Are Influencers Creative Directors?
In a recent article in PR Week, Takumi’s Adam Williams asserts, “If you want great creative work, you have to allow the influencers to be their own creative director – the brand has needs and wants, but you still need to allow the storytelling to happen in that process,” while Harsh Kapadia of VMLY&R argues the opposite. He contends, “We need brilliant creative brand ideas to start with, and then we need to connect with people at the right time and place. Only then – and only if it suits the brand, idea, and the audience – does it make sense to find a relevant influencer.” So, who is right?
Currently, most organizations work with influencers by providing them a brief with brand guidelines including the overall campaign creative strategy, social media platform, talking points, product information, and loose input on how the content should be delivered (i.e., length of the video, sample imagery, etc.). These briefs are typically rigid, giving the influencers little flexibility in developing truly custom, one-of-a-kind content. Content that is delivered usually requires multiple rounds of feedback and adjustment, ensuring the brand and influencer are both authentically and appropriately represented.
These steps protect the brand from misrepresentation and are usually necessary in order to inspire high-quality work from influencers. Most influencers are not creative directors. They are creatives, certainly, but generally lack the experience to pull together conceptual, strategic work in the amount of lead time most companies provide. Oftentimes, higher-concept video and imagery require the assistance of an agency or third-party production company. Thus, while influencers are genius brand-builders, agencies are ultimately responsible for creative strategy in order to uphold standards of excellence for their clients.
In rare instances, however, an influencer’s work speaks for itself. Some influencers take great care to curate a beautiful feed with clear, impactful content that compels their audience to double tap and share. In these influencers we trust. Working with this generation of awe-inspiring influencers can enhance a brand’s public perception, give creative life to the campaign, and add variety to the brand’s characteristic content style. The task, then, is to identify and distinguish between influencers and these creative partners.
Influencers contribute great content at scale to a campaign. Brands benefit from the quick production of influencer content that is largely dependent on the all-powerful brief. Like fast food, consumers take a bite and love it. Brands can easily activate with multiple influencers at reasonable budgets. But fast food has its limitations. It’s ubiquitous and highly competitive, perhaps a bit ephemeral.
Image by Brooke Lark
Partners, on the other hand, deliver content like master chefs. This content perfectly aligns the brand with the influencer’s audience, genuinely providing a unique viewing experience for the consumer. The content tickles the imagination and can’t be easily replicated, neither by influencers in the same vertical nor other brands. It’s bespoke to that influencer-brand relationship. Of course, these kinds of activations are costly and time-consuming, requiring multiple levels of approvals from the brand, agencies, and influencers. And then there’s the all-important question of where these custom campaigns fit into the overall marketing plan.
The foundation on which both influencers and partners stand is the agency, which strategizes the campaign, facilitates collaboration, and regularly co-creates. It is the agency that must tailor the influencer and partner content to the needs of the brand. Agencies should not solely rely on what influencers can deliver, but work diligently from ideation to posting to ensure brand clients are accurately, beautifully depicted and influencers rise to their greatest potential.
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Brands need a blend of the right agency activating both influencers and partners. They can take advantage of the efficacy and speed of activating multiple influencers who can follow instructions, providing the brand with a wealth of consumable content that resonates with the social media audience. Yet, brands also need the occasional game-changing campaign activation that only emerges out of a willingness to allow the top 1% of talent to shine. Are all influencers creative directors? Absolutely not. But a good influencer marketing strategist should take advantage of those rare, flawless diamonds for the chance to execute truly memorable and meaningful campaigns.
Posted by Morgan Ferguson
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