This is the second installment of the Content Partner Strategy series, where we look at the rapidly changing landscape of branded content partnerships. In this installment, we’re bringing it back home.
It’s so easy to search the world for faces and voices that suit your needs and whims of the moment. With varying results, of course. How many of us have not tried hiring a creative for a $15 bid, only to wind up one week later with an unusable piece that we pay 10 times more to get done correctly? (You know the saying, “If a creative bid seems too good to be true, it’s probably subcontracting to offshore talent…”)
But being able to vet and meet with talent isn’t the only reason that close-to-home hires can be better. Even when you’re hiring creative freelancers or influencers who can complete a job entirely remotely, there are a lot of benefits to having a local network. (And don’t for a minute confuse “local network” with actual staff — the two are totally different.)
Here are are several scenarios you can activate with a roster of local creatives/influencers:
1. Offline experiences
I have a client who often sponsors large, prestigious events such as the James Beard Foundation Awards. However, they are just as prone to host or partner on smaller events, such as a discovery day for local trade customers to check out a new product at their headquarters. They have lists of local trusted influencers and creatives based within 50 miles of their HQ, and they involve them far beyond the level of just inviting them to events. They hire them to demonstrate, tap them to develop recipes, and feature them in content captured at the live event.
One of my other clients is reluctant to dive into events, thinking that they necessitate a large financial and human resource commitment. The former is definitely not true, and the latter doesn’t have to be. An event can be as simple as a hosted breakfast or happy hour for eight local freelancers/influencers to meet and brainstorm collaborations and post on social media. It could be an open studio event where you invite people to your space and ask a couple of your favorite freelancers/influencers to put on a short talk or presentation sharing what you do. As you find local talent who you trust to be the face of your brand, you can utilize them to speak at or host larger events, from popups to parties to media luncheons.
2. Hackathons / focus groups / discussions
There’s a reason that old ‘Sesame Street’ song “Two Heads Are Better Than One” is immortal. Collaborative brainstorming is more awkward yet more productive than individual — and doing it in person, in an informal setting, often takes away the competitive aspect and makes it a lot giddier and more fun. It’s still awkward, but in a different way.
When you bring influencers or freelance content creators who don’t know each other into a room, it’ll certainly take time for them to warm up, but these are people whose psychological imperative is to ideate, to ask questions, to come up with a witty insight, or sometimes simply to outshine everyone else. With a good leader or moderator running the discussion and a couple managers taking notes, you as a client can gain all kinds of valuable insights into:
- your brand;
- your ideal customer (because an influencer should be your ideal customer);
- outside perception of you;
- potential new initiatives to implement.
I would suggest having a good mix of close/trusted freelancers and influencers who are real brand allies, and relatively newer ones who will have outsider perspective and fresh ideas.
Please note: If you’re going to engage any kind of talent in this type of activity, you must pay them. I was once invited to a friendly lunch that turned out to be an unpaid brand ideation session, and the fact that I didn’t get up and walk out rankles me to this day. Any brand, media outlet or PR agency who tries to sweet-talk their contacts into doing free creative work — in a meeting setting, no less — is being exploitative.
3. Content shoots
Video continues to be the fastest-growing and most crucial element of digital and social content marketing, according to experts, and you really can’t produce good video without having the talent and producers in the same space. (Unless you have a good animator and good voiceover talent who can self-produce. But that’s a topic for a whole different post.) Yes, people have been trying to work around distance with Google and Skype and GoPro for a few years, but there simply isn’t a more expedient way to capture quality video than having a good videographer and talent together — whether it’s scripted or spontaneous, in-studio or at an event. And local content creators/influencers often turn out to be the spotlight-loving, soundbite-riffing types that love to get your company’s message out on camera.
And don’t forget the photos! While still images are not the buzzy asset of the moment, there will always be need for good photos — to share out with media, put on the company Facebook, and then again utilize six months for that perfect holiday post or behind-the-scenes story. One influencer content shoot could get you months’ worth of material for later posts.
4. Instagram Stories and Facebook Live streams
Stories continue to be the category where Instagram offers the greatest opportunity for organic reach. Facebook also continues to promote FB Live and FB Stories. While it’s taking time for people to acquire the habit of clicking someone’s IG Story icon when it appears in their home feed, the evolution of Story Highlights is very promising. Super-short video snippets and minimally edited images seem to be the happy medium between static posts and disappearing 24-hour Stories.
If you’re not an early adopter of Stories, look through the Story Highlights of your local content creators. You’ll most likely find that a few of them have developed great storytelling skills for this new content bucket. Test out a couple collaborations to see whether they can drive new potential customers over to you, or create some fun owned content to live in your company Highlights. It’ll be similar to a video collab, but much cheaper (you don’t need a camera team) and more playful.
5. PR/public appearance opportunities
If you have a publicity strategy in place, you’ve probably already been asked who the faces and voices of your brand are. A smart PR person will always attempt a fresh angle when pitching their client, and bringing in new brand ambassadors gives them more opportunities for strategic outreach. You can offer your local influencers as quotable experts, you can introduce them for local TV and radio opportunities, or you can suggest them to speak at events.
Choose influencers with different strengths and angles that complement your own. The right people will amplify your brand and lend their own authentic support to it. And believe me, it’s a two way street: The right influencers will bring you opportunities and open up new avenues for business.