Not everyone is going to shoot it to you straight but here at Sidewalker Daily our motto is that the best partnerships are a win-win for everyone involved. Since brands normally have the negotiating power (aka dollars and cents) they sometimes get a little carried away. We never want you to get involved in a shady partnership deal so we’re covering how brands take advantage of bloggers, influencers and content creators so you know what to look out for during the pitching and negotiation process.
This is definitely not the easiest subject to cover since depending on the partnership deal going down you can find us on either side of the equation – sometimes we’re representing brands and other times we’re helping influencersnegotiate from behind the scenes.
So what that means for you is we’ve seen it all and know what a good deal looks like and also what a “you should run now” deal looks like.
The bottom line is brands are run by humans and we know this isn’t a perfect world so there are sometimes good humans and there are sometimes shady humans. It may be difficult to always get a read on everyone you’re working with, especially if you’re negotiatingwith a brand rep from behind the screen.
Don’t get us wrong, there are SO MANY visionaries in this space that are fighting tooth and nail to make sure creators get compensated fairly and brands do them right. But for the purposes of this article we’re talking about all the shady stuff that goes on so you’ll know what to look out for when you’re navigating the influencer partnership world.
But First…Why Brands Take Advantage Of Travel Bloggers
Before we get into how brands take advantage of bloggers, let’s go over why this even happens in the first place. Yes, sometimes brands can take advantage of their relationships with bloggers intentionally because they are trying to get the most bang for their buck but often times brands are just clueless as to how to even work with influencers and what is expected from them (especially if they don’t have a ton of experience with influencer marketing).
Since some brands are still learning how NOT to work with bloggers, what works and what doesn’t – it’s ok to cut them some slack since the industry is still constantly evolving and there is a steep learning curve.
So if some of the red flags we cover pop up, make sure you don’t jump the gun because you don’t know if what they are doing is intentional or is just a honest mistake.
How Brands Take Advantage Of Bloggers – 9 Red Flags To Look Out For.
It’s important to understand that red flags don’t always mean RUN. But when red flags do pop up when you’re pitching to brands, they give you some insight into what you’re dealing with and how to best approach the situation.
So just because one of these situations arises during the partnership process it doesn’t mean you need to automatically say no to the brand partnership. But what you do need to do is step back and evaluate whether it’s a good idea for you to move forward or just to pass altogether.
So let’s dive in and go over how brands take advantage of bloggers and influencers:
1. They Tell You What To Do Or Say
As soon as a brand tries to restrict your creative freedom, tells you what to post or what to say in the caption, you should probably think twice about working with them. This happens ALL THE TIME where big global brands are trying to force messaging down your followers throats but a lot of time they just don’t get it.
They are so used to rolling out big marketing campaigns where everything is calculated and so over thought that they can’t even comprehend sharing the creative reigns with someone else. BUT as this industry evolves, so will the big brands’ approach to influencer marketing…it’s only a matter of time.
What you need to understand is that your followers and fans are your number one client and you know them best – what they react to and what they best respond to. As soon as you start spewing cookie cutter captions and posting overly branded images on your feed, they are going to wonder what company bought your soul and may break up with you forever.
And once followers or fans start jumping ship…you may find yourself in a very serious situation. At the end of the day your main concern should be to keep your followers and fans happy because their love for you and loyalty is ultimately what gets you these opportunities and gigs in the first place.
So that’s why it’s important that you understand when it comes to influencer marketing, your true value to a brand is your ability to relate and communicate with your audience in a way that they are receptive too (not what brand wants you to tell them) and they need to understand that!
The good news is there are brands that totally trust influencers and are excited about the creative process. And when you find a brand who actually understands influencer marketing and the power of working WITH them not FOR them it’s usually a seamless partnership.
For example, when we do influencer initiatives for our brand clients we implement a serious vetting process before even opening the conversation with an influencer – we look at the good, the bad and the ugly. Why? Because at the end of the day if we hire an influencer or invite them on a press trip we have to TRUST they will make content in line with what they create for themselves and other brands. We understand that most influencers, bloggers and content creators are professionals and we respect them for that and let them fly.
Of course, there will be guidelines or briefs about the partnership so everyone is on the same page. It’s normal for the brand to have a say in the content development process since you’re creating content for their brand after all.
For example, we once sent a content creator on a press trip on behalf of a tourism board to shoot video content. We didn’t tell them what to shoot or what to put in the video but when they sent the video over for our review before it was going to go live for the world to see, we noticed there was a small clip where they were doing something against the country’s ethos. We just asked that they take out the tiny clip in the video that was totally against what the country (i.e. brand) stood for and they completely understood and took it out right away.
So if you create something that is against the brand, hotel or destination’s key message it’s ok for them to politely ask you to edit it out. It’s like if you get hired for a Coca Cola partnership and then feature a Pepsi in the content you created. You would understand if Coca Cola was like “hey do you mind taking out the Pepsi clip?”
