Running awareness-raising campaigns means we’ve been through a lot of trial and error, especially when trying to get a respected influencer onboard without paying.
We don’t mean to brag (we’re going to); but we’ve worked with Elton John, Victoria Beckham, Jamie Oliver, Steven Hawking, Michelle Obama, Sadiq Khan, Richard Branson, David Attenborough, Prince Harry and even the Pope!
They wrote articles for us, answered questions, tweeted our campaign hashtags and Instagram story-ed us… all for free.
Our experience in content marketing and awareness campaigns means we’ve been through a lot of trial and error, especially when trying to get a respected influencer onboard without paying.
Here’s our advice on how to do it:
Get the organisations they (already) work with involved
If you approach an influencer directly, they will probably refer you to an agent or manager. It’s this person’s job to get money from you on behalf of the influencer; this will never facilitate the most straightforward (or cheapest!) solution.
Our favoured tactic is to approach an organisation, charity or association that an influencer already has a vested interest in: either formally (as an ambassador etc), or even an indirect connection (through a family member or past work).
Set up an arrangement with this organisation; they could contribute content, you could offer social media promotion – anything that is mutually beneficial. Once this is established, ask the organisation to put forward an influencer they are connected with, to help raise the profile of the campaign. Where influencers don’t owe your campaign anything (especially not for free), they often are much more willing to help the charities, associations and organisations they already support.
We wanted a high-profile celebrity to draw attention to our HIV and AIDs campaign. Approaching Victoria Beckham’s agent would have certainly cost us (had we even got through to them amongst a mass of other media, press and PR enquiries). However, we offered UNAIDS free editorial within the campaign. As a UNAIDS Ambassador, Victoria responded well to their suggestion that she became the face of a publication they are featuring in.
Aim for lower-profile, niche or less established influencers
High-profile celebrities however, aren’t always the most effective influencers. And they certainly aren’t the easiest to work with for free.
The authenticity of influencers is currently under high speculation. Nowadays, we see straight through a lot of the staged promotion that goes on. We no longer accept that the more famous an influencer is, the more reliable their opinions or suggestions are. Especially when the connection between an influencer and brand in a partnership is particularly tenuous (think Ozzy Osbourne endorsing I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter)!
The solution is to not be afraid of approaching less well-known influencers. It’s often the case that the alignment will be much more genuine and convincing. Furthermore, a smaller following will often mean a more targeted following.
When Jamie Oliver promoted the nutrition content in our Diabetes campaign, we accepted that just a small proportion of his 21 million followers would be interested in diabetes. On the flip side, when Izzy Judd (wife of McFly Drummer Harry Judd) promoted our Reproductive and Gynaecological Health campaign, her moderate audience were all ears. Izzy’s fame grew through the book she wrote about her personal IVF story, so it’s likely that a large proportion of her 350,000 followers would be interested in reproductive health.
Another benefit of using influencers with a smaller audience or celebrity status is that they generally have closer access to, and more control of, their own social channels. Famous influencers with a team managing and curating their social feeds are less likely to post the images and hashtags associated with your campaign, than those who run their own channels.
Suggest a link or content exchange with mutual benefits
If you need to further encourage participation by an influencer for free, a link or content exchange may help to seal the deal.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be link-for-link, or content-for-content; consider what is valuable to each party. Publishing an article about your influencer, within your wider campaign, may be valuable to their public profile (or in-line with their commitments to the organisation/association they support, as above). In the same way, a Tweet or share by your influencer may be equally valuable to your campaign’s success.
Our Respiratory Health campaign was distributed within the Guardian newspaper, a key target audience for Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan. For this reason, he valued the opportunity to submit an article from his point of view. As a key decision-maker in terms of our capital city’s pollution, emissions and air quality – a tweet from Sadiq, in exchange, was hugely valuable to us.
Alternatively, your influencer may have some enriching content to contribute to your campaign, all the while valuing a backlink on your site to a new project they are working on.
Make an influencer’s life easier providing materials and repurposing content
Our last piece of advice is to make your influencers’ lives as easy as possible – make your requests straightforward and simple for them to execute.
With this in mind, if you are asking an influencer to contribute an article, share a template or guide, offer to edit/update any existing material they may have, or repurpose existing content (e.g. transcribing their quotes from a video or podcast they have appeared in).
If you are asking an influencer to share your campaign on their social media, create some suggested images and posts that are the correct dimensions and in line with the style and tone of voice of their feed(s). Go as far as recommending date and time for posting – don’t let them waste their precious time deciding how best to promote your work!
If these options are still too demanding on your influencers’ time or are toeing the line between an unpaid and paid request, try to get hold of pre-approved quotes, statements and photos. These could be from an influencer’s management team (if applicable), or from the organisation, charity or association you are working with that have a connection with them.
Ultimately, if an influencer is commanding a huge fee for a collaboration, the chances are that the alignment is unnatural and transparent. If you do manage to secure an influencer for your campaign free of charge, it’s likely that you’ve struck on an authentic allegiance anyway – congratulations!
So, as well as finding a genuine connection between your campaign and desired influencer, try:
getting the organisations they (already) work with involved;
aiming for lower-profile, more niche or less established influencers with control of their own social accounts;
suggesting a link or content exchange with mutual benefits for both parties;
and making an influencer’s life easier providing materials and repurposing existing content.