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I get messages all the time from newer people to this whole 'influencer' game talking about unfair arrangements they've been pushed into, uncomfortable confrontations where agreements haven't been in writing and generally asking for advice around how to work with brands. Additionally, though this landscape has changed dramatically since I started in 2014, I also made my fair share of mistakes when I first got into this. If you're new to blogging or Instagramming and looking to work with brands: this post is for you...
I get messages all the time on Instagram along the lines of 'how do I grow my account?' and 'how do I get brands to send me PR?' 99.99% of the time, when I visit their account I can see they started it a couple of weeks or months ago and have made less than 30 posts. It never fails to leave me gobsmacked. It doesn't take much to deduce from my feed that I've been doing this a looooong time and have posted, like, over 3000 times; I'm hardly the person to ask if you're looking for shortcuts or overnight success. I also very much question the motives of people who start a page and immediately want PR; it's a long road to reach that stage for the majority of people and you have to truly love what you're doing and consistently create content. Yes, there are always the odd accounts that rocket to tens of thousands of followers not very far into their journey, and many people seem to burst onto the scene already amazing at photography with drawers of luxury skincare products and designer bags, but they're very much in the minority. Most people start an account, grow, learn and improve. I was posting unedited photos of my 3 for 2 Superdrug hauls when I first started out, and had no idea I'd be even considered for PR in the future. Just hold your horses, enjoy what you're doing and build up your catalogue of content, so that if you're looking to work with brands they can see what you do. If you're just starting out; don't focus on PR at all would be my advice.
- PRODUCTS IN EXCHANGE FOR COVERAGE -
This is something I still get requests for now (which I always decline and 90% of the time the brand is happy to just send the product anyway) and I absolutely did when I started out and, honestly, I was flattered and went along with it. I also felt like I had to say 'yes' to everything and post about everything I was sent, and it took me some time to figure out that that's massively selling myself short. Firstly, if you accept products in direct exchange for coverage, that is considered 'payment' in the eyes of the taxman, and who wants to pay tax on a few beauty products? If you want to; that's your choice, but I personally draw a hard line between gifting for consideration and sponsorship. Even if you have 100 followers, try to have boundaries; it's a lot of work to create content and quite often these sorts of exchanges come with other strings like 'you need to post about it within 2 weeks' and 'we want you to create x-amount of Stories and an in-feed image of you applying it'. Consider how long it takes you to create all of this; perhaps a couple of hours to take the images, edit them, write the captions? And you've been offered a £20 moisturiser for this work? £10 an hour in the form of a product that can't be used to pay your bills or buy your groceries doesn't seem a great deal to me! I have also had brands who will try to push me into 'products for content' and then I see they've sponsored someone else; they're just trying to pull a fast one. Don't undersell yourself: you're worth being paid actual money.
- APPS WHERE YOU GET 'POINTS' FOR MEAGRE REWARDS -
I was recently in conversation with a brand, as I'd been buying their products for a while and really enjoyed them, so although I generally don't reach out to brands myself; I'd seen them doing a lot of activity with people I follow so I thought I'd see if they wanted to do something with me. I was then directed towards an app which makes you do the whole 'products for coverage' thing to the extreme. You'd have to complete onerous assignments like posting x-type of image with certain keywords on your feed to earn points and if you earned enough, you'd get a $15 gift card to spend on the brand's site. Yippee... All alongside having to really push your affiliate code. When I declined this, the brand were actually gracious enough to say it was a new thing they were trying as a small team to manage influencers and they were able to work on a gifting basis with 'larger influencers' but it made me think about how many people I'd seen who'd apparently agreed to this setup, and how - as a newer influencer - I'd quite possibly have been taken in by these sorts of deals. Likewise, if you're being given discounts towards products or they're making you pay for shipping; this is a company trying to make money off you as the influencer rather than off your influence (MLM style). If they value your platform, they should just give you their product to try and if you like it, you'll talk about it. It really is that simple.
- YOU DON'T HAVE TO SAY 'YES' TO EVERYTHING -
I used to spend so long umming and ahhing over how to politely decline offers. Now I just ask everyone to contact me via email and have an auto-responder saying that I can only reply if the offer is of interest. Whilst it might seem a little detached to some; I have a full-time job and was running myself ragged trying to respond individually to every single email I received. Of course, if I have a relationship with the person contacting me; I'll reply in the negative if it's not for me, but you don't owe a 'yes' to everyone and you don't have to justify why something isn't for you. I live in a one-bedroom flat with my partner so I have to be selective about the 'stuff' I bring into my home, and there's not always some huge reason why I don't want to try something; it just didn't tickle my fancy and if I wasn't interested in buying it or if it's not a new discovery that really excites me, then why would I accept it, find somewhere to store it and put a month into testing it out over other new products I have? Of course it's always flattering for a brand to pick you and reach out to you, but recognise it's happening because of what you've created. They think it will be beneficial to their brand to be on your platform. You don't 'owe' them something if you don't know them or their brand! It's like that random guy who comes over tries to chat you up at the bar; most people realise when they're not 18 any more that it isn't 'rude' to decline that drink and go back to hanging out with your friends.
