Married, two children, twenty years in Pierre Fabre group. Valerie Roucoules works for Avène since 2001; however, she has been responsible for some time of René Furterer or Glytone. Her job? The press relations. Her training? She is a pharmacist. What is wrong? Nothing, indeed. Valerie explains and accepts her difference in the world of press agents in full confidence.
A typical working-day for Valérie Roucoules? She begins by reading the e-mails arrived since the day before, and by answering the questions of journalists: one requires a visual document to lighten her beauty heading; another one would like to get a cream for testing; a third one has forgotten the retailing price of the latest novelty, while the last one would like to interview the Avene line Director … To all these women (journalists talking about beauty are mainly female), Valerie sends an answer.
Now, she can prepare a new press kit, and begin with the back-and-forth (with the regulatory team, the marketing department, the proofreading committee …) actions needed prior its validation. Or she goes to the daily press review, to check how the pieces of information given the journalists have been treated, what has been published, to check that the messages have been displayed … and which ones have not been at all, or only partially.
Her programme may also include the organization of an event or of a press trip (when, at which cost, how to structure it, which pieces of information shall be included …), a meeting during lunch-time with a journalist, a staff meeting …
“The press agent is the link between the marketing team, which develops the strategy about a new-product launch, and the journalists who pass on the information to the public at large. She eases the cross-overs and the understanding between these two worlds,” Valerie Roucoules explains. “The most part of my job is to imagine tools for this purpose, especially press releases and press kits; nevertheless, but I could also have to organize conferences or accompany some people to conventions.”
The schedule of a press agent may be burdensome, depending on the number of novelties from the brand that she is responsible for. However…being a pharmacist, is it mandatory to do that?
He who can do more can do less
As a young girl already, Valerie brought up in a care environment. Her father and two of her uncles were vets; her cousin was an M.D. “Should I’ve been more self-confident then, I would have studied medicine,” she confesses now. “However, when 18, I’ve been unable to think of my relationship with a patient. Therefore, I studied pharmacy. I stayed on the care side of the health professional, with an easier contact along with the patient.” One can imagine the very good little girl and the nice student she was … Nowadays, there is still a little thing in her look and in her way to smile that lets us think about that.
Scientific and enriching career
During her training, Valerie understands quickly that her life behind a counter is not what she is hoping. Therefore, she looks for alternatives to the shop; she begins a Master of Advanced Studies (DEA, as per the French acronym) in pharmaco-technique and industrial engineering; she is an intern for six months in … L’Oreal, in the bio-metrology department, and gets a second internship in the Lancôme Research and Development Department.
That is the way a pharmacist gets a toehold in cosmetics, “I’ve answered a job offer in L’Express, for a position of training teacher in Pierre Fabre.” This is how a pharmacist will be forever far from any counter.
In Pierre Fabre, she begins in August 1992 by facilitating training meetings, with an audience from 15 to 150 pharmacists: she designs training materials, and does what she needs to have a good knowledge of the products.
“I did like it,”
In ’93, a thorough review of the trainers’ network requires them to become specialists of a brand. Valerie enters a new job, and is a medical sales representative for Pierre Fabre Dermatology; she exchanges about skin diseases and medicines with the dermatologists of the Pays de Loire area. “One must take upon oneself, when discrete; I had not been trained to become a sales representative. However, I had the experience of training meetings, and I was scientifically knowledgeable.”
New job in January ’94: Valerie is now an International Senior Product Manager, again for Pierre Fabre Dermatology. She is based in Castres (Southern France) for four years to design marketing plans and to adapt the launching strategies used in France to foreign markets. In ’98, the shy woman makes the full leap, and becomes the Manager of the international training. “Then, we were four trainers who wandered throughout the world to train local teams. I made a lot of trips in Canada, in the USA, Australia, in Asia … I was abroad three weeks a month; it was fantastic. I went through very interesting experiences!” Sparkles in her eyes, Valerie talks about the training meetings for 60 Korean beauty counselors, all young and joyful, who welcome her as if a princess, only because she was the representative of the French cosmetic … and had not slanting eyes. A nice life … for a single woman.
From the scientific side to the journalistic one
2001 is there. The Pierre Fabre group opens its new Les Cauquillous site, due to gather all the teams … in Tarn (Southern France). Valerie has just met the man who will marry her … in Paris. The end of the international time, “I’ve been hired by the press relations department, in Boulogne-Billancourt (Editor’s note: a Western suburb, close to Paris), after my first baby was born.”
Well, she is now a press agent, sending files, pictures and products for tests to beauty journalists. Is a profile a bit overqualified for the job? Does she miss, sometimes, the research laboratories she was trained to work in?
