‘Brands don’t take our work seriously’: Confessions of a travel influencer

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This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Influencer marketing can be like the Wild West. Navigating its ins and outs can be taxing for companies and influencers alike. It’s easy to imagine that influencers are just cashing checks from companies after they post product shots, but influencers say that’s not the case — there’s much more legwork in between.

For one travel influencer, managing content and brand deals is akin to being a small-business owner — but brands don’t necessarily understand that. In the latest edition of The Confessions, in which we trade anonymity for frank conversation, the influencer shares how he navigates brand deals, how it can be tricky to retain rights to your content and why he wants influencers to be taken more seriously by brands.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

As an influencer, what does your job actually entail?
It’s a weird mix of things. I’m both a writer, photographer, marketer, advertiser and my own PR. I also run my own website, so I have to deal with website issues. I do a little bit of everything. I’m spending a certain amount of time on social media per day, and I try to limit it so that I don’t get overwhelmed with all the little tasks that I need to keep doing to keep running my own business. 

Would you compare being an influencer to being a small-business owner?
I 100% feel like a small-business owner. I have to chase down invoices. I have to sign contracts that are given to me, which means I have to review contracts. I write my own contracts for some campaigns. You’re doing all sorts of things. It’s not just posting photos. Also, when I work with a brand — let’s say it’s for a specific campaign to promote a sale or a deal — I’m usually given their campaign guidelines and their brand guidelines, then I have to shoot the content or write it, send to them for approval and then actually schedule and post it on my own accounts. You’re really doing brand advertising work, so you have to follow a lot of steps to make sure everything gets done. 

What’s that dynamic like? How do you handle requests for them to retain the rights to your content?
A lot of the time if a brand reaches out to me to promote something, we’ll quickly agree to general terms. Then they’ll send the contract over. I’m creating content following their brand guidelines, but within my own creative control within my own brand because it’s my own channel and my network. It has to be a balance of both. Sometimes when they send over the contract before the work starts, it might include a clause that they get the rights to use the content I produce [in perpetuity]. If that wasn’t in the initial discussion, it can incur an extra cost. They could’ve just hired a photographer to create something for them, but when you work with an influencer, you’re theoretically getting two-in-one: You’re getting original creative content that they can use for their own marketing plus promotion to an additional outlet and network. I closely look at contracts and make sure I still retain rights that are fair for the amount of money I’m paid.

Do you go back and negotiate when you find surprises in the contracts?
You have to go back to the negotiating table. A lot of my influencer friends do the same. We all look at the contract. We are small-business owners, and we’re afraid to give away too much of our own intellectual property without being fairly compensated. I do think sometimes it’s easy to overlook, but the more active and engaged as an influencer I become, the more closely I pay attention to this stuff. I will say, there have been times where a brand has refused, but a lot of times they are happy to amend the contract. Sometimes they don’t, and then you don’t go forward. You do see that other influencers do take the deal.

Because I work in mostly travel and tourism, some of the perks are amazing, like a trip to a destination or a hotel stay. Sometimes it might just be an in-kind payment where flights, hotels, restaurants and activities might all be comped, but if they send a contract that has all rights to the content posted by X amounts of dates, that’s far too much for what they are providing me in-kind. There’s always a negotiation.

What’s your biggest pet peeve about how people view influencer marketing?
People love to make fun of influencers. The word influencer is used pretty loosely. But the most professional ones take their work very seriously. Sometimes it seems that brands don’t take the work of influencers very seriously. Or they might lump the work of influencers alongside people who aren’t really influencers but are just trying to get a free gift. I essentially see my outlet as a publication. I am producing content for that. I also have to produce ads so that I can continue to produce content. That’s how it remains sustainable. Sometimes a brand will say they only have so much budget, and if it doesn’t meet my minimum for what an ad should cost on my outlet, my publication, my channel, I would say no.

Could you give us an example of how brands might not take influencers seriously?
Brands might use micro-influencers because they charge less. Brands might be trying to get the rate that works best for them without acknowledging that the work varies from influencer to influencer. There are times where a brand may offer a flat rate for every influencer no matter what their audience is like, what their engagement is like, what their niche or specialty is. I cover LGBTQ issues and content, and really speak to a specific LGBTQ audience. It’s a valuable audience because it’s not as well represented and can be a challenge for some brands to reach LGBTQ consumers, so there’s a certain value you can attach to that. But if brands are using flat rates and not thinking about each individual influencer as their own individual business or outlet, it’s hard to make it work.

What’s your rate?
It varies. I don’t have a flat rate. Everyone now can set their own rate based on what they are able to get. But brands have reached out to me through an influencer network asking to pay a flat rate of like $150 to every influencer they were working with. That’s lower than what I would normally get. It’s clear it doesn’t matter to them what the audience is like.

So mass blasting messaging through influencers will happen with flat-rate agreements?
There are certainly more brands now that are closely looking at influencers and actually building up relationships, but there’s still plenty of mass blasting to a mass-market happening. I get those kinds of things all the time and it’s pretty easy to say no to marketing spam. There is a trend of brands looking to get more targeted outreach with influencers, but the other stuff still happens, and I don’t see it ending. It’s so easy for people to take $150 and do something quick. 

What would you want brands to understand from your perspective on how they should be dealing with influencers?
My biggest challenge is finding brands that value me and my content. I didn’t actually start my website or Instagram with the intention of it being a business. It happened organically, and that’s the case for a lot of influencers. You build up an audience and learn how to turn it into more developed content. There’s a lot of work. You’re paying for the experience and the audience. Some brands do get that. Some PRs get that. Everyone is overworked and underpaid, so I can see how people might just be trying to get quick wins at the lowest cost. But if everyone respected each other’s work a bit more and people took the time to listen to what each of our goals were, then it would work better.


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