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Just when we were coming to terms with "blogger" being as legitimate a title as "journalist," we learn that some are falling into a more rarefied category: online talent.
That subset, a wider group that includes Instagrammers, Pinners, Tweeters, and YouTubers, has reps who negotiate deals resulting in anything from emceeing runway shows and styling lookbooks to signing on as a brand ambassador for a major retailer.
The deals are happening because of the influence such talent exerts. Fans of Aimee Song, for example—the force behind the Song of Style blog who has almost a million followers on Instagram—bring her gifts when she makes appearances; some cry while standing in the long lines at her events. It’s reminiscent of the kind of reaction offline celebrities elicit.
But brands know this and that’s why they’re willing to pay the four or five figures online talent sometimes command.
So, what does a brand need to keep in mind when walking into the negotiating room? We checked in with the folks at Digital Brand Architects (DBA), a digital marketing agency that also manages online talent, for insights.
#1. You’re dealing with pros
The days of imagining bloggers and their ilk as poorly socialized humans in dark basements have come and gone, but not for all brands. Some still treat social influencers dismissively. This is a mistake.
Jordan Reid, who runs Ramshackle Glam and is represented by DBA, says about her work:
I approach it as I would any job and spend every day between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. meeting with clients, writing posts, styling shoots, and producing videos.”
It’s the biggest misconception brands have about online talent: that they’re not professional. Kelly Framel of The Glamourai (also a DBA client) was a stylist and photographer before her blog took off, for instance.
Of the agency’s success stories, Kendra Bracken-Ferguson, who cofounded DBA with Karen Robinovitz in 2010, says all were educated and had professional jobs. They have a keen understanding of the working world and bring that knowledge to their pursuits, she notes.
They’re doing full production shoots. They’re doing hair, makeup. They’re talent-scouting. They’re picking the location. They have assistants that work for them. They have a crew…There is a difference between the professional art of blogging as your career and the hobbyist.
Robinovitz likes to remind brands that all those production costs come out of the talent’s budget. That’s part of what brands underwrite when they sign online talent.
#2. Editorial integrity is a must
Next to recognizing the professionalism behind the online talent they’re considering, brands need to allow for editorial integrity. DBA is highly protective of its clients on that score “because that’s how they got their fans, their followers,” says Bracken-Ferguson.
[Bloggers] really were the first ones with native advertising because they were taking branded content and integrating it, whether [that was] a video or a post,” she continues. “All of that sponsored content had to fit within the overarching landscape of their blog.
Fashion bloggers, whose content often nods at several brands, especially must be given editorial leeway, not pushed into exclusivity contracts. Says Bracken-Ferguson:
It very much plays into how consumers are wearing different brands. They’re mixing the high and low, not necessarily walking head-to-toe in one brand. From an authenticity and organic perspective, it would make sense that you would continue to have adjacencies with other brands.
#3. It’s not all about you
Surprise! A brand partnership may not be all an online superstar wants. DBA helps its clients map out their trajectories, be that authoring a book, starting a product line, or headlining a TV show.
Affiliate partnerships are also becoming a larger part of the mix, says Robinovitz, because it’s proven. “The more it drives conversion, it more it will grow,” she says.
It may be the best way for talent to monetize a site—just look at Bag Snob, which earns its founders Tina Craig and Kelly Cook six-figure incomes. When readers click on one of the site’s affiliate partners—Nordstrom, say—and make a purchase, Bag Snob earns a commission of anywhere between 5 and 15% of a product’s retail price.
Bag Snob’s success suggests that affiliate partnerships will affect how bloggers think about linking to brands’ sites. Says Bracken-Ferguson,
Three years ago we weren’t really talking about affiliates in the way we’re talking about it now. The whole space is changing. That all has to be looked at because of the affiliates.