We Need To Have A Chat About Brand-Blogger Relationships In 2019

How To Work Effectively With Influencers For Long-Term Success

I’ve been doing this a long time.

I launched my blog nine years ago and since then I’ve worked with a huge number of brands to feature thousands of products and work on hundreds of different campaigns. A decade ago bloggers were new and approached with caution; we were incredibly excited and grateful to receive a free shower gel or lipgloss, dutifully taking it home (full from a prosecco and cupcake dinner) to take fifteen grainy photos and post them alongside 500 words on why it was such a ‘must have’.

We couldn’t believe our luck that this fun thing we did after work started to become somewhat lucrative, but as soon as the industry started to focus on the value authentic reviews could offer, the tides inevitably started to change. Bloggers and YouTubers realised they had value and started to re-negotiate brand collaborations and experiences; agents and collectives started to pop up to help commercialise our growing sites; budget started to get re-directed from traditional advertising into this shiny new digital world.

How To Work Effectively With Influencers For Long-Term SuccessHow To Work Effectively With Influencers For Long-Term Success

Over the last decade the media landscape has changed beyond all recognition, both good and bad, and blogging is now a lucrative career option for many. Although the majority of us started with no real objective or end goal in mind, now young men and women set their aspirations on becoming ‘influencers’ and having the lifestyle they see glamorised all over their social media feeds.

The relationship between brand and blogger may have started as a ‘suck it and see’ situation, but in 2019 it’s an industry that thrives on working with authentic voices in engaging and unexpected ways. Bloggers / Vloggers / Instagrammers (and everything in-between) have the power to make or break a brand or a launch; you only have to watch the Netflix documentary on the Fyre Festival to understand that much. But as brands become obsessed with getting the best results from their social media marketing, and agencies start to cannibalize each other by each offering an influencer outreach service, they’re fundamentally making one huge mistake: they’re forgetting how effective and fruitful the traditional PR relationships were.

When I first started blogging there was a sense of gratitude from both sides; bloggers were grateful that brands were supporting them and spending time getting to know them, while the PRs were grateful for coverage received. I vividly remember being sent flowers and thank you cards for writing up a nice feature on a brand’s newest launch, being invited away on an immersive experience just to build relationships, and having to turn down 75% of event and meeting requests simply because my diary wouldn’t allow it. Now my diary is relatively sparse, a piece that takes me practically a whole day to put together goes unnoticed, and PRs drop you quicker than you can say ‘Piers Morgan is having another rant.’

There’s a severe lack of respect for the time, energy and skill that goes into content creation, just as there’s a real lack of understanding as to the value of long-form content and loyal audiences that are grown over years. All that seems to be top of mind right now is generating as much reach as possible with as minimum as possible, no matter who you have to p*ss off or trample on to get it.

To put it into context, in the last couple of months alone these are just some of the issues I’ve encountered:

