena, Urban Decay, CND,  P&G, Josie Maran, Intelligent Beauty, Sexy Hair Concepts, boscia, OPI, Smashbox,, and more!

Stay tuned for BBR8 scheduled for Fall 2012!

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