One thing I’ve kept off this blog for the past few years is that while we run a creative agency, I still work for many magazines and I also focus heavily on the content creation end of the “influencer” world (I hate that term, for what it’s worth), I’ve also project managed a number of influencer campaigns for large brands and destinations. And people, let’s just say this: I’ve worked with plenty who make me embarrassed to be an influencer myself. On the flip side, I’ve met some truly lovely bloggers who I would go above-and-beyond to hire again. There’s always two sides to the coin.
Recently, I’ve been asked to speak more and more to destinations to tell them what exactly makes a quality influencer since the field is so muddied (thanks, Instagram) and ROI is tricky to measure. But I think it’s just as important to educate influencers, many of whom lack the core business skills, persistence and drive to make this a viable, long-term profession. And as I prepare for my next talk at a travel conference in two weeks, I thought I’d do just that.
So, influencers, listen up; here are ways you can ensure you’ll get hired again—and ways you most definitely will not.
Clean up your media kit. It’s immediately obvious to me when a blogger’s work is populated by all press trips and product exchanges. Why am I as a brand going to pay you money to do something you’re doing for others for free? It only takes me minutes to skim someone’s media kit and get a feel for who they are. Omit any mention of accepting press trips and make sure your media kit is a professional reflection of who you are and the work you do.
Along those lines, stop asking for free stuff. Hotels and properties are inundated with these requests, particularly due to the rise of Instagram “models.” Brands and PR people pay attention to those who are asking for free accommodations, et al—you’re diluting the market for everybody else (and yourself), then if you’re ever in a position to get paid for it, why would they pay you now? Just. Stop. Doing. It.
Stop embedding affiliate links in your posts for a brand partnership. I’ve had several influencers I was hiring to create sponsored content then go and add a dozen affiliate links to the same post my client was paying good money to be featured in. This just looks juvenile—if you worked in the print advertising world, would you create an ad for Coke that features a Pepsi bottle in the picture? No way, Jose. Save your affiliate links for posts that you aren’t already monetizing.
Lay off the ads embedded in your post; they’re cluttering your content. Be selective on what you put up there. MediaVine ads have run me off from some of my favorite blogs. Look, I get it, bloggers need to make money. And while personally we are an ad-free website by choice, I’m not judging you for having ads; I’m judging the way you’re going about embedding them into your content (31 embedded banners in one post? girl, you’re doing it all wrong). You may be getting clicks, but brands look at the overall vibe and aesthetic of potential partners, so keep it clean and don’t pimp any old brand who comes your way (e.g. if you’re a travel blogger and you have ads for Disney, cheese and tampons all in one post, I’m definitely not hiring you for my travel campaign). If all you’re doing is serving up ads for MediaVine, you’re not going to get many long-term partnerships—you look like everybody else in an oversaturated blogosphere. If that’s your revenue model, then cool; focus on that and leave the content campaigns to others.
Answer emails! And as fast as humanly possible, too. This seems obvious, but you’d be shocked by the number of bloggers I’ve reached out to with well-paying gigs who either take a week to get back to me or, worse, don’t get back to me at all. I’m genuinely confused—I thought you wanted to make a profession out of this? If I don’t respond to a viable lead the day it’s sent to me, you better believe my house is on fire and I’m going down with it. Set a precedent for a reasonable amount of time in which you’ll respond to emails—I recommend 24 or 48 hours—and if you’re not going to be able to make that deadline, still respond something. Suggested: “I’m traveling at the moment, but your email is important to me and I promise I’ll get back to you in more detail by the end of the week!” A little professional courtesy goes a long way.
Make your deadlines—or at least give your client a heads-up if you can’t. Of the 100 bloggers I hired over the past two years, the majority met their deadline with no problem, but the few who didn’t missed the mark by a long shot. Like, months later without so much as a “hey, this is going to be a few days late” note.
I get it: Things come up, you’re busy, you took on too much work, you’re overwhelmed. I FEEL THIS ALL THE TIME. But when your deadline was two weeks ago, your content isn’t live and I haven’t heard a peep from you? I’m going to assume you are dead. Agency publicists/marketers/managers are people, too, and understand that life happens. So why not shoot a note and say, “hey, I took on way more than I could handle. Would it burden you too much if my content went live by X date?”—and do so with more than a day’s notice at that. Trust me, most deadlines are flexible, in both the print and digital worlds (unless it’s to promote a certain event or time-sensitive marketing initiatives), and most people would prefer you do your best work instead of a rush job. This goes back to the key tenet in working in communications and that’s this: COMMUNICATE. Most communications professionals are, ironically, the worst communicators I know. Let’s change that narrative.
