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Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Allison+Partners Tastemaker Q+A – a series of conversations with industry leaders and trendsetters. This month, we spoke with Reesa Lake about managing talent in the age of influencer marketing.
Reesa is the partner and senior vice president of brand partnerships at Digital Brand Architects, where she leads development with brands, agencies, publishing houses and digital networks. With more than 15 years of experience working in the media, from traditional print to television to digital, she offers expertise in branded content and integrations, marketing, public relations and branding.
We’re truly in the “age of influencer marketing” – all our clients are interested in how to move the needle with the power of third-party advocates and Allison+Partners has solidified its point-of-view on how influence is measured. How has the space changed since you started with DBA in 2011?
It feels like a million years ago. Everything has changed, from the types of talent, brands we are working with, to the budgets. In the early days, it was all about education, trying to convince executives they should reevaluate their budgets and shift line items to include influencers. We saw immediate success with our portfolio of creatives, and we were able to book photographers, stylists and videographers on shoots. For the brand, they did not have to invest additional funds but rather shift their budget from a traditional photographer to a street-style photographer or another creative. It was a win-win. The brand had the creative assets they needed, as well as built in amplification through the talent’s site (at the time Instagram did not exist). Fast forward to 2017, and influencers are the new celebrities. With millions of followers, influencers are launching brands, appearing in national television commercials, hosting global retail tours, writing books, developing podcasts and driving traffic and sales for brands. On the flip side, influencer marketing budgets are on the rise, advertising budgets are shifting from print and traditional digital to sponsored influencer content. What once was the added value is now anchoring advertising campaigns.
Beyond brands and talent, it is inspiring to be at the forefront of an industry that is predominantly led by women. There are conferences and organizations solely focused on creating awareness for women in digital and influencer marketing. DBA is partners in Create & Cultivate, the platform and conference series that celebrates creative women innovating in our space. I also just joined the board of WIIM, Women In Internet Marketing, that was formed to help women connect, network, share knowledge and experiences.
Let’s chat about how you build your partnerships. How do you connect the right talent with the right brand?
The most successful partnerships are rooted in true collaboration and understanding what both parties are looking for. It is not a one size fits all scenario. We like to spend time talking to the client about the KPI, what are goals and objectives of the campaign, those details determines who we recommend. Is the goal to drive sales, clicks, awareness, traffic in store or to work with the industries’ “it girls”? It is essential to get campaign details from the brand or agency before suggesting talent. What is the scope of work, how will the brand be using the content beyond re-posting organically, who else is participating in the campaign, exclusivity, budget etc.? We then come back with a custom proposal including talent suggestions and often different campaign roll-out options.
How do you handle partnerships that aren’t authentic or that talent should say no to?
The first thing we ask ourselves and our talent is would you use/wear/consume this brand/product if there was not a payment attached to the endorsement? Before agreeing to a partnership the talent needs to have a chance to trial the product (beauty/food) or pick the clothes or accessories. If there is a hesitation, we advise on passing on the project as it will never feel authentic. We have clients who have firm stances on products and categories and pass on partnerships consistently. We have a client who is vegan and only uses natural products. She would never endorse a beauty product with chemicals, so we have had to pass on a significant amount of incremental income. Same goes for our client who will not promote any brands whose products are not cruelty free (that includes parent companies). She has passed on high six figures in deals over the past seven years. On the less extreme side, if the influencer is not excited about the partnership there is often push back on product/messaging and the collaboration does not flow as seamlessly as one if the talent loved the brand. We are transparent with the brand or agency, as there is most likely someone else that we can suggest that would be a better partner. I look at all the campaign details and strategize who would be the best fit for a campaign based on goals and objectives, it is not one size fits all.
What are your thoughts on the FTC’s guidelines for endorsements?
There is no way to get around it, content that is sponsored needs to be disclosed as such. There has always been a grey area, but the FTC is making efforts to add clarity around compliant language. We advise that all of our talent use the appropriate disclosures across all platforms.
Do you think these disclosures will have/are having an effect on the industry?
There is a lot of talk around disclosures. We are getting to the point where the consumer is aware and accepts that influencers are being paid for promoting brands. They are being conditioned to accept that #ad and #sponsored are going to be included in paid content. I have not seen a negative effect as long as it is an authentic partnership.
Where do you see influencer marketing headed?
The lines of celebrity and influencer will continue to blur and we will see influencers morph into multi-faceted brands. We launched Digital Brand Products two years ago and in the past three months have seen five influencer brands come to life, many with sell-out launches. Something Navy’s Treasure & Bond collection with Nordstrom had pieces sell out in minutes. Premme, a plus-size line by Nicolette Mason and Gabi Gregg sold out, and Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking launched a line of sauces with Williams Sonoma, also sold out. On the brand side, budgets will shift from TV, print and digital ad banners to influencer campaigns. We’re seeing fewer banner ads as social advertising is on the uptick, the consumer’s Instagram and Facebook feeds will be infiltrated with more brands running ads using the influencer’s image and likeness.
Interview conducted by Lucy Arnold, Digital Manager at Allison+Partners