Ashley Villa, CEO of Rare Global Talent Management, talks influencer marketing in a recession

Glossy publishes a series of articles on how the fashion and beauty industries are preparing for a possible recession. We take a look at how companies plan to manufacture, fundraise and manage a retail fleet when the economy is hurting.

Ashley Villa counts mega-influencers like Michelle Phan, Jenn Im, Chloe Morello and Nicol Concilio among clients of Rare Global, the talent management agency of which she is CEO and partner. Villa has guided its clients through these first uncertain and fear-filled months of the pandemic. Now, with a potential recession on the horizon, Villa discussed the impact of the pandemic on influencer marketing and how a recession could change the industry.

You’ve seen economic downturns affect the influencer marketing industry before. How’s it going ?

“At the start of the pandemic, everyone was so scared. In the first week of our lockdown, brands were pulling deals left and right. There were budget cuts—if a contract wasn’t closed, we might see it wasn’t closed. And [brands] tried to rely on these force majeure clauses eventually go out [of the contract], or saying, “Let’s do half of it.” A lot of weird and crazy things were happening in those days, and every brand was different.

We had phone conversations with all the brands we dealt with to see where they were at. We needed our customers to know, “Is this a valid deal that we made? ‘Is this deal going to happen?’ After all the conversations, there was only one brand that had completely closed a deal that was close to closing.

It was like, let’s have a conversation. Maybe we even added a deliverable, to make it really matter [the brand]. There were a lot of negotiations to get there. I’m a closer, so I want to close it. And if it’s closed, I want to make sure that happens, and I want to make sure that our customers get paid.

The pandemic has upended everyone in marketing. Influencer marketing was kind of the last piece, like, “Oh, we have extra budget.” Let’s do influencer marketing. After about a year, the budgets started coming back, and [the smart brands] leaned over.

Have your clients changed their day-to-day, in terms of the work they’ve done or the content they’ve created?

“After three months, we really wanted to assess what our customers want and what their viewers want to see. I remember Chloe [Morello] even interviewees [on what type of content they wanted to see].

For many of our beauty-focused clients, we have started to build new verticals like technology or finance. Food has become very important, especially for Jen [Im], for example. We push to have multiple verticals, not just beauty. It was a change that Chloe [Morello] and I had strategized before the pandemic — not just leaning into beauty, but being a lifestyle brand.

If we go into a recession, would you expect something similar to happen again, with brands that take fright and abandon partnerships?

“I don’t think so, because brands have experienced it now. And they’re like, ‘OK, if that happens, we’re not as shocked.’ Expenses are going to change, but thinking ahead and planning is getting more and more done. And the pandemic kind of proved that our industry is pandemic proof, if you will, because brands realized that was the only way to achieve public.

At times during the pandemic, it was even the only way to shoot, for example. I remember when MAC contacted Ellen [V Lora] and they asked him to film the deliverables to relaunch Ruby Woo, since they couldn’t get a photo studio. They couldn’t have photographers. They had to ask him not only to create the assets, but also to promote them.

I guess it’s also a boon to profitability, just in general. Have you seen any other profitable strategies for brands working with influencers?

“It was interesting because, as a management company, we actually reached out to brands during the pandemic and asked how we could support them outside of money. We wanted to let brands know that we had good relationships that we still wanted to work with them, even though they had cut their budget, so for example with Too Faced a couple of our clients just did for free [Instagram] Live with them.

How would a recession change influencer marketing?

“I don’t think it’s gonna be [like], ‘Oh my god, we have a recession.’ I think it’s going to be a slower build. People are going to keep talking about it and being aware of it, so there won’t be that slam day, like when all of a sudden we were all in lockdown.

But I think brands are going to look closely at their budgets, and they’re going to think about the type of content creators they want to work with. It’s not going to be, ‘We’ll see if it works.’ [Instead] it will be more about looking at the [data] platforms that help them analyze ROI and EMV. Brands can rely on [these platforms] to find out who already likes this brand. Brands want to reach new TikTokers, yes, but then they see who actually posted about the brand and who actually has a natural affinity and love for the brand. They can lean on those [creators] and use this data to facilitate partnerships.

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