Is influencer marketing the solution?

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the value of influencer marketing with a CEO seeking to expand brand visibility globally. This topic has come up quite a bit over the past year in my conversations with leaders – finding that one influencer who can move the visibility needle for their brand.

Influencer marketing can get you targeted exposure to your desired customer/stakeholder, but is it really the one perfect solution to instantly increase your visibility?

Here are several tips to consider before implementing an influencer marketing strategy:

See the world from the eyes of your target audience – not your eyes. Do the research or hire a firm to help you understand the online behaviors of the audience you are targeting. View the world from their perspective – who do they follow, trust, admire? What voices do they listen to?

Uphold your brand uniqueness. Don’t chase an influencer because they are the latest, hottest person that all brands in your industry are pursuing or that they are “tried and true” – having been used by other brands in the past. Know your brand’s traits and seek out influencers that embody those traits.

Know your goals. Map out what you hope to achieve with influencer marketing and ensure your influencer and your influencer’s agent understand expectations. Are you seeking more conversions, greater share of voice, more brand awareness? Define what your measurement of success will be.

One spoke in a larger wheel. Remember that an influencer marketing campaign is part of a large marketing strategy that works together towards increasing your visibility, overall market share or donor giving. It should never be your one main approach.

Have an exit strategy. Make sure your influencer contract provides for unforeseen circumstances in case your influencer suddenly develops a bad reputation due to actions on their part, providing you with an exit and mitigation. Include start and end dates to your engagement, scope of work along with expectation and metrics to be measured.

It’s exciting and fun to work with an influencer but don’t let that excitement create a haze around your real goal for engaging them with your brand.

When Apologies Backfire

What do architects and supermodels have in common?

Beyond being generally approved of by the general public, they were the first to experience reputation damage in the wake of a growing, global culture shift.

The day after the US presidential election, The American Institute of Architects released a statement expressing their willingness to work with the Trump Administration. For the AIA, it was business as usual – a statement that is always released after a presidential election.

The groundswell was immediate and vocal, leading to the launch of the #notmyaia digital movement with members voicing long-term concerns that the Institute had been tone deaf. The AIA released an apology two days later but it did little to stem the tide. Four days later, they followed up with a second video apology that fed the media storm further, and finally a third apology to their members that went public.

Several days later, supermodel Gigi Hadid hosted the American Music Awards. In her opening monologue, she mimicked the future First Lady, Melania Trump – the backlash was sudden and even more vocal, forcing herself and her mother to lock down social comments.

In reaction, the supermodel released a hand-written apology letter through her father’s Instagram account. The apology letter received more criticism as it failed to apologize directly to Mrs. Trump.

In both cases, the apologies created more problems than they solved, why? Here are three guidelines when considering whether to/to not apologize after a crisis you caused:

  • Is it warranted? This will take some hard thinking internally to determine whether your actions align with your mission or business philosophy. Is it a market over reaction? Will time be beneficial to you and your brand? Don’t immediately issue an apology until you have assessed the context completely.  Shoot from the hip apologies don’t work.


  • Is it sincere? If you are going to apologize, you must really want to and it must really show. This is where acting will fail you. Audiences are smart, people are smart, they will see right through the veneer which will further inflame the situation. Only apologize if you truly mean it and you are comfortable doing so.


  • Is it owned? Will your key audiences agree with your apology – the approach and the content? Have you checked in with them? This could be loyal customers, partners, investors, Boards, and employees. If not, they could turn against you under the pressure of a growing call for action.

A Brand Transformed

Without fanfare, images of Angelina Jolie and the Queen appeared across media outlets worldwide last week as she was made an honorary dame for her services to UK foreign policy.

Flash back fourteen years ago, and there was a very different Angelina Jolie that we were all familiar with. It’s clear that she took the steering wheel and directed her brand towards where she is today. And in many ways, she is the forerunner on celebrity branding.

Others have followed in her wake, including George Clooney and Ben Affleck: some to great success others to lesser success.

So what has been the secret Jolie ingredient that enabled her to transform her brand and her perception among the global public and what can those seeking to build a brand learn from her?

Found her passion and promoted it in a carefully planned, step-by-step approach. She did not rush into her humanitarian work with refugees but took a slow approach after experiencing the plight of refugees in Cambodia while on location.

Hired experts to help identify organizations to affiliate with. She hired the best to give her the advice and background needed to be successful in campaigning for her cause while being selective in her affiliations. She chose only those that aligned with her values.

Created a tie-in with her core capability: her acting career. Slowly, but surely, Jolie began to pull her passion into her core skill set and work through directing and backing films on subjects related to the impact of war on civilians.

Prepared to transition by increasing scale. As a stage two of her brand development, Jolie expanded into issues around women and girl refugees and aligned herself more with the international policy community.

Her comment on Friday that “to receive an honor related to foreign policy means a great deal to me” may be an indication that she has honed her brand focus and has found where she can make the most impact in the coming years.

Enhancing Your Brand with Celebrity Ambassadors

As a new arrival to the bright lights and big city of New York in the late 90s, I worked as a consultant with the US Fund for UNICEF to help manage both the press in attendance and celebrity ambassadors for UNICEF’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Not only was it a very exciting opportunity for a 20-something in the high times of the Roaring Nineties, it also provided interesting insight into the logistical effort and management of a roster of celebrity ambassadors that few are ever privileged to see.

UNICEF has been the pioneer of positioning celebrities to promote development issues globally. And they have been very successful at cultivating the right celebrities, and providing the support to ensure these celebrities are on message and confident in speaking on the issues to media and global public at large.

Over the past decade, celebrity agents have picked up on the brand value for their clients of aligning themselves with charitable organizations and have sought to cultivate these relationships, with one or more celebrities becoming the brand of a charity. But by doing so, some charities have felt the pressure to align with the celebrity and their vision as opposed to the charity’s own unique vision. In a way, management of the relationship and its main focus has moved from the charity to the celebrity and their representatives, sometimes with negative effect.

There is a risk that a celebrity ambassador could go “off the talking points” and discuss future potentials or projects or make commitments during media interviews that had not been discussed with leadership beforehand, leaving the organization to then invest their energy and time to redirect staff efforts towards this new public commitment.

There is also the illusion that with a well-known celebrity comes a well-funded organization with no possibility of funding issues in the future. Often times, that is not the case, and it’s leadership’s responsibility to seek out funding from different foundations and high-level donors. Not an easy task when you are so publicly tied to a wealthy celebrity ambassador. It is very much a double-edge sword. What you gain in earned media and publicity has the potential downside of mission and project creep, along with funding issues for the organization.

So before you and your CEO decide that a celebrity ambassador is the solution to your brand awareness issues, consider the following:

  1. Ensure the celebrity understands all parameters of their role and responsibilities and negotiate the end at the beginning.
  2. Choose the celebrity and their passions that align with your brand, not the other way around.
  3. Have two to three ambassadors as opposed to one highly visible celebrity.
  4. Revisit the relationship often and assess what gains you have earned in terms of visibility and funding, measure that against the impact on the organization as a whole.