  • Being asked to guarantee coverage on a product before it’s sent, even though I make it very clear I don’t do so unless it’s part of an advertorial. Guaranteeing coverage is just ridiculous and inauthentic; why would you want a blogger to guarantee a review if it may not suit their skin, be their cup of tea or do what it promises?
  • Being asked to write up blog posts as an entry mechanic for a competition, where I *may* win a holiday in return for half a day’s worth of work. I thought we’d left this dirty tactic in 2012 tbh.
  • After being sent a product to try and potentially feature, receiving a list of expectations that included: tracked links, photography guidelines, key words, a link in social media bio for 14 days, a list of social media coverage to product and the release of imagery to be used across the brand’s owned channels for marketing purposes. I was very tempted to send it back.
  • Having a proposal I sent rejected (after a brand’s initial approach and idea) because I already use the product and have written about it many times; apparently this is not conducive to ‘engaging’ content.
  • Being told there’s no budget for a product launch campaign, only to see other influencers working on paid ads a week later. We see them; we follow them; just don’t lie about it.
  • Having a campaign pulled, after it had been shot and edited, because the colour of my arm didn’t quite match the colour of my face. (I sh*t you not.) I offered to photoshop it, but they wanted a re-shoot on the entire thing – even though 80% of my arm was being cropped off anyway.
  • Having a campaign pulled because my images were ‘not premium enough’ (despite them being way more premium than the ones on their social channels,) and then because the person who booked the work wasn’t ‘in a position of responsibility to do so’ (despite them telling me they’d gotten approval from the company CEO who was ‘excited to work with you!’) I’m bored of these excuses not to pay me tbh.
  • Having a campaign pulled because I posted about a competitor product before I’d even posted about their product, because they wanted an exclusivity period of three months – a fact that was not made clear beforehand, nor was such a lengthy time period compensated for in any way.
  • Finding my imagery being used in promoted pins and in promoted Instagram posts, without permission or knowledge, despite the removal of clauses in the contract that gave the brand any ownership or use over my content. An invoice was swiftly sent, but as yet it remains unpaid.
  • Discovering my imagery was being used, without permission or knowledge, on a brand’s homepage to promote their sale; to make it worse they’d photoshopped the image, and when I emailed them I was told ‘sorry, it mistakenly was filed amongst paid collaborations’. Talk about adding insult to injury. (I’m still waiting on an apology.)
  • Being asked to be part of a campaign alongside a reality TV star (who is inevitably being paid thousands to endorse the brand,) only for them to offer me about 20% of my usual fee for the participation and additional promotion they were asking for. Their reasoning? ‘We’re a small brand…’ Yup, okay, but you can still pay for Miss Reality TV can’t you?
  • Being asked to be part of live streaming events to promote a new product, alongside other journalists and experts, but expected to do so for free ‘because nobody else is being paid’. That may be true, but I’m the only one who doesn’t have a salary and needs to be paid for her time and expertise.
  • Requesting a ‘test campaign’, i.e. a tonne of free coverage, in order to assess whether I’m actually worth paying in the future. Sorry, would you ask ITV for a free ad spot around X Factor just to see if it hit the results you wanted? Nope, because you wouldn’t get away with it.

Honestly, I could go on but I’m too ruddy exhausted from it all.

What’s worrying is that I’m not alone. So many other bloggers have shared their similar stories and encounters, have expressed their growing frustrations and discontentment as to where the industry is heading. Those of us who have been doing this for the best part of a decade remember how we were treated with joy, gratitude and respect (just in the way any other media title would be,) but this appears to be a thing of the past.

How To Work Effectively With Influencers For Long-Term SuccessHow To Work Effectively With Influencers For Long-Term Success

I’m tired of having to argue that my time and expertise should be paid for; I’m tired of having campaigns pulled because of silly reasons or unrealistic expectations, especially after the work has already been done; I’m tired of having to fight to remain on press lists or work editorially with brands I want to support, because I don’t have the 50k Instagram followers they’re after; I’m tired of having to explain to someone 15 years my junior that I know what I’m talking about and how best to engage my audience; I’m tired of feeling like I’ve worked for hours on something that doesn’t even get a quick ‘thanks so much’ on a message or email; I’m tired of being lied to about budgets or opportunities; I’m tired of wondering whether it’s all worth it.

It’s honestly like we’ve learned nothing over the last decade of working with content creators. Not only are these actions and tactics frustrating, but they’re damaging long standing relationships that should be cherished – especially in the current climate of magazine closure and mega bloggers charging as much for an Instagram post as the SuperBowl does for a half time slot.

Brands should be working to build relationships, brand ambassadors and individuals that love their product and want to share their love with their valued audiences. Brands should allow them to bring to life an idea in their own way and pay them accordingly. If brands want decent content from engaging and authentic content creators, they just need to treat them with respect. It’s not that hard.

