Revlon is staying the course despite a heavy debt load and limited funds for R&D and marketing: In July it acquired mass nail brand Pure Ice; its second quarter delivered U.S. sales growth of 4.6% and an overall sales uptick of 1.7%, and according to data from Symphony IRI, Revlon ranks as the leading mass brand in lipstick, lip liner and eye liner. Still, a lot of hard work remains. Julia Goldin, Executive Vice President, Global Chief Marketing Officer, discussed with Beauty Insider Revlon’s social media opportunities, Almay’s challenges and goals, the changing roles of women and the importance of being a mentor.

BI: Where do you think Revlon ranks in terms of digital IQ?

JG: One of the big challenges is how to measure digital space. I’d say we’re very happy with Revlon’s results so far but we can go much, much further. We’ve tripled our fans and our followers, but what we look at is the level of engagement the consumers have, how much time they spend on our site, how engaged they get with our products and how many of them come back. I’d say that our engagement scores—we don’t only judge ourselves against competitors, we look at the whole space of brands–are some of the healthiest in not just our industry but overall.

BI: Where are the opportunities?

JG: One, of course, is to continue building social consumer advocacy. We want to create in the current environment the voice of somebody who is going to recommend something. It’s so important and such a big part of marketing. It’s not just talking to people and telling them what you’ve got. The second thing is to continuously have a point of view, because the world of having a unique selling proposition is gone. So having a point of view as a brand as a voice for women in today’s world is very important. And the third point of course is global, because the world is much more global, and consumers who are in social media can very easily engage with consumers or things that are happening outside their home, their space. The whole globalization trend is very important. What’s interesting for me to see is that Revlon’s Expression Experiment is going to be done outside the US, in markets such as Canada, Europe, India. And again, there’s always an underlying social platform which is always about women coming out to the world, becoming much stronger players in the global economy and therefore having more confidence, living more multi-faceted lives. That’s where we see social media going.

BI: How has Gucci Westman raised the bar for Revlon as a color cosmetics authority?

JG: Our collaboration with Gucci [Revlon’s Global Artistic Director] goes a long way back, but I’d say that in the past couple of years we’ve built a very strong partnership with her. She’s really a part of our team in a much broader way than just her seasonal color collections, she participates in all of our key decisions with respect to shades, colors, trends. She’s a very notable voice in all of our innovation and hopefully you can see that in everything we’ve put out in the marketplace over the past couple of years. But especially now I’m very proud of where we are in terms of color, nail, lip and eyeshadows. Gucci is a very big part of that. She also is a very important part of our creative development because she’s doing makeup almost without exception for all of our Revlon campaigns and that’s part of bringing the whole vision to life—into magazine ads, into TV ads and into the digital space. She’s playing a big role in how we’re building the brand. Now, Gucci has also become a bigger part of how we’re shaping the dialogue with our consumers. This year we really leaned into the whole digital space. We’ve launched Revlon’s Expression Experiment, and if you go online you can see that there’s a lot of Gucci there. She does how-to videos with us—consumers love it—she participates as an active voice and dialogue with consumers, asking them questions and responding to them, playing the voice of the brand when it comes to being an authority in color and makeup and bringing the inspiration down to the level that the consumer can actually do herself.

BI: I’m guessing Revlon’s fall Shanghai Collection by Gucci Westman was inspired by a China trip?

JG: Yes, we went together to China last summer and did a big event in Beijing to reignite the positioning of the brand there. Our time there took us back to this idea of Shanghai in 20’s and 30’s, that nightclub type of atmosphere with glamour, rich colors and a sense of dreaminess. The colors were revealed six months ago backstage at the spring fashion shows. At the time Gucci said, “Bordeaux is going to be the color.” And it is the color.

BI: You mentioned reigniting Revlon in China. Have you stepped up focus there?

JG: We have. Last summer, we re-launched Revlon at a major event that focused on a lot of our big new products, as well as the essence of our brand, how it’s positioned and how it is relevant to today’s Chinese woman. In China, women are evolving in terms of their roles. They’ve always played a very strong role in society because they’ve had equal opportunities as men in a socialist society. However, there’s always been tension between the expected traditional role of women and who women are today. As Confucius said, “Beauty is the wisdom of women. Wisdom is the beauty of men.” The expected look is a pretty face but very understated, almost conservative. Chinese women are in fact the most confident consumers in the world and there are a lot of women there who really want to shake it up. We had a big question: Revlon is a brand of makeup, a brand of color. Is that relevant to Chinese women? What we found is that, to the new generation of Chinese women, it’s a very relevant message.

BI: What are Revlon’s challenges in China?

JG: A key challenge is the fact that you’re selling in a department store, and that means you have to have beauty advisors who are skilled, you have to build loyalty with the beauty advisors as they really are the ones presenting the brand. So in some ways, whereas in the United States we can control what our merchandising looks like perfectly, the consumer walks to the shelf and she self-selects—there we’re relying on how the beauty advisor will sell. However, we also see that as a huge opportunity because you can give consumers such a big representation of your brand by turning beauty advisors into real advocates.

BI: What do you attribute to the decline of Almay’s sales and what are you doing to address this?

JG: We’re not happy with Almay’s performance. I’m personally dissatisfied. I believe Almay is a very strong and important brand and that it has a role to play for consumers. We haven’t been able to leverage it in a strong enough way in 2012. One of the factors is that we’re cycling the very successful launch of smoky eye in 2011. The pipeline for innovation really hasn’t been able to cycle that for this year. In terms of our communications, we’re constantly finding our mix. I would say that Kate [Hudson] continues to be very relevant. Every time I look at the scores of how consumers connect with her, she has a very strong emotional connection. But we have ways in which we can improve Almay. In the short-term, we’re continuing to support the brand strongly, continuously optimizing the marketing metrics and the products that we’re supporting. In the longer term you’ll see an innovation pipeline that is more breakthrough in addressing consumer needs. Some of the products that will be coming out next year will be leadership products in terms of consumer benefits, definitely playing on the strength that we have in face and eye products. But there is growth in other segments in beauty so you might see the innovation pipeline expanding even further. We had an “aha” moment with Almay’s positioning: Almay is a beautiful story, a love story between Al, a chemist, and his wife Fanny May, who had sensitive skin. So he developed makeup that she could wear. And we believe that is really a big opportunity for us, to continue to be very safe for sensitive skin, but to bring products that are also very pretty and very wearable and fun. A lot of the products that you’ll see coming out in the next couple of years will be really leaning into that.

BI: What’s Revlon’s corporate culture?

Culture starts at the top. Alan [Ennis, Revlon’s CEO] is very open, straightforward, honest and focused on results. I always tell people there are no politics here. This is all about rolling up your sleeves and getting the job done.

BI: What’s a key characteristic of your management style?

JG: To be a role model as a woman. For me that is a huge passion point because I’ve worked in markets all over the world, in America, in Europe, Japan. I’ve been involved for a long time with women’s issues and issues of women’s leadership, and I really truly believe that women will potentially be the single strongest economic force of the future for the global economy. I feel like it’s my role to share my experiences and the path that I’ve been on and help women in our company to feel more comfortable, to see how they can get it done, and also to alleviate some of their concerns. For instance, I always tell them to put family first. An ex-boss said this and I believe this: “You’re always juggling three balls: family, health and job.” And the only one that you can really drop is the job, because it’ll bounce back. The other two you can’t. Some people think it’s a race to the top. You don’t need to race. At the end of the day, you have to spend time at every step of the ladder.