A Truly innovative approach to influencer recruitment

Earlier this month, Truly Hard Seltzer and Craft Public Relations launched the brand’s first-ever Call-For-Creators, seeking three of Toronto’s most “bold and flavourful” content creators for an event taking place on June 22.

It featured a comprehensive breakdown of what the brand was seeking in an influencer: A public-facing Instagram account with at least 2,000 followers, a willingness to share content as a “collab post” with Truly, and someone who reflected brand attributes such as joyful, inclusive, and unapologetically themselves.

But in a break from industry norms, the Call-For-Creators also explicitly stated the compensation, $7,000, that each influencer would receive.

Most negotiations between brands and influencers take place behind the scenes, with the brand or its agency typically going through its database to find appropriate candidates, then reaching out to a shortlist to discuss details and contracts. Not surprisingly, it is an approach that can result in vastly different levels of compensation for each influencer.

Craft PR founder and president Lisa Pasquin likens the process to salary negotiations, which are also conducted in private and tend to place employees at a disadvantage because they don’t know what compensation is appropriate. “It’s very comparable,” she said. “On many campaigns, we pay different influencers different amounts of money for the same deliverables. It really raised a great question for us as to why that is the case.”

Ensuring fair and equitable compensation has become something of a passion project for Pasquin. Earlier this year, she announced that her agency would publicly disclose its salary bands on LinkedIn.

The so-called “ask gap” when it comes to negotiations can lead to huge discrepancies in salary, particularly among women and racialized people, she said at the time. “It’s a deep-rooted cultural norm that we don’t talk about money, and that’s a big part of what we’re trying to change by putting [the salary information] out there.”

Truly, meanwhile, has made inclusivity a cornerstone of its brand, but wanted it to be more than just a nice campaign tagline. The brand works extensively with influencers, and saw an opportunity to put its stated values into real-world action.

“Like any great client-agency relationship, you do your best work when your clients challenge you,” said Pasquin. “Truly challenged us to say ‘How do we bring inclusion into every touchpoint?’ and that led to this idea.”

For Truly, the goal was to bring some transparency to the typically secretive process. “Without the transparency of what that compensation looks like for a project, everyone is negotiating blindly,” said Truly’s marketing director, Jess Boland.

“Depending on your experience or what representation you have, everyone is set up differently for those conversations. And like we see across all industries, there tends to be gender and racial disparity when it comes to negotiating.”

There is data to support her claim. According to a 2021 study conducted by MSL US and The Influencer League, there is a “vast racial divide” within influencer marketing, with an average pay gap of 29% between caucasian and all BIPOC influencers, and even higher (35%) when compared to Black influencers alone.

The racial divide in influencer marketing compensation “vastly overshadows” that of other industries, including education (8%), business and financial( 16%), construction (19%), and media, sports and entertainment (16%), said D’Anthony Jackson, digital and influencer strategist at MSL.

The Influencer Marketing Hub, meanwhile, says that a “not-so-invisible” line divides the creator economy. While the industry is diverse and inclusive, it has also failed to overcome the prejudices common in traditional industries, it said. “Minority ethnic influencers are still subjected to discrimination, which is very apparent in the pay disparity between ethnicities.”

The disparity in influencer compensation has even led to the creation of an Instagram account called InfluencerPayGap that is dedicated to chronicling these issues. The account, which has grown to more than 55,000 followers, allows influencers to anonymously post some of the offers they’ve received.

With race-based pay gaps common in most industries and workplaces, it’s not surprising it also exists in influencer marketing, said Connor Lyn, senior campaign manager and social impact advisor with Platform Media. The Toronto agency works as a conduit between brands/agencies and approximately 60 influencers of varying follower sizes across Canada.

“Generally rate transparency is often needed, especially when a white creator might be getting signed on to a program for $50,000, but that same offer might be coming to a Black, Indigenous, or Asian creator for half that rate,” he said. “Any time you can be transparent with your work and what is being created, is ultimately… going to move an industry forward in a new way.”

As someone who’s queer and mixed-race, Lyn said it’s personally important to him that underrepresented communities are fairly represented in the influencer space. “I am the person that is ensuring that fair compensation is coming through for whoever’s signing onto a program, and I’m ensuring they feel really confident in the work we’re creating,” he said.

But while Lyn called what Truly and Craft are doing a “really interesting and unique approach,” it’s also likely to hold more appeal for influencers with a smaller following than major influencers. “Coming out of it, what does that look like for more macro creators?” he said.

Boland, though, said that she’s been pleased by the initial response to Truly’s initial Call-For-Creators, which received nearly 100 applications before closing this week. The brand plans to take the learnings from the process, as well as feedback from creators, to further refine the process.

“It’s absolutely our intent that this is the new way forward,” she said.

Pasquin, too, hopes the approach is more broadly adopted, arguing that it’s capable of leading to deeper, more rewarding relationships.

“Every single brand wants to partner with influencers who are authentic endorsers of the brand, and a process like this invites people to put their hand up if they’re interested in working with the brand, rather than us going to a creator and saying ‘Would you be interested in working with Truly?'” she said.

“It’s incredibly brave of Truly to be taking a step like this and to put their compensation information on the table.”

Chris Powell