Right now I’m really focusing on the PRs that continue to make time for me, the brands that continue to support me and the businesses I’m excited to be part of; but if something doesn’t change soon, blogger-brand relationships will be damaged irreparably – and that’s not good news for anyone.

So if you’re a brand, a PR, an agency or a business who wants to utilise the power of digital media, stop focusing so much on those stats and start focusing on the individuals behind them; I promise that will be far more fruitful for everyone in the long-run.

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How To Work Effectively With Influencers For Long-Term Success

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9 Comments

  1. Meg An
    March 20, 2019 / 6:51 pm

    Read similar and tbh not surprised – it’s always been about squeezing the ‘little man’ be it a supermarket/farmer, etc. Avril from a life well styled did a brilliant article on this. It’s one of the reasons she went back to work. Apart from the mucking about and the how little can you pay someone for their job, they were basically asking to fleece the consumer and control content, restrict her working, etc. From a reader’s point of view I generally skip the product reviews because 15 different products have the same similar reviews on every blog. For three weeks solid everyone wrote about Imedeen. Plus we need to be eco friendly, we don’t have house space so who wants tonnes of products sat on the side – they probably all have similar ingredients and are made on the same production line anyway. The ones I read are the ‘I’ve used this since I was 16 and I have dry skin and it works every time’ and no other product is used or occasionally odd ones are tried it. Or l love the banana therapy one – don’t need it but great to read. They obviously think we’re mugs. For me the bloggers I really trust are those like Greeje (dutch lady) as there’s no brand partnerships – it’s really what she’s bought not given. I love blogs but companies see them like a sales pitch and that’s not for me. Rant over.

    • hayleyhalluk
      Author
      March 20, 2019 / 7:51 pm

      Although I agree with a lot of what you’re saying… What you’re forgetting here is that in order for you to have that great free content, bloggers (on the whole) need the support of brands to pay their bills in order to be available to keep generating the content you enjoy. This rather entitled attitude from readers is also frustrating; it’s important to support your favourite sites, especially the ads that help them continue producing the non-ad content. It’s unfair to say ‘they obviously think we’re mugs’, and disrespectful to the bloggers and brands who work seamlessly together on authentic partnerships. I worked with Imedeen and tried the product for a number of months; why would you begrudge people earning a living and sharing their experiences? If it’s not for you, just skip over it – but also understand why paid partnerships are necessary and can be very fruitful when done right.

  2. Danish Pastry
    March 20, 2019 / 7:31 pm

    If I’m understanding this correctly, some brands pull a campaign after the work has been done, and don’t pay you? That’s disgusting!
    I don’t know what the contracts read, but unless it states that they can do this, they should pay you even if they decide not to use your content! It would be like me ordering a bespoke item, and then saying I’d changed my mind. I’d still have to pay for the order! They’re paying for your time, they’ve seen your content, they should know what to expect.

    What these companies don’t seem to understand is that I will try a new product on the basis of blogger content. I have bought clothes I’ve seen on blogs, when the company’s own styling and photography would have totally turned me off it was that bad.

    I want to support the women who inspire me, so affiliated links, for example, are something I embrace. I don’t entirely trust traditional advertising – things can be distorted and exaggerated, but I do trust the bloggers I’ve got to know through blogs, as they aren’t faceless strangers. Brands need to understand this, it’s fundamental to the way I’m changing my shopping habbits! And coupled with the fact that I’m shopping less, but better, means they need to impress me more than they would 10 years ago!

    • hayleyhalluk
      Author
      March 20, 2019 / 7:42 pm

      You’ve always been a great supporter, so THANK YOU for that and every comment you leave!

      And yes, I’ve had SO many campaigns pulled after the work was done – and expecting not to have to pay for it. So many refuse and it’s only if the reason it was pulled was beyond my control that they actually pay my invoice. Honestly, I’ve lost a good few grand this year alone because of this – it’s not a small issue.

      I’m super hot with contracts, but having a contract doesn’t always mean they stick to it. Without taking everything to small claims court, bloggers are left with no real option to recoup lost earnings.

