Anyone who has worked in the beauty industry over the past 47 years has most likely met or heard about Joni Rae Russell, the marketing mastermind behind Joni Rae and Associates. From ABBA to ZOOM! and hundreds of companies in between, Russell’s client list reads like a Who’s Who of the beauty industry. Described by colleagues as a fearless, fiercely talented entrepreneur, she has worked to help brand and rebrand thousands of products to become successful in the beauty and cosmetic industry and beyond. Now, after 47 years, Russell is announcing her retirement at the start of 2020. As a third-generation entrepreneur in the beauty industry, Russell kicked off her career at her family’s company, VJ Curcio Beauty Supply. Young and hungry to learn, she worked from the bottom so she could later ascend to the heights of the industry. As a sales rep (possibly the first female in the country to hold the position), she coined the term “Distributor Sales Consultant,” ( DSC) which is still in use today, and tackled a steady stream of responsibilities: penning a 24-page newsletter (The Curcio Chronicle), selling ads, serving as educational director and event planner. That key early experience as a “Jill of all trades” proved indispensable as she later was recruited for executive positions by big-name brands like Revlon, Redken, and Dep Corporation and steadily climbed their ranks in marketing and product development roles. But she finally found her calling when she created Joni Rae and Associates in 1991—a true one-stop-shop for shaping a winning brand and executing every part of the marketing mix.
Over the past 28 years, Russell has worked with more than 200 clients and branded more than 800 SKUs, working behind the scenes to discern and deliver on every possible detail that makes a brand succeed. Her company shone as not just a marketing firm, but a fully integrated brand architecture firm, handling everything from marketing positioning, naming, slogans, and package design to branding, media buying, and publicity. “In the early days, clients would hire me to write their business and marketing plans—they’d love it but wouldn’t know how to go about executing those plans,” Russell recalls. “So I started developing divisions to help the clients at every step.” With too many success stories to count, her unique blend of experience at every level of the industry created a seamless experience for her clients, who could skip the endless firms involved with developmental details and score all of that expertise in one place: Joni Rae and Associates. In short, Russell was truly the beauty behind the brand.
“You’d be surprised to know how many successful beauty brands have Joni Rae to thank for their success,” notes Gregg McConnell, business development manager at Evoke Agency. “She’s worked tirelessly behind the scenes and has a successful track record other marketers would envy. Joni’s unique talent blends creativity with a business sensibility that ensures brand success on many levels.”However, insider intel is only part of the inimitable algorithm behind Russell’s incredible achievements; she also shares unsurpassed care for her clients and passion for the industry she was born into. “I just love my industry and my business,” she enthuses. “I looked forward to getting up every day and advancing the brands I worked on. This industry has provided me with lifelong friends.”
Of course, considering Russell’s unparalleled reach in the beauty industry and her propensity to give 110% to every last development detail, it’s no surprise that the love goes both ways. Ask Robert Hayman, CEO of Discus Dental, who tapped Russell to mastermind a brand she named ZOOM!, which shot to $100-million sales in mere months. “I have rarely met anyone with the raw talent possessed by Joni Rae,” he marvels. “Her passion and ownership over this project was remarkable and continued on when the assignment was finished. Her creativity, common sense and enthusiasm were infectious to the entire team. It is something one doesn’t learn, but rather, is part of one’s DNA. This is what Joni Rae has in her soul, her very being.”
Though Russell usually worked her marketing magic as a behind-the-scenes genius, she has also reaped a bevy of honors and awards for her tireless dedication to the industry (while scoring hundreds of more awards for her clients). At only 40, she nabbed a Lifetime Achievement Award from ICMAD and later picked up the coveted Gold Mobius award for packaging design—not to mention seven ABBIES, a Gold Galaxy Award, and an International Package Design Award for Pureology Serious Color Care. Throughout her career, Russell demonstrated an uncanny ability to unite the left and right brain, combining creativity with uncanny business savvy.
“I’ve made every mistake, but once I made it, I never made it again,” Russell laughs. “I loved making money for my clients and to see their brands succeed, to deliver excellence and just not settle until it is the best it can be.”Russell now moves ahead with the next step of her journey, looking forward to spending quality time with her husband and tackling her next challenge—Texas Hold ’Em Poker! Safe to say that the beauty industry will greatly miss her expertise but wishes her well in this next chapter. “We still approach our marketing and advertising based on much of what we learned from Joni Rae,” says Tom G. Porter, President of Malibu C. “Probably the only thing we would have done differently is to look to Joni Rae a decade earlier!”