‘The influencer industry can be really vile’: Confessions of an influencer marketer on the industry’s unfair hiring practices

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Any marketer will vouch for the importance of using influencers to bridge the gap between brands and consumers. However, given the area is still expanding, growing pains are still at play.

In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, we hear from a director of brand strategy and influencer marketing at a fashion retailer, who’s worked in the industry for more than a decade, on some of the notable scenarios they’ve seen take place.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What have you made of the industry so far?

As a rule, I aim to build strong relationships with influencers that my brands work with. The  industry can be so vile across the influencer, brand and the agent sides. I’ve come across some horrific situations. But it’s such a female-driven industry, and a lot of women get taken every which way from Sunday and it’s really vile. It’s been a ride for some influencers and I feel for them.

What’s been the worst instance you’ve come across so far? 

I brought an influencer on for a June campaign for our brand and we paid her $3,500 for one TikTok. I hadn’t met in-person yet, but she’d already driven an immense amount of sales, so we wanted to re-sign her.

July came and I emailed her saying we wanted to re-sign. No response. By mid July, her agent responded saying, “We’ve decided we’re no longer working with you.” So I thought, what the hell happened? This influencer was driving sales, we paid her fairly, plus she’s earning commission off all her sales.

Somehow I connected with her outside of her agency, and hired her for a side project for the brand. At the in-person content shoot, she hadn’t realized I’m the same person who hired her for that previous campaign. So I told her, to which she responded, “I’m so happy to meet you in person. I’m so sorry you’ve been blanked by my agency. The reason they haven’t gotten back to you is because I’m currently in the middle of a lawsuit with them.”

Is that common?

It isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this happening, but it’s the first time I know of someone taking legal action.

It turned out, her agency was not only negotiating terribly bad deals for her, so her rates were far too low, they were also taking a 40% cut of her earnings, when industry standard is between 15%-20%. And since they set up her business PayPal, she doesn’t have access to the cash she has made under them.

So what’s happening now?

She’s suing the agency but they’re trying to force her to pay $20,000 to get out of the contract. In the meantime, she’s had to put all brand deals via the agency on hold, which is costing her thousands of dollars. But until all that gets resolved, she’s shit out of luck.

Have you seen other people taking advantage of influencers?

Absolutely! Our brand was doing a new campaign to bring in a new demographic. While searching for influencers to fit the look we needed, a male agent sent me his roster. I showed him two influencers I was interested in, but he sent me a ridiculous rate for UGC. So I said, sorry I’ll have to pass.

Within that same week, I spoke to another agency about the campaign. This agent had an influencer she thought would be great for the job. Shockingly, the influencer she recommended was the same woman this other guy said was on his roster, and her rates were 60% less than what this other guy claimed to charge. So when this agent set up a meet and greet with the influencer, I asked, “Can you confirm if you’re also on this other male agent’s roster?” She said, “I have no idea who he is, I’ve never worked with him!”

I’m super wary of receiving rosters now because I question if the people sending them actually represent those influencers. Or if they’re trying to make a quick buck by securing a deal with me, then tell the influencer they can make X on this deal, and ask them to sign with them.

It sounds like the core of a lot of these issues, is the cash that influencers (or rather their agents) can make.

It is. When you’re negotiating the best possible rates for your brand, agents are always doing the same for their clients. But nowadays, brands have AI tools that can dive into an influencer to check if their followers are fake, their comments and engagement pods, where their demographic comes from and so on. I’ve run into numerous instances where an agent was overpricing their influencers.


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