Why influencers should be in the brainstorm, not just the briefing

Seen Connects founder Sedge Beswick believes we’re using the word ‘collaboration’ too loosely in the world of influencing and that the talent should be involved from the ideation stage, not just the execution of a campaign.

In the world of influencer partnerships, we throw the term ‘collaboration’ around a lot. But actually, if you dig a little deeper, many campaigns don’t look or feel particularly collaborative at all. The reason for this? The brand or business involved doesn’t trust the influencer enough to give them creative control, which can leave campaigns feeling dry and impersonal.

So, when brands do hand over these creative reigns, we’ve got to give them their props.

With the news of Molly-Mae becoming creative director for PrettyLittleThing and Kendall Jenner for US e-tailer FWRD, it seems that the role of influencers as brand ambassadors is being amplified. These titles are obviously a great move to unlock press inches, but what do they really mean?

PrettyLittleThing’s managing director was quoted saying: “It’s not unusual for influencers to get involved in the creative side. Molly is a great fit to join our team to work on our 2022 strategy, and we’re excited to have her input in terms of creative campaigns, signing new brand ambassadors and working on her own collections over the next 12 months."

A bold move? Maybe. A smart one? Definitely.

Influencers aren’t just social posters and #goals, they’re businesses too. Influencers have spent years trialing and testing formats, understanding the algorithms and developing their own unique creative style. They’re called talent for a reason – they know their stuff, and they know it better than anyone. So why not work with them – really work with them – to create concepts and a campaign they’ll be invested in, excited for and sure their audience will love?

We want influencers to be a part of the conversation from the word go, onboarding them to the creative team and including them in brainstorms and workshops so they can ask all the questions upfront. For example, usage. It’s not just up to influencers to make sure contracts protect them and their content, it’s up to brands too.

As influencers are supplying goods – in this case supplying their audience, assets and creativity – brands need to be totally transparent about where this content will live. If your influencer spots their content in any form of paid ad, and this wasn’t part of the original agreement, you could land yourself in some seriously hot water, and rightly so.

By bringing your influencer in from the offset, not only does it limit these issues, but it saves so much time chasing them for rights once the content is live. Worst-case scenario, the content goes live but your brand hasn’t negotiated usage into the contract, so you’ll have a beautiful piece of content you can’t repurpose to your own channels. To swerve that situation, think about what usage rights you could negotiate upfront in order to give those assets as much lifetime as possible.

Saying that, what types of usage do you need to be aware of? First up, territory usage. Will it be UK only? EMEA-wide? Global? This needs to be outlined within influencer contracts. Then there’s the length of usage. We advise six months as a minimum, but some will negotiate 12 or even 24. Next is the issue of organic and/or paid assets. Organic usage rights allow you to reshare content (with influencer credit of course) to your brand-owned channels without any paid promotion. And that’s not forgetting above-the-line usage – think TV, in-store or out-of-home (OOH) ads.

Aside from the nuts and bolts of the business partnership, understanding usage early on is important for the campaign’s creative journey. TikTok ads, YouTube pre-roll, IG in-feed ads, in-store windows – each social channel has its own look, feel and protocol. Letting influencers know where their content will live, and how long for, can help shape the direction of the content too.

With the Christmas period fast approaching, there’ll be endless opportunities to partner with talent. Now’s the time to put in that groundwork. Invite them to your brainstorming meetings (virtual or IRL) and create some next-level campaigns with authentic creativity and collaboration at their core.