Connecting brands to influencers has become a big part of my job. But part and parcel to that is working the other way and connecting influencers with brands. My preference is always to build relationships and that means I get to know the influencer I work with — where and when I can — and try to look out for opportunities for them beyond the one-off.
That’s why I’m often baffled at the sometimes impersonal and even cold responses I get when reaching out or engaging with some online influencers. Those with larger followings have a tendency to forward your email on to their agent or manager, many of whom are very nice and fun to partner with as well. Those that respond directly do so with a variety of approaches. Some work and some, well … not so much.
Granted, I realize it’s a bit of a dance on both sides. The influencer (or manager) is most successful if they get maximum reward for minimal output. My clients (and I) are most successful if they get maximum output for minimal reward.
That polarization in practice, however, is not sustainable because it doesn’t breed trust.
We need to trust that there will be optimal output for optimal reward. Optimal. Not maximum or minimum on either side. When we meet in the middle — the overlap area of true partnership — everyone wins and relationships are valued.
So, my assumption is always that an influencer understands the balancing act. But there are sure-fire signs they don’t.
What Influencers Can Do To Succeed With Brands
In order to help influencers, and aspiring ones, have more success connecting with and partnering with brands and their agencies, I polled a group of agency strategists and smartypantses in the industry. I asked them very simply, “What advice would you give an influencer (or wannabe) in dealing with agencies or brands?”
Here’s a list of responses I hope the influencers among you will find useful:
CEO and Creative Director, Duft Watterson
“Be humble, focus your messaging on the value you bring, and think about your request from the agency and their client’s perspective. Chances are, they have a set budget for social media and possibly influencer marketing — and that budget is often allocated months in advance. So, as an influencer, your request is evaluated based on the value it brings to the brand. And often, that expense is pulled from another project to pay you. In essence, you become an advertising platform, so ensure that the agency and the brand see that the value you bring will be equal to, or greater than, what other ad platforms deliver.”
Senior Vice President, Edelman
“Keep us posted on what you are doing. Are you launching a new YouTube channel or podcast? Coming out with a cookbook or doing media interviews? Any info you can share about what’s going on in your lives helps keep you top of mind and gives me ideas when doing planning. Also, when working with a brand/agency, timelines are so important. It’s so hard to run campaigns with many moving pieces if timelines are missed. I think by following timelines you are showing respect and being a great partner who wants to do things well. When we think about influencers to recommend for projects, it’s not all about metrics. Many times it’s also about how easy an influencer is to work with.”
“My advice to an influencer is the same advice I’d give to a startup exec, publisher, or anyone else seeking to work with agencies and brands: Stay true to who you are. Do what feels right. Do what’s right for your audience. If it’s someone you’re dying to work with, bend over backwards for them, but make that your choice — don’t just bend to someone’s will. You’re the only one who knows what’s right for you and your constituents, so go with your gut, and you’ll sleep much easier doing that than saying yes to any deal that comes your way.”
CEO and Founder, TopRank Marketing
“If there were 7 deadly sins influencers should avoid, an arrogant sense of entitlement would probably rank pretty high. Conversely, those influencers who are aware of their celebrity but instead choose to focus on agencies and brands as customers to be served will be far more successful at attracting profitable partnerships in the short and long term. While data is most valuable for influencer identification, reputation still reigns supreme and the experience influencers create for brands and agencies will inspire word of mouth, recommendations and decision making about who to work with.”
Creator and Host, Prove it Matters
“I of course would like to start by sharing a quote from 90s rap group, Cypress Hill, ‘It’s a fun job, but it’s still a job. Save your money… [The] hit single don’t last very long… I mean…you’re lucky in this game too. There’s going be another cat coming out, looking like [you], sounding like [you], next year, I know this. They’ll be a flipside, to what you do, somebody will try to spin off like some series….’ While they were talking about being a rockstar, the same applies to influencers today. You are lucky to be where you are, have respect for it and those around you. Be it an algorithm change, a change to trends, an accidental post, it can all go away in one second. And when the dust settles, where will you be then? Build relationships now, you’ll be planting seeds for the future. The people you work with now don’t only work with you because of your followers – it’s also your ability as a content creator – and businesses will always need content creators.
My piece of advice for an influencer would be “Know your value.” I mean this both as an admonition for those looking to charge way too much and an upward nudge for those considering brand deals that don’t pay anything or don’t pay fairly. We’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about it and even outlined a formula in a blog post. The formula is [(Total Anticipated “true view” Impressions*Brand Avg. CPM/1000)+(Anticipated Engagements/Brand Avg. CPE)+(Value of content to be delivered)] / 3 * 1.5. The concept of the formula is that you should get paid an amount of the value of the content + an amount for the value of the reach and engagement you can be expected to deliver. There are some items that an influencer can’t determine there, such as average brand CPM, but we have some influencers who attempt to charge rates literally 10x higher than they are worth. The budget doesn’t support them, so we move on to the next influencer, which is a shame.
My advice would be: it’s a numbers game. Cold email 200 brands and you might get 3 responses, one of which actually goes for it and pays for a sponsorship. Emailing 200 brands takes many hours, so don’t think it will be easy/quick/painless. Take the time to do a ton of outreach … but don’t annoy a brand if they don’t reply. Be smart about who you are reaching out to at a brand. (PR vs. marketing vs. digital vs. VP of marketing, etc.)
Author, Age of Influence
If you are trying to become an influencer and you want to work with more brands, it goes without saying that you need to be sharing content around a specific niche. More importantly, though, if you really want to work with a brand, are you actually using the brand’s products? If you are you should look for opportunities to naturally talk about those brands in your content and show your love. Influencer marketing is shifting from celebrity to nano and from “hire an influencer” to “collaborate with our customers.”
My Take on Influencer Advice
When I reach out to an influencer, the overall thing I’m looking for is whether or not they are thinking about a partnership or a transaction. If the first response I get to an inquiry about partnering is, “Here’s my rate sheet,” I know they aren’t interested in a partnership, but are focused on getting paid.
In most situations, I’d be remiss in my job if I took short-term, transactional influencers to my clients. My preference is engaged and excited partners who are also looking to build something over time that benefits them and us in equal ways. Think optimal, not maximum or minimum.
Think about the opportunity as a long-term play, not a short term paycheck. That will get you a lot farther.
I hope the environment of an article that isn’t pointing fingers in specific direction, but is just sharing thoughts from those of us on the agency strategy side of the aisle, is safe enough to be constructive and useful. While each of us could tell horror stories about certain types of influencers and their behaviors all day, we also know that most creators and audience-builders out there are fun, creative, interested and focused on partnering in ways that are beneficial for everyone.
These are our takes. Are you an agency strategist or brand-side manager with tips of your own? Are you an influencer who has advice for your fellow content creators? As always here, the comments are yours.