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In a booming influencer economy, creators seek standardization for payment terms

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The creator economy is booming. And as creators have become a marketing must-have, they say they’re increasingly pushing for reasonable payment terms, asking for deposits, enacting late fees and employing other tactics to get their fair share of said boom.

Last year, both agency clients and brands reported that they were investing more in influencer marketing than they were in 2022, according to Digiday research. The influencer/creator economy is currently worth $250 billion and it’s expected to nearly double to $480 billion by 2027, according to Goldman Sachs estimates.

To some extent, the creator economy and influencer marketing are still considered marketing’s Wild West, especially when it comes to performance indicators and pay standards. But as it becomes a common line item within marketing budgets, creators and influencers say they’re campaigning for brands, their agency partners and influencer marketing platforms to revisit payment terms.

Digiday recently caught up with five creators about negotiating payment terms in the crowded creator economy.

“My whole thing is, and this is across the board because this industry is so unregulated,” said Steven Sharpe, a full-time lifestyle and wellness content creator with more than 24,000 followers across TikTok and Instagram and founder of Nobius Creative Studios, a creative shop and talent agency, “we, the creators, have to set the boundaries.”

Typically, payment terms happen anywhere from 30 to 90 days after the creator or influencer’s work is done, and an invoice is sent to the brand, its agency partners or an influencer marketing platform. But sometimes, that payment comes late, forcing creators to follow up on said payment for weeks, or in some cases, months. If payments are delayed frequently enough, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth, said Jazmin Griffith, a social analyst and full-time creator with more than 300,000 TikTok and Instagram followers.

Last summer, Griffith said she landed a campaign via an influencer marketing platform, which took more than six months to pay out. “They expect you to give them their content within a specific time frame,” she said referring to brands and campaign contracts. “But when it comes to getting paid, I have to wait the net 60 or the net 90 [days]. And after that, you really wait another net 30 because you’re still having to chase them for your money.”

Griffith said she’s since opted to work directly with the brands themselves or mainstream influencer marketing agencies to give her more control over the negotiation process. She’s also started to ask for a deposit up front, especially for campaigns with bigger price tags, she said.

For Jayde Powell, a freelance content marketer and creator with more than 10,000 TikTok and Instagram followers and 17,000 followers on X, the inconsistencies in creator payments meant a delayed mortgage payment after three brands she was working with failed to meet the agreed upon payment schedule terms. In response, Powell said she has starting asking brands if they’re willing to cut payment terms from the typical 30 to 60 days to 10 to 15 days when negotiating contracts.

Last year, she implemented late payment fees of 10% non-compounding that increase every month that payment is late. That’s not to say she doesn’t still receive late payments from brands, but “that being there on the invoice and also in the contract, I feel like it almost acts as an incentive to brands to be mindful about paying on time,” Powell said.

Instead of late fees, Joy Ofodu, a full-time creator and voice actor, said this year, she’s asking for the brands she works with to start the payment process immediately after content is published. Across TikTok and Instagram, Ofodu has more than 290,000 followers.

“Ideally, we’re getting paid net 30 for sponsored content. I would say that happens maybe 50% of the time. More commonly, I’m presented with net 60,” she said, referring to a 60-day payment schedule. “Whenever possible, we try to keep it between 30 and 60.”

Earlier this month, 56% of creators surveyed by global finance automation platform Tipalti said they’ve faced late payments. Meanwhile, 74% of those surveyed have reportedly stopped working with a brand after feeling undervalued for their work.

This tension between creators and brands isn’t a new phenomenon, but there are increasingly more creators in the marketplace. With the influx, the industry needs to revisit what standardized payment terms could look like, according to Victoria Bachan, president of creator company Whalar’s global in-house talent management division Whalar Talent.

The problem, however, goes both ways, Bachan added. With so many young newcomers looking to squeeze into an already saturated market, there’s a disconnect as to how influencer marketing works.

In working with creators and influencers, Bachan said she often has to explain bank holidays, W-9 forms and invoices when addressing why a creator wasn’t paid. (Some creators find taxes challenging. Read how they’re navigating that here.) On the other hand, brands are juggling many different influencer campaigns, sometimes causing payments to become an afterthought.

Internally, Whalar is experimenting with interest payments for late invoices, Bachan said. It’s a matter of supporting their creative talent, but also ensuring the Whalar Talent team is able to collect commission after work is completed. The interest clause doesn’t always make it into the final contract, but it’s worth a shot. “We probably have a one in five shot of it actually happening, but it does put people’s feet to the fire,” she said.

With that said, there are a few resources available to creators facing the uphill battle for fair pay in a rapidly changing social media landscape. Last August, the Creators Guild of America (CGA) launched as a non-profit, creator advocacy group. According to the CGA website, to strengthen the collective voice in “seeking fair pay, content ownership, royalties and award recognition.” There’s also the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which aims to protect freelancers, ensuring timely payment with support on the state level. It was signed into law in New York last November.

Advocating for payment standardization is a frustrating process, but one creator seems hopeful about it, especially as influencer marketing and the creator economy become more mainstream.

“We must always reconsider our ways of working, as the economy is evolving,” Ofodu said. “Brands would better be able to attract creators with the reputation or promise of equitable and timely pay.”

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