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INTA New York: ‘Don’t treat influencers like cogs’

Panellists from Vice Media said lawyers need to be closely involved in the whole process of working with social media influencers

Panellists from Vice Media spoke about how brands can develop relationships with social media influencers, in a discussion called ‘Marketing today: Just because you can, should you?’ that was held at a virtual INTA conference yesterday.

“We need to work hand in hand with our legal and IP team,” said Erik Lavoie, New York-based partner at Vice Media and chief growth officer at Virtue Worldwide, a marketing and advertising agency affiliated with Vice.

“We can’t just say that legal is a final step. Legal is part of the discussion. It’s important to have consistent checks in the process to make sure we end up with individuals who want to work with us.”

Pieter van den Bulck, global IP director at brewing company Anheuser-Busch in Belgium and who was interviewing the panel, asked the speakers how to deal with cases when an influencer goes AWOL (absent without leave) or is otherwise unreliable.

Lavoie said that influencers have a motivation to be reliable because they will develop a bad reputation if they aren’t. “If you get a reputation for being flaky or unreliable or a scammer, it will get out very quickly. The advertising world is not very big.”

However, he added, agencies should vet influencers for reliability.

Brands themselves should make sure to treat influencers well, too, Lavoie said. “Think about influencers as individuals who can benefit your brand. Don’t treat influencers like cogs or components. This is their primary source of income; this is what they do and it is their craft. Influencers are all very well connected, and if a brand treats them poorly, stories get out.”

He added that his company has approached influencers about working with certain businesses, but the influencers have refused because the businesses have developed a bad reputation.  

The panellists also explored how companies can spot red flags when drafting contracts. Sarah Lippman, senior counsel at Vice Media in New York, said that companies might be wary of influencers who are unwilling to allow an agency or a brand to remove a concerning post.

“Influencers pushing back on things that are so innate to what we need to do is an indication that you might not want to work with them,” Lippman said.

When lawyers draft contracts with influencers, they should clarify IP issues such as who owns the social media content, according to Lippman. She said that if a brand or agency doesn’t own the content, the contract should specify what the terms for the content are.

Lippman added that agreements should include the right to terminate the contract with and without cause. An influencer can do something that is out of line with the wishes of a business, even if it does not explicitly violate a contract, and companies need the freedom to end the relationship if that happens, she said.

Lippman added that companies ought to consider how much of a role they, and an agency, should play in the day-to-day of working with an influencer. She said brands should also consider if they want the responsibility of managing an influencer and the liability that could arise if something goes wrong.

The INTA 2020 New York Conference, Brands in Society: Their Influence and Responsibility ends today, June 23.

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