For every influencer marketing success story, there's a dozen other nightmare stories of influencers who mishandled their responsibilities or didn’t fully understand the agreement they signed up for. Understanding usage rights is paramount, but not everyone, especially micro influencers or those new to the industry, has access to lawyers or talent managers who can review agreements and set clear guidelines for each engagement.
To get some insight about the challenges influencers face around contracts and content usage rights, we sat down with talent manager Leanne Perice, founder of Music Brand Agency. Leanne represents celebrity musicians and premium digital talent for their brand and endorsement work and has brokered millions of dollars in deals for product placement and integrated branding campaigns across digital and traditional media.
LP: In 2011, I interned with Interscope Records in their global brand partnership division and I really started to understand the inherent value of brands’ marketing budgets as a distribution tool for musicians. During this time, I also signed my first client, a DJ and producer, that I went on to manage for a year. While I was helping him book shows, we focused a lot on his digital brand and social media presence. I was able to use his career to ‘test’ social media, specifically Instagram (which had just launched) as a way to connect with a new audience. My understanding of merging brands and musicians allowed me to see Instagram as another outlet for brands to connect with talent, and it turned out to be a smart bet.
Upon graduating from Indiana University, I wrote a 50-page thesis on the importance of brand partnerships and a case study on Jay-Z’s career as it pertained to his brilliant brand strategy. This paper went on to be published and then I moved to Los Angeles and became an assistant at an endorsement agency. Shortly after, I successfully closed my first social media campaign, which was $500 for 1 Instagram post. This deal jump-started my career in the digital space as I quickly saw a spike in influencers on platforms such as Vine and Instagram. I witnessed brands gradually moving closer to this medium for campaigns and product launches. In 2017, after building my client roster for four years, I founded MBA, Music Brand Agency, where I manage select celebrities and digital influencers for their brand strategy, relationships, and endorsement opportunities.
LP: Before signing off on any deal or opportunity, I negotiate the usage rights according to the general scope of work. I take several factors into consideration, such as the contact term length, exclusivity, deliverables, and talent fee. Based on this, I am able to determine the appropriate usage. Once I get the deal to a good place, I write up a comprehensive deal summary and send it to my client for review. I then talk them through what the brand is asking for, where their content will be seen, and answer any questions they may have. I always talk about the big picture and how the brand is aligned with them on many levels.
LP: First thing, you can never ask too many questions! If you’re unsure about something, ask! If something is general, ask them to be specific. It’s important to know exactly what to expect before entering into any deal. It’s also important to understand that no matter how big or small the campaign is, the deal terms and scope of work are always the same, so it’s important to know the basics.
The following is a list of core elements that make up any deal and what influencers should consider before signing a legal agreement.
LP: I think most influencers who do not have proper representation do not read the usage rights thoroughly and just sign off since they are getting paid. However, it’s really important to read and to know what you are granting these brands and for how long. The most common mistake I’ve seen is not paying attention to the term and where the content will be used by the brand.
LP: The only way to do this to clearly outline in the agreement where it can be used. Otherwise, you’ll have to monitor the brand's activity closely as there is no other way currently.
LP: We’ve heard stories about influencers not being paid for their work and those who accidentally signed contracts with very broad language around usage rights. In some cases, the influencer may have unknowingly given the brand rights to use their content in perpetuity, which could potentially hurt them down the line if they miss out on doing business with a competitor.
LP: Influencers should ask specific questions when it comes to whitelisting, such as how long do they plan to whitelist the content? They should also ask for approval if the brand decides to create derivatives of their work. For example, do they plan to write text overlay? Also, how do they plan to run the ads -- via Instagram story or in-feed ads? What audiences do they plan to push the content to?
LP: SocialCert provides influencers with tools that help to control what data is shared with brand partners, such as organic impressions, reach, and engagement. Influencers can manage the sharing of usage rights, such as allowing partners to use content in other channels or to boost posts.
LP: As more and more influencers pop up, the ones that will last will have successfully turned their brands into businesses. All of my clients in the digital space are multi-talented and multi- hyphenated, meaning they are not just content creators, they are also are focusing on different verticals and investing in themselves as entrepreneurs, actors, producers, stylists, etc. We will see more influencers use their channels as a platform to expand personal brands and build businesses with the help of their fan base and expertise. Being a digital entrepreneur still requires a ton of hard work, but it’s more accessible than ever. With brands such as Revolve, Pacsun, and Bloomingdales investing in ‘influencer’ collections they are acknowledging the power of influencers to help sell products and create engaging content that will inspire the customer and keep their attention. Keeping anyone’s attention is key!