- YOU ONLY HAVE ONE FACE -
This is something I don't think brands actually realise! I'm definitely still learning a lot myself and, having moved more into the skincare space over the past year, it takes time to really see if a product is working for you and accepting too much PR can be a recipe for disaster. I'm finding that confusion and disappointment can be avoided by saying upfront 'hey, I have a lot of products I'm testing at the moment, so although I'd love to try this launch I won't be able to test it for a few weeks - is this ok?' It's saved me a world of pain...
- THE WORST CASE SCENARIO IS JUST PAYING FOR THE PRODUCT YOURSELF -
Is that really so bad? I mean, the vast majority of the population have to buy the things they want! In all seriousness; certain brands on social media encourage this almost cult-like behaviour that makes influencers feel they can't speak negatively on a product without being cast out of 'the family'. Of course it's important to have good relationships with brands but, like all relationships in life, when it's one-sided it becomes toxic. You don't exist to do a brand's bidding; you're reviewing beauty products based on your personal experiences, and if one product out of the past 10 didn't work for you and they'd remove you from their PR list for saying so then good riddance!
- ALWAYS ASK YOURSELF A FEW BASIC QUESTIONS -
Following on from 'you don't always have to say 'yes'' I wanted to talk a bit more specifically about sponsorship. Before you accept a sponsorship, just ask yourself a few simple questions: 'is this a brand or product I'd be interested in if it wasn't sponsored?' and 'does it fit in with my content?' At the end of the day, we've all got to pay the bills. I personally have a day job, so I don't really need the sponsorship for income so it's very easy for me to decline things I don't think are quite right for me. However, I can totally sympathise that if this is your main source of income, there really are peaks and troughs throughout the year and maybe you need to take work during quiet times that wouldn't be at the top of your list if you had several offers on the table. I just think in the early days particularly, when you probably are holding down a 'normal' job too; be very selective. Sometimes it's a bit glaringly obvious on people's feeds when something doesn't fit their aesthetic or isn't a brand they'd normally use and you know it's an ad before you see the tiny #ad at the end of the caption. I think when you're starting out and trying to build your brand then just be mindful of what will work within your niche, for your aesthetic and (most importantly) for your audience.
- GET IT ALL IN WRITING -
The amount of people who don't get things in writing... Whether it's emails or a phone call, where there's offer, acceptance and consideration: there's a contract. I'm 27, I work in a corporate environment where I'm negotiating contracts every day and I feel comfortable to be more direct than perhaps someone who's 18 and very new to all of this 'stuff'. If you're a new influencer; ensure you get a contract that outlines what you are to deliver, who has the rights to use your work, who owns your work, what the payment terms are (another thing to note: brands don't pay you right away, a standard credit period is 60 days, 30 if you're lucky) and other important rights and responsibilities. If you receive a contract that uses a lot of legal terminology; ask your parents or someone with more experience to have a read of it and highlight any parts they don't like so you can raise them with the brand. It's better safe than sorry! Ultimately, contracts are there to protect both parties, so embrace them and the clarity they provide (the last thing you want to do is argue with a brand over what was or wasn't said via DMs).
- IF IT FEELS WRONG: WALK AWAY -
I've had brands say things like 'we don't like the word 'sponsored'' or 'can you say you're 'partnered' with us instead?' To me, it just feels a bit icky to encourage the use wishy-washy terminology that leaves things ambiguous and makes it seem like there's something to hide or something wrong with doing a sponsored post. I think it's best just to be clear and stick with the same style of disclosure regardless of the brand instead of muddying the waters. Personally, if a brand starts to get funny about disclosure; it's a bit of a red flag for me. I've also had brands try to sign me up to affiliate programmes when I haven't even used their products before or to use 'do-follow' links in a sponsored post. Those are just things that make me feel uncomfortable and you will have your own 'icky zone' (as I like to call it) so trust your instinct on these things.
Have you ever learnt a lesson about working with brands the hard way? Tell us about it in the comments!