If someone is paying you for the brand partnership or footing the bill for a press trip they are your client so keep that in mind. It’s ok for them to be included in the content creation process, just not to tell you exactly how to do everything because it will just be a recipe for disaster. It will most likely hurt your credibility with your followers and also hurt their campaign because it will be inauthentic and most likely not resonate with your audience anyway…making the partnership a total bust.
2. They Use Your Content In Ways You Didn’t Agree To
Just because a brand hires you for a partnership or invites you on a press trip doesn’t mean they automatically own everything you create. The rights of the content and how it will be used is something you need to agree to.
For example, let’s say you got invited on a press trip for a social media campaign but they want to use the images you created on the trip in their worldwide marketing initiatives or print advertisements. That is totally fine as long as YOU have agreed to it. So make sure you read every contract and photo waiver very carefully and find out exactly how your photos are going to be used.
And if there is something in the photo waiver or contract that you don’t like, don’t be scared to speak up and negotiate that point. It’s your brand and business and you need to be comfortable with how your work and images will be used out in the world.
At the end of the day we’re ok with brands being able to use more than what they bargained for with you in the initial deliverables…but only as long as you’re OK with it.
3. They Are Not In It For The Long Term
This red flag can be compared to the real world example of a one night stand. Basically the brand isn’t interested in a relationship with you at all, they’re just trying to hook up with anyone and everyone with a pulse (aka followers).
In the marketing world that’s called acquisition versus retention. Retention is when you’re going to work with fewer bloggers but work with them more often.
If a brand is just trying to get you do a post or promote their link, think about how many other influencers they are trying to get to do that too. It not only makes the partnership feel cheap but it can also potentially cheapen your brand. It’s basically not an exclusive deal and you’re just one of many.
Also, if a brand comes to you saying they don’t have a budget to pay you but want you to do a long list of X,Y, Z while dangling the carrot that maybe it will lead to some paid work in the future…definitely think twice if this is the right partner for you.
On the other hand if you think the partnership opportunity would be beneficial to you in another way then it may be worth doing it to help your end game…it’s really up to you.
For example, would the brand be a great logo to include in your media kit, or would working with this brand for free now get you paid work with other brands in the future?
Trust us, everyone started somewhere and did something for free or trade at some point so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Even the biggest influencers you love still do collabs for free from time to time because it benefits them in some way.
4. They Don’t Want To Pay You What You Deserve
Creating content for partnerships and sponsorships takes a lot of work and you need to keep that in mind when figuring out what to charge.
So yes, if a brand is trying to squeeze you dry it’s a definite red flag. You need to make sure you’re getting paid your worthand what you deserve because at the end of the day this is a business. We could seriously write a novel titled, “Dear brands, bloggers don’t work for free,” but that’s a whole other conversation. If they offer you exposure instead of trade or payment you have to keep in mind that likes and follows won’t pay your rent.
Trade versus payment is a hot topic that always comes up amongst influencers. When it comes to travel partnerships, you have to understand that although the hotel or destination may be offering you flights, accommodations and meals instead of cash, that trip costs them a lot of money. So if they are spending their budget on getting you to the destination and there is no extra budget for talent fees, then it’s up to you to figure out creative ways to make money off the partnership.
When it comes to travel partnerships, a lot of big bloggers still work for trade, especially when they know they can leverage the trip to earn income for themselves in other ways.
Whenever you’re negotiating a partnership, it’s important to make sure the deliverables the brand is requesting from you match the compensation or trade value and that you’re not undervaluing yourself. Skimping on payment is definitely how brands take advantage of bloggers and influencers so beware.
5. They Don’t Want to Put Things In Writing
Whether its a formal contract, Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or Letter of Agreement you need to get the agreed upon terms of the partnership or press trip IN WRITING.
Yes, it can be a little awkward negotiating deal points but what’s even more awkward is if you have to fight with them in the future about stuff you never agreed to – or things they agreed to and are now backing out of.
Trust us, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. You don’t want to turn down other deals or plan your travels around a press trip only to have them renege on their promise or go with another influencer for the partnership instead.
Also, make sure you have a clear fee structure and payment terms in writing. You want to make sure you know when (and how) you’re going to get paid.
6. They Try to Nickel And Dime You Is Definitely How Brands Take Advantage Of Bloggers
If brands are not treating you right and are trying to make YOU pay to work then that is a huge red flag. Make sure they are covering things that are industry standard and not trying to nickel and dime you on small expenses of the partnership they should be covering.
On the other hand, make sure you don’t nickel and dime them either. For example, if they are sending you and your photographer (or Instagram husband) on an all expenses paid trip that’s valued at $10,000+, don’t get upset if they won’t pay for your $25 luggage fee. Just eat the cost as a business expense and write it off on your taxes next year.
