The influencer marketing industry is one of the most exciting strategies being used by brands to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of next-gen consumers — especially for premium story-driven content.

Influencer marketing has the opportunity to go beyond just an integration, paid post, or showcasing how much the creators love weight loss tea and protein powder — even though they most likely don’t. That’s not influencer marketing. That’s just brand marketers being lazy and paying for crappy content that turn consumers off.

I’m talking about creators creating premium story-driven content where creators (influencers) co-develop and co-produce social content, documentaries, shows, webisodes, real-time content at events, and other types of content where the creator can activate their large community to engage with your brand over and over again.

I consider “Influencer Marketing” a sub-category of “Content Marketing” — at the end of the day, it’s content, about a brand, powered by a creator with an engaged audience.

Done right — it works perfectly. Done wrong, it’s a disaster.

The Problem

Because influencer marketing is still in its early days (in its current form), it’s still the wild, wild, west. It seems like every Tom, Dick, and Harry is an “influencer marketing” expert and there are new agencies that match influencers and brands opening up faster than the corner Starbucks.

Brand Marketers are Obsessed with Creators

For brands, the creators that power the influencer marketing industry are the new black.

They fond how good their content is, their follower count, the engagement numbers, and some even consider if it’s a good brand match.

I’ve actually seen marketers pick out influencers solely based on recommendations from their kids because they or both want to meet the person.

Sometimes, brands even shell out thousands of dollars to influencers who aren’t even real people (problem #99 in the industry).

A Very Short Honeymoon Period

Here’s a common scenario:

A brand and influencer match based on…well like I just said…

A deal is made or maybe not.

The first call was great.

The second even better.

Ohh, maybe even a meeting. It’s a first date!

And everyone gets really excited and shares their creative ideas.

And then it quickly goes downhill.

Reality sets in.

It’s not that everyone doesn’t want to work together — everyone wants it to be a success — but before you know it, there are way too many people involved. Hell, even Bob the security guard is in on the action.

The creative is made, but it’s a mess and no one is happy, and everyone is pointing fingers.

End of scene.

Most of the time, the influencer marketing campaign is like a never ending orgy gone wrong — everyone wants in on it, not everyone delivers what they promised, and everyone questions their decisions after.

In this case, the brand has a one-night stand with the creator.

Sending them on a walk of shame, never to be seen again.

Let’s go back to something I said before:

“Content Marketing is Like a First Date. If all you do is Talk About Yourself, There Won’t be a Second One.”

Think about that. Influencer Marketing works in a similar way.

Like any great relationship, you have to put in work. Brands need to stop having one night stands with creators and build long-term relationships with clearly defined boundaries.

The Solution: The Old School Hollywood Development Deal

I spent over 15 years in Hollywood producing premium branded content, webisodes, and live programming for Disney/ABC, Showtime, DIRECTV, and others, so it’s a strategy based on the old studio model.

Find talent you like, make a long-term development deal, build a relationship, co-develop, produce, and build a long-lasting mutually beneficial relationship. Groundbreaking, I know, but I deployed this very same strategy when I founded the Marriott Content Studio and it worked wonders with creators like Taryn Southern, Bill Rancic, Casey Neistat, Jacks Gap, Shira Lazar, Fun For Louis and many others.

I want to reiterate that this approach works for brands interested in fostering long-term relationships with creators to produce premium story-driven creative and content.

This does not work for an integration, feature my product on Instagram, etc types of engagements. While those can work, it’s not my cup of tea, and your customers will appreciate consistency.

The Process

  1. Spend time researching creators. Don’t just randomly pick creators based off on popularity, their numbers, or because someone told you to. Referrals are great, but do your own research and make sure they align with your brand and goals.
  2. Once you put together a mix of influencers that could work, find out who represents them — meaning their agent or manager — not some middleman. You want the least amount of people involved in the conversation. Trust me. Most established creators who are creating premium content are represented by talent agencies like CAA, UTA, IMG, and others or they have managers. Most of them have contact info somewhere on one of their social media accounts. Don’t forget YouTube. Do not go thru other people. I once had eight different people tell me they “represented” a big influencer. Fortunately, I knew their real agent, and made a direct call. Do your homework.
  3. Develop a content plan that goes beyond the initial engagement. Don’t think of the creator like a one night stand. Develop multiple types of content that they can produce over a period of time — from six months to a year.
  4. Make an introduction to their representative and set a call. Do not share your life story, the entire vision, a budget, etc or anything else in an email. A short and sweet note indicating who you are, what brand you are with, the genre of creative, potential dates, creative format, and leave it at that. Lastly, this is very important — make sure you say you want an ongoing relationship and want to discuss an overall development deal.
  5. If all goes well, you’ll score a call with the creator and have an opportunity to talk or meet further to discuss. Leave the money/budget part to the business side of the house. This is for you, the agents, manager, lawyers to discuss.
  6. Based on your “first date” — both the brand and creator will determine if they are a match. If all goes well, have them visit your brand HQ, experience the brand, and get to know each other before diving into an overall deal.

Deal Terms

Every deal is different and the terms can get complex at this point, but hopefully I’ve provided enough insight to start thinking about your next influencer marketing campaign a little different.

When I negotiated deals and setup overall development deals with creators of all kinds, I always remembered one thing — it’s a long tail game.

One last note: I called the creators, creators, not influencers. Yes, they influence a community, but they do a lot more. In many ways, they are the new studio, the new network, a new form of creators. They bring the 3C’s I talk about all the time: Content, Community, and Commerce — all in one package.

Creators beware though, the brand community is small, and brands want to work with professionals who show up, deliver, and build relationships, too. Just don’t show up and collect your paycheck. It works both ways, and as they say, karma is a bitch.