I recently edited a project that involved six influencers—only one of them made the deadline, and even though I followed up the day of the deadline, only two responded to that, one of whom said “I’m sorry, I can’t possibly make that work,” as if I were being the difficult one (I had given him six days to give me the requested information, for which he was contracted). And then one went as far as to say, “I don’t remember this being a part of the deal” and then took months to finally provide me the information requested. All of these influencers just went on my black list; and yes, just like PR people have them, so do influencer managers who run such programs.
Don’t try to make your retirement off every project. Sure, you want to value your time, audience and experience, but don’t take advantage of your client’s budget just for the sake of squeezing every penny you can out of it; you want your prices to be competitive but fair. $15,000 to attend a two-hour event? $3,000 for a single Instagram Story? Sorry, but that’s just insane; I don’t care what your “numbers” are (and yes, these are very real numbers I’ve been quoted by “influencers”). Which brings me to this….
Realize that professional product is far more important than numbers. When I’m in a position to hire, the first thing I look at is the actual product. We all know that numbers can (and are) easily gamed, particularly on Instagram, and I don’t care if you have 150,000 followers generated by MassPlanner. If your photos are shite, they’re shite. If you’re going to attempt to charge for your “influence” (i.e. the number of followers you’ve amassed), you better have the product to back it up.
Follow up at a later date with a report including some basic analytics. We recently hired a blogger whose post was not only gorgeous, thorough and polished, but a month after it went live, she emailed us with a detailed report of all her content and metrics, which was going above and beyond what was asked of her. Marketers love working with those who are completely honest and transparent, and I would hire her again for this diligence alone.
Fact-check! Spell-check! Do all the checking! Sounds simple, but guys, I can’t tell you how many blogs I read that are riddled with both spelling and factual errors. Those kinds of things are what separate the rookies from the professionals (or those who actually obtained degrees in communications-related fields).
Make sure your “agent” isn’t being a thorn in your client’s side. I worked with one influencer who I had zero communication with as everything was funneled through her agent/manager/assistant. The day of the event, a Saturday, I get a message from her asking if a) her photographer can join the blogger and her husband and b) her photographer can bring a plus one; “it would be really weird if she was a third wheel on my date night LOL,” the blogger wrote me hours before the event. First of all, I’ve hired you to complete an assignment; this is not “a date.” Secondly, for this particular project, the blogger had a month’s notice—and I asked her “agent” multiple times, “does she need a ticket for her photographer, as well?” Crickets. I’m fine with a manager negotiating for you, but I need to have direct communication with the influencer for the actual project, otherwise it runs the risk of running afoul.
Here’s How You Can Improve
Be communicative. If you know without a shadow of a doubt that you won’t be able to make a deadline, give your manager or contact a decent notice (at least a couple days’ notice) and ask permission, not forgiveness.
Be professional. It seems like a no-brainer, but damn, you’d be shocked by how many influencers (and those in other professions) have zero business skills. I have a theory on why that is and that’s that many of them never had a “real” job (as in, went into this profession straight out of college and never worked in an environment where they had to report to someone or risk getting fired), but really, it’s not all that hard. Treat every project as if you were in the corporate world; that means, be professional in all your email and phone correspondence and do everything in your power to ensure the client has the best experience possible, giving them no choice but to hire you the next time they have the chance.
Watch what you put online. I’m in all the Binders groups on Facebook. I’m in various secret media groups. And I’m in many “strategy” groups where I see influencers sharing their (often-shady) tactics, including but not limited to pods, “like” groups, bots. Be wary that anything you post online can be seen by anyone. I always think before writing, even in a “secret” group: Would I be ashamed if someone who had hiring power were to read this? If the answer is “yes,” then I delete before posting.
For those of you in similar fields, anything I missed? What irks you about working with influencers?
I’ll be speaking about influencer marketing and ambassador programs at TravelCon in a few weeks. Even if you didn’t nab a ticket for Austin, you can buy a virtual pass here and watch remotely from your computer (technology, right?!).