7. They Don’t Want You to Follow Rules And Regulations
Yes, having to slap a hashtag #ad on your Instagram caption is not cute for anyone – you, the brand, your followers but at the end of the day you have to disclose sponsorships no matter what because it’s the law.
If you’re up front with the brand and let them know that you will be following FTC guidelines (the legal authority on sponsorship disclosures in the US) for sponsored posts and they respond saying that if you disclose the partnership on your Insta then the deal is off…..honestly, you don’t want to work with them anyway. (And yes, we’ve seen this happen more than once).
Not disclosing a sponsorship is not only illegal, it’s also misleading to your followers and fans. It’s good for them to be able to tell what is sponsored and what you’re actually excited to share with them so they can differentiate between the two. And we all know sponsored posts are super obvious anyway so you won’t be pulling any fast ones on them by not hashtagging #ad…even if you think you are.
At the end of the day, you have to protect YOUR brand that you’ve worked so hard to create and no amount of money or brand bullying should jeopardize your integrity.
8. They Are Wishy Washy
If you start a partnership conversation with a brand and they keep changing their mind about the idea for the partnership or they don’t seem very stable in general it probably is a sign that the campaign will not turn out so great or even may be a complete disaster.
You want to work with brand professionals who know what they want, will make the working relationship easy and will pay you on time. If they are indecisive it may actually cost you more in the long run because you’re going to spend time chasing them, trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing or even having to re-do content.
If you have the time and patience to hold their hand throughout the partnership then by all means…but if you’re a professional with other partnerships going on then it may not be worth the headache.
9. They Are Not Good For You In The Long Run
This point is not so much about how brands take advantage of bloggers but more about maybe when it’s a good idea to politely say “no”and walk away from the partnership. When a brand is not in tune with your long term vision, accepting a partnership can actually do more harm than good.
For example, let’s just say you’re just starting out and your goal is to be a top eco and sustainability blogger and the brand that reached out to you for a partnership request uses tons of plastic in their packaging. Accepting that partnership may sound like an OK idea now but could come back to haunt you in the future – remember, everything you post online is forever.
Or let’s just say your long term goal is to write a book on sustainable fashion but you are partnering with fashion brands that use factories with horrible conditions for their workers…that is not good and can do serious damage to your brand now and in the future.
We totally get how exciting it is when you get those partnership opportunities but if the brand doesn’t feel like a good idea, then no matter the amount of money they offer you…trust your gut.
Also keep in mind when doing brand partnerships you should actually be interested and excited about the product, service or destination you are promoting because your followers can smell inauthenticity from a mile a way.
As tough as it is to say no to money, you need to be picky. Not all your content can be sponsored because your followers will get annoyed and if you end up saying yes to everything that comes your way it can also jeopardize your ability to work with brands in the future that are your dream partnerships. It’s kind of like the person that dates everyone…after a while they have no more appeal.
We hope this article opened your eyes to things to look out for when evaluating a partnership and also taught you a thing or two about how to spot if a brand is taking advantage of you. If you know your value and have true influence you should be able to say no to working with brands that aren’t a good fit and only accept partnerships that will not only boost your brand but help you create lasting relationships in this industry for years to come.
Just as an FYI – when you get to work with PR agencies or brand reps that are good people, it’s amazing how much affect they can have on your success. The industry is small and people talk more than you think so if you hit it off with someone they may recommend you for other gigs, send you to other properties they represent and advocate for you to be chosen over someone else. So spend your energy cultivating those relationships and steer clear of people that are just trying to take advantage of your hard work and success.
Are Brands Taking Advantage Of You? We Can Help!
It can sometimes be tough to figure out what a brand’s real intentions are and like any situation, the facts and scenarios vary case by case. If you’re fed up with brands trying to take advantage of you and you need help figuring out what partnerships to take and what to say, “thanks, but no thanks” to we’re here to help. We offer 1-on-1 coachingand can work with you every step of the way to make sure every partnership is a win for you!
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We get how tough it is to navigate the industry alone and offer one-on-one coaching for bloggers and influencers to support them every step of the way.
Have you come across any other red flags when negotiating with brands? We’d love to know! Feel free to share in the comments section down below!
All information provided on this Website has been prepared for general educational and informational purposes only. The information on this Website does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, legal or financial advice and is general in nature.
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Nina ZadehDirector of Partnerships, MBA
Clairesse BrogoittiDirector of Business Affairs, JD
We’re industry experts devoted to helping travel bloggers get more partnerships, understand their value, and turn their travel influence into a legit business.
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Sidewalker Daily is a team of marketing and business professionals dedicated to providing resources to travel bloggers and influencers who want to turn their social influence into a profitable and legitimate business. They also manage one of the original travel/style communities on Instagram of now over 60,000 travelers from around the globe – @sidewalkerdaily.