  3. March 21, 2019 / 9:14 am

    It’s a frustrating but a real experience and Hayley you’re one of the few people calling brands and PRs out for this kind of behaviour but it also means that smaller bloggers like me just don’t feel it’s worth putting in that time and effort anymore if we’re trying to escape the 9 – 5.

    You create magazine worthy content without fail and your paid partnerships are well thought out and well written, so I read them and at least give them a chance.

    If they’re not for me, I’ll scroll on but I appreciate your experience as an industry expert and have bought a few things you’ve recommended so Blogging really does work! In fact, I seek out those affiliate links to support my favourite bloggers.

    It’s a shame brands and PRs are just thinking about the short term bottom line and not the long term gains. I hope this article helps them see the light.

    • hayleyhalluk
      Author
      March 21, 2019 / 11:51 am

      Thanks for all your support Humaira – I really appreciate it, as I do your kind words.

      I really take the time to work with brands I love, products I want to recommend and campaigns I want to spread the message on; even when they ask for something to be done a certain way I tend to ask for amends to be made to the brief or timeline so I can do it in the most authentic way. Unfortunately, the value of this is getting totally lost and brands are becoming incredibly prescriptive about what they want and from who – they may as well take out traditional press ads if that’s what they’re after!

      I do feel smaller bloggers are starting to give up and that’s so frustrating and upsetting to see; they’re what drives the industry and brings fresh eyes.

  4. March 22, 2019 / 10:35 am

    Having read over just some of the issues you’ve had to endure in the last couple of months alone, I am beyond disgusted! Of course I don’t know who these brands are, but my feeling is that they aren’t worth working with if that is how they’re going to treat you (and other bloggers).

    I’ve only just really got into this realm of sponsored content myself – I’ve had a good few collaborations with brands I’m truly passionate about over the last 2 years, and just recently landed my first ever campaign with monetary reimbursement. I feel like your post couldn’t have come at a better time, as I will now be on the lookout for any of these dirty tactics companies may pull to get out of paying me fairly. Free stuff is definitely not overlooked and can be a wonderful compensation for a bit of work, if the free product is something we want. Other times, however, it just doesn’t cut it for the amount of work involved.

    I’m sorry that these things happened to you Hayley, but thanks to you, the rest of us can be more aware and perhaps be adamant that we demand genuine recognition for our work. In doing so, maybe all of us together can ensure the face of blogging is still looked upon as a valuable advertising method. As well it should be!!

    Thanks again for the post, and i wish you the best of luck with gaining back some overpaid dues from this cowboys!

    • hayleyhalluk
      Author
      March 22, 2019 / 12:16 pm

      Thanks for your comments Adele – and yes, I hope by talking about these things bloggers know they’re not in it alone. It happens to more of us than people care to think, and brands also need to know these tactics / actions are not okay. I wish you all the success on your blogging journey and hope your first collab goes well!

  5. March 29, 2019 / 1:05 pm

    Inauthentic content has had its time – I really think it’s starting to dawn on brands across the board that working better with fewer is the way forward. I also feel that bloggers devalue themselves sometimes by selling themselves short and giving the impression that a blog post is a cheap way to make an impact. Nobody should be undervaluing what they offer because they’re starry eye’d over a brand. The brand side is 100% business and it should be the same on the blogger side. We’re able to give the kind of authentic, real content that is more elusive than ever now and do it with feeling, heart and confidence. We also know how to work professionally, deliver on time and respect the partnership as our end of the deal…. being too ‘brand happy’ and not being selective works against bloggers in general as they’re then just seen as floggers, not bloggers. Blogs by the way, offer space and time to deep dive into brands – something they really struggle to get in print unless they’re advertisers and impossible for them to get on any other social channels. If they have a message, we’re the best possible course for them. And yet, the expectation of free or cheap is still such a problem.. if we devalue ourselves it will continue.

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