Influencers living the glamour get tripped up on the contracts

By Ruby Derrick | 26 October 2023
Credit: Cytonn Photography via Unsplash.

Influencers are seen by many as having all the glam as well as money and an adoring audience but behind the scenes there are some seriously challenging issues to deal with.

As the sector comes of age, with amateurs who fell into influencing now trying to run businesses, the issue of contracts and deals with brands and advertisers is tripping many.

Brands see contracts as a part of day to day business. But many influencers struggle to comprehend the complexities of often convoluted campaign contracts. 

Justin Golledge, managing partner at influencer marketing agency, LookSee, says it’s unsurprising that creators can find themselves in a vulnerable position when signing a contract with clauses they misunderstand, misinterpret or inadvertently miss. 

“To my knowledge, there have been no deliberate instances of creators being taken advantage of within the industry. And if such situations have arisen, the collective industry would undoubtedly condemn them,” he said.  

It is essential to recognise that the complexities of advertising contracts may sometimes be a baffling or dauting component for creators, particularly for those who are newcomers or without representation, says Golledge.  

“In today’s digital age, a run-of-the-mill Tiktoker can skyrocket to social media stardom overnight, quickly attracting the interests of advertisers eager to harness their newfound fame,” he said. 

“But while these talented individuals possess the skills to amass audiences and craft captivating content, they may lack the experience (or magnifying glass) to grasp the fine print embedded in advertising contracts.” 

Natalie Giddings, CEO of influencer marketing agency Hoozu and its influencer talent division, Huume, believes that as the industry continues to grow rapidly and influencer marketing percentage of overall marketing budgets increases, agreements are becoming more complex.  

“And as they should,” she said. 

Largely, brands are becoming more savvy when it comes to maximising the overall ROI on the content that they are commissioning, using it across their entire brand ecosystem.” 

Elina Abrahamian, senior talent manager at Huume, said creators are experts in creating audience-first content.  

But it’s also critical for them to familiarise themselves with some of the common terminology found in contracts, she said. 

As a talent manager, a large part of my day is navigating agreements. A common occurrence that I observe is unexpected or unreasonable add-ons in contracts,” said Abrahamian. 

“Some clauses are blatantly unreasonable based on the proposed budgets, such as usage 'in perpetuity'. This means usage without limits - forever.” 

Social media infleuncer and digital creator, Kelly McCarren believes the issue stems from the fact most creators don’t read contracts properly, or they’ll just have trust that their manager has. 

McCarren notes it’s important to go through every contract properly because some companies and brands have clauses that could affect a creator's income and/or reputation. 

Examples include long competitor exclusion periods which is completely unrealistic if you’re an influencer,” she said. 

There should, of course, be a period while the particular campaign or promo is happening that you don’t work with competing brands because that would also just be incredibly disingenuous for you as a creator. 

Golledge at LookSee said when it comes time to signing contracts, brands should encourage creators to ask questions and provide feedback.

Avoid applying any undue pressure, he says, and allow them ample time to thoroughly review all its contents.  

It’s beneficial to emphasise key campaign mandatories and caveats, particularly concerning licensing and usage. Campaigns run far smoother when everything is out in the open,” said Golledge. 

He says this presents an opportunity for the industry to showcase its integrity and dedication to fostering fulfilling experiences for our next generation of entertainers.  

“And certainly, when creators are held #ad accountable to themes of transparency and honesty, it is prudent that all marketers extend them the same courtesy,” he said. 

Giddings agrees. A number of components need to be addressed in an agreement beyond the number of inclusions, including disclosure, confidentiality, timings & terms, placements, exclusivity, usage/licensing, payment terms and termination clauses, she says. 

“By the time all of this information is added, the agreements can be very long and entail a tremendous amount of jargon, which the average person is going to find confusingA clear-to-understand definitions section in both the brief and contract is essential,” said Giddings. 

The biggest misstep Huume and Hoozu see is not being upfront or organised at the outreach stage about where the content is going to live, and suddenly those clauses appear at the contracts stage 

“Now, being on the creator side in talent management since October 2022, I was surprised at how common this scenario still is. The key is to be upfront from the very beginning,” she said. 

“Copyright laws in Australia have always left the ownership of any kind of creative work to the creator. This is nothing new. So unless usage, terms and other conditions are spelt out at the negotiations stage, it’s actually unfair.” 

For brands in fashion, food, skincare and makeup, long-term exclusion periods shouldn’t be included unless the creator is an ambassador with ongoing work, said McCarren. 

She notes that something else influencers also don’t think to look out for is digital usage. 

“If that hasn’t been negotiated into your fee, make sure it's not included in the contract, it should say organic reposting only,” said McCarren. 

“Brands make an absolute fortune on paid advertising so if they’re using your face to promote a product,that’s a separate cost to whatyou’ve agreed to post on your own platform.” 

For Abrahamian, another issue is amplifying content with paid media time periods. They are often proposed for very lengthy stretches of time, she says, such as 6 or 12 months, without any additional remuneration 

For young individuals without professional management, it can be really hard to raise more reasonable compensation,” said Abrahamian. 

Fair contracts for young influencers should prioritise transparency and clarity in their terms and conditions. The language used in the contract should be easily understandable, avoiding complex legal jargon that might confuse them. 

At the end of the day, McCarren notes what’s most important is that people simply need to make sure they’re going through their contracts thoroughly. 

“Because while they are indeed tedious, not doing so can result in you unknowingly breaking the contract and not getting paid, or worse, legal action which could impact your entire career,” she said. 

“Contracts can be edited, and it’s not unreasonable to ask for clauses to be added, edited or removed entirely, brands are used to it."

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