Influencers and experts say Q4 was packed with deals as the industry came roaring back: 'I have never seen a holiday season like this'

  • Q4 is typically the busiest season for an influencer's business with holiday campaigns and sponsorships. 
  • This spring, the influencer-marketing industry took a major hit because of the pandemic, but insiders said it began to rebound later in the year, which led to a packed holiday season.
  • "I have never seen a holiday season like this," said Shannae Ingleton Smith, cofounder and head of talent of Kensington Grey, a boutique talent management agency.
  • Business Insider spoke with influencers, talent agents, and managers about the impact of the coronavirus on the influencer industry and the holiday campaign trends and rates they saw in 2020.
  • Subscribe to Business Insider's influencer newsletter.

The last quarter of the year is typically the busiest season for the influencer business, and in 2020 this was even more pronounced for many digital creators, as the market came roaring back after taking a hit earlier in the year because of the pandemic.

Brands started reaching out about holiday campaigns as early as August this year, according to Kyle Hjemeseth, founder of G&B Digital Management. Normally, this would begin around October and November, he said. 

The influencer-marketing platform Klear found that influencer posts had 57% more impact in 2020 as sponsored posts increased in unique views with an average of 7,806 impressions in 2020, compared to an average of 4,827 sponsored post impressions in 2019.

"I have never seen a holiday season like this," said Shannae Ingleton Smith, cofounder and head of talent of Kensington Grey, a boutique talent management agency that emphasizes diversity. This is the agency's second holiday season and Ingleton Smith's fourth year as an influencer.

Almost the entire Kensington Grey roster — which includes 15 creators ranging from micro influencers to mega influencers like Kiitan Akinniranye — were "capped out" from the week before Black Friday through the end of the year, Ingleton Smith said. 

This year's holiday campaigns also looked a bit different, industry insiders said.

"Typically, there's maybe some more in-store activations or maybe there's holiday trips," said Keith Bielory, a senior agent at A3 Artists Agency. "Whereas this year, the ways are all online. But the brands are trying to get as creative as possible to differentiate themselves and cut through the clutter."

"They were not doing a theme around Christmas in that same way, or, holiday shopping ahead of Christmas in the same way," Hjelmeseth said. "That totally changed."

Hjelmeseth had two hypotheses for this. First, brands were likely taking a marketing approach that accounted for sensitivity amid the pandemic, election, and economic turmoil as millions of Americans face unemployment. Second, shopping behavior this year changed, especially as Black Friday and Cyber Monday both focused on e-commerce instead of in-person shopping, he said.

Brittany Bright, a micro influencer with 24,000 Instagram followers, said that many of the brand deals she saw this season emphasized online orders and curbside pickup. Bright is also the founder of The Influencer League, a community that educates influencers on how to grow their business and has been advocating for diversity and equity in the industry.

Ingleton Smith said she felt that the Black Lives Matter movement had also pushed positive change in the industry.

"I think in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, and us having an all-Black roster, now all of our influencers are being considered for all campaigns that they may not have previously been considered for," Ingleton Smith said.

A post shared by Brittany Bright (@itsbrittanybright)

How influencers adapted their rates and negotiating strategies for this year's Q4 

Because of the high volume of campaigns that happened this holiday season, Ingleton Smith said that her firm paid close attention to contract terms like exclusivity.

"We always charge for exclusivity, however, during the holiday season we always try to push to remove, reduce the length or very narrowly define exclusivity because there are so many campaigns happening during that period and influencers are bound to run into brand conflicts," Ingleton Smith said. 

Other creators also found some brands more willing to negotiate rates this season.

Lifestyle influencer Emma Cortes, who has about 40,000 Instagram followers, said that 2020 was a record holiday season for her business and that she was able to use that to her advantage in negotiations.

In November, a brand reached out to Cortes for an end-of-year campaign and she immediately asked about its budget, explaining that she was already heavily booked for December. The brand first offered her $3,750 for an Instagram package that included an in-feed photo, a Reel, and a few Stories. The next day, that brand offered $6,000 for the same deliverables — a higher rate than her average starting prices. Cortes then negotiated the timeline of this deal, requesting a later due date. 

She also negotiated other brand deals to incorporate an additional fee for any quick turnaround, she said.

"One way I did that was just saying, 'Hey, we're in the holiday season and you're asking for a holiday campaign, so to support this quick timeline, I need to be compensated for this because I'm working over Thanksgiving break' or whatever that may be," Cortes said.

Brittany Bright did the same: For any last-minute deliverables due in less than 7 to 14 days, she would charge an additional $250 fee, she said.

The quarantine-friendly strategies brands have adopted this quarter

Bielory said brands adapted their strategies this holiday season because of the pandemic, with elements like livestreaming and giveaways gaining popularity.

"There's livestreams, Amazon Live has done holiday gift guides with specific talent, and we've had brands partner up with non profits, and then obviously giveaways are huge," Bielory said.

Some examples of ways brands have shifted to quarantine-friendly strategies this quarter, according to talent agents include:

  • Hosting livestreaming events with an influencer.
  • Letting an influencer take over the brand's Instagram Story for the day. 
  • Planning giveaways for the influencer to advertise to their audience. 
  • Using Instagram's e-commerce features, such as shopping on Instagram Live or shoppable tags on in-feed posts. 

WME agent Andrew Kenward said merchandise sales had also steadily increased this year, making influencer-led direct-to-consumer products a major revenue source for his digital clients. 

"I think there's like retail therapy happening throughout the pandemic and people have been buying stuff from their favorite online creators," Kenward said. 

For more on the influencer industry, check out these Business Insider posts:

  • Instagram's short-form video feature Reels has become a lucrative revenue source for influencers

  • How much a YouTuber with 200,000 subscribers made each month in 2020

  • Leaked Fashion Nova campaign briefs reveal what it's offering to pay influencers for sponsored content

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