In a single word, for Valerie, the answer is no, “The years of experience in the group allowed me to understand that research means groping in the dark, looking for oneself … (No wonder: Valerie has found her own way). In my different jobs, I’ve always been in contact with others; this could not be absent from my professional path. Nowadays, I provide advice, ethics, knowledge: doing so, I come back to the image of a pharmacist. Further, I accumulated learning outcomes that are very useful when talking about Avène. For instance, for understanding its thermal water: even if it is a fully natural ingredient, it is thoroughly studied for its physical-chemical or pharmaceutical-chemical advantages. Knowing the scientific vocabulary helps understanding it, “transcribing“ it and making it understandable. Indeed, I do not have the feeling to have made pharmacy studies for nothing!”
Further, it is a kind of trademark of the Pierre Fabre group: in the press relations department, among the ten people involved in cosmetics, three are pharmacists; one is a biologist, one, a chemist, and all (all are women: the press agents' world is as feminized as the beauty journalists’) have a scientific approach. As if there is the same will for meeting high expectations when talking of products as when designing them …
Thus, Valerie is in command of designing the press kits, which explain the new products to journalists. Each file is the result of a common work between the different departments of the brand; all the files are her “babies” … heavy babies, to tell the truth.
“What is sure,” she confirms, “is that my files are not only a numbering of the fans on Facebook, or do not rely upon the hundreds of items sold every second somewhere in the world!”
Others could think this would be enough; not Valerie. In fact, her files display the active ingredients, the studies that show their properties, their mechanisms of action, the benefits of the chosen dosage form … facts, figures, scientific data, “In Pierre Fabre, no canvassing,” she firmly states. “We never emphasize the results of a product; we do not provide studies on efficiency if performed on a 10-strong sample only; we do not try to outdo. This is not the way of doing in this company, which is a good thing, as it is neither mine!” We guessed so …
That is why, against all odds, Valerie goes on releasing her scientific and informative files; she qualifies her files as due “more to a belief than to marketing seduction," as the one of Serenage that she allowed us to make fully available, as an example (see the full press kit at the end of this article).
Even if it is not trendy, “Our job has tremendously changed. Many press agents work nowadays more on the relationships than on beliefs. Maybe this is a generation question: young people focus more on form than on substance. However, the lowest common denominator is not acceptable: in Pierre Fabre, we are consistent with the messages we send pharmacists and M.D.s.”
Nevertheless, does she think that these ethics are followed, that her files are read by journalists? She smiles … Of course, not: her files are more often given a quick glance at than reviewed. Valerie, in fact, adds a recap page, what shall be remembered, all in few lines … prior to the immutable substance of the file that she is so proud of.
Yes, it is true, she is proud of what she does, the way she does it, of the messages she sends, “I would question myself should I have to tell things I do not think,” she states. “In Pierre Fabre, I do not have such a problem. I know that the quality of a product makes the project be successful; its tolerance, its efficiency, its added value to existing products are the main points. It is easy for me to talk about it. I do not make myself sending a message; I know it is true.”
Usefulness versus market
A launch she is especially proud of? Denseal. Oh, yes, it is not a best-seller … Denseal has been designed for people above 70 who suffer with dermatoporosis. Their skin is thin as cigarette-paper; it is fragile, comes with bruises, and could be so thin as to tear. A regular application of Denseal helps boosting skin density and bringing it back resilience and comfort.
“I always marvel at some launches,” Valerie enthuses. “In this specific case, someone began by thinking in terms of ‘which service could I deliver’, instead of ‘which market could I lay my hands on’. In the end, it is an agreeable, efficient cosmetic answer, the texture of which enters quickly, with no need for any kind of massage; up to the dispensing tip of the tube, which has been designed to apply without any risk of irritation. It is a niche market, but it paved a way: other manufactures followed us. Hence, it is a product it is rewarding to talk about.”
Information more than feeling
Among her preferred files, the presentation of the Avène spa resort, with so many pieces of information that it has been compiled as four sections, one for each expertise.
Or the Ystheal’s, an anti-age programme, with tabs, as there were so many different things to say: studies explaining why the product is different in dermatological terms, a consumers’ advice section, 15 pages of substance, about ingredients, patents, the clinical cases in the world … ” These are the kind of pieces of information that I do like to send journalists,” Valerie says again.
Her biggest disappointment? The D.E.F.I. (Dispositif Exclusif Formule Intacte; Exclusive System for an Unspoiled Formula), a system of packaging in tubes that allows for the keeping a sterile formula absolutely unspoiled, free of any germ during the period of use of the product. A truly safe and innovative answer to the “without preservative” concerns.
“When I was advised of the project, I thought: here is an incredible revolution! It should have had the blast effect of a bomb. I hope to have TV networks, journalists other than the beauty ones…asking for interviews …” The press coverage has not met her expectations: Valerie is in the opinion that the media missed the point.
No reason, however, to give up on her DNA, “We perform studies on the editorial impact of our messages in media,” Valerie says. “This gives us outlines for advances.” The media relations department in Pierre Fabre group will, therefore, continue its job of professional and ethical relationship with media. “I do believe in my job,” she says, “and, in the department, all of us are on the same pattern!”