Creator-brand partnerships: What brands need to know

May 13, 2024
Emmy Liederman
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The growth in brands using influencer marketing has steadily increased over the years, with about 75% of US marketers said to be using it in 2022. Brands are quickly realizing the benefits that come from partnering with creators on social media; from creating highly engaged communities and authentic content to reducing paid media spend and more.

All creator content isn’t created equal, however. Consumers don’t want brands to simply throw money around and hire famous faces to promote their products. They want authenticity and content that is synergistic to both the brand and the famous face being used as a spokesperson. 

The Rise of the Creator Economy

The creator economy is an idea that anyone can form a business or create financial gain using their voice––whether that be from photography, video content, podcasts, etc. Creators in 2022 look to cut out the middle man (a 9-to-5 role) and get paid directly from brands for their content services. 

More than 50 million people worldwide consider themselves to be creators, with over 2 million of those considering themselves professional creators. Professional creators are writers, gamers, designers, fashion influencers, and beyond––all using talents that may have been called “side hustles” or hobbies in the past to make serious money. More and more, creators are leaving corporate positions that were once the holy grail in order to create content full-time, developing their own brands in the process.

Social media companies like Meta (which has invested $1 Billion) and TikTok have developed specific creator funds and initiatives in the past couple of years, with the hope of keeping these newfound professional creators on their respective social media platforms – benefiting both parties in the long run. 

For brands, working with creators is slightly different than just paying an influencer to promote a product. Creators can be a great extension to your in-house marketing team, developing content for the brand to post on their social channels (as opposed to just the influencer posting sponsored content on their own channels). This can help to bring a fresh perspective to a long-running campaign or jump-start ideas for a brand new content strategy.

But first, you have to identify the right creators to work with. This means finding creators who align with your brand values and have an engaged audience that is similar to your own target audience. 

You also have to provide value to the creators you work with. Whether it’s the usual financial compensation or exclusive access to new products – creators like to feel appreciated and not like a bullet point in a Keynote deck. The important thing is that you're providing something of value in exchange for their influence and creativity.

And as brands begin to recognize the unique power of influencer/creator marketing, creators will be well-positioned to build significant connections with audiences worldwide. Whether it be through immersive event activations or unique product launches, there are countless opportunities for brands to partner with influential content creators and expand their reach exponentially.

So, if you're looking to impact today's digitally connected landscape, turn to the experts—the creators and influencers who are reshaping our digital world one post at a time. The impact creators and influencers have will only grow as more people begin to adopt to new digital platforms.

What creators really (and really don’t) want in their brand partnerships

So what do today’s creators actually want from brand partnerships? And more importantly––what don’t they want to see when working with brands? I talked to 3 creators about their experiences working with big brands on recent social media partnerships, and they had a lot to say. Let’s take a look.

Nicholas Bailey (@nickssaysgo)

Brooklyn-based creator Nicholas, known online as @NickSaysGo, has steadily been rising as a creator-to-know in the men’s lifestyle space. Recently, Nick has had partnerships with skincare companies like Farmacy Beauty as well as footwear brands like Jumpman. Safe to say he knows a thing or two about working with brands. 

On key things that he looks for before signing on to a brand partnership:

I love this question because I don’t ever really see this taught to influencers and creatives coming into this game. Paperwork is important and will save your ass, but it can also do you dirty if you don’t do your due diligence. For example, I never agree to anything in perpetuity. Brands can take your content they paid for, and use it however they see fit until the end of time without paying you another dime other than the initial agreement. Yeah, we don’t do that. 

Always get your payment terms in writing as well. Net 15? 30? 90? Definitely be aware of that. I also make sure there’s something about whitelisting in the paperwork as well, whether we’re doing it or not — because if they have access, they will run your work as an ad and if so, you need to be paid more for that. 

On the best brand partnership he’s been a part of:

I have a lot of great brands who have treated me very well in our partnerships over the years like Haus, Farmacy and more — but my favorite partnership of all time was Jumpman. First thing: representation and real diversity. The marketing director who looped me into the campaign was a Black man, the intern who interviewed me for my feature was a young Black woman, the PR rep was a Latina woman, and my photographer was a Black man. 

So many times in these influencer partnerships, I’m the only Black person on the call or in a campaign, so this was refreshing. They also respected my rates, kept things as transparent as possible, had easy lines of communication, and really just made me feel respected overall. I felt like they wanted ME, and weren’t just trying to fit anyone random into an empty slot they had. 

On the worst brand partnership he’s been a part of:

Oh goodness, there’s one specific brand & campaign that comes to mind. It’s one thing to negotiate…but it’s another to attempt to argue and downplay my value and worth. We had so much back and forth to get the contract finalized and once we did, they tried to change up the deliverables, add on more work…NET30 turned into NET60 and more. Emails unanswered, everything you can think of. Never again. 

Jonta’ Harris (@jontaoht

Jonta’ has been a digital influencer for over a decade, but made the move to creating content full-time in 2020. Not only has he worked on campaigns with brands like L’Oreal and Adidas, but Jonta’ was a 2021 ADCOLOR TikTok Creator Award Nominee, as well as a participant in the TikTok for Black Creators Program.

On the importance of creators/influencers to a brand’s growth in 2022:

I think we’re in a time now where creators and influencers have the power to make or break a brand — meaning they're more important now than ever.

I had the opportunity to partner and create content with Hootsuite to introduce their social media trends for 2022. The specific trend that I created content around was about how brands no longer need to build communities from the ground up, but can instead tap into creator communities to expand their reach.

For myself, I’ve cultivated a really engaged community that brands can then leverage by partnering with me without having to build their own from the ground up. 

On the best brand partnership he’s been a part of:

The best brand partnership that I’ve been part of thus far is one that I’m currently in with a global hotel brand. What I love about this partnership is that I really feel valued as a creator. My ideas are respected and I’m allowed to create content that speaks to who I am. Plus, the team is very collaborative with clear communication.

On the worst brand partnership he’s been a part of:

There have been a few — but the worst was with a national big-box retailer. After contracts were signed, the brand kept changing the concept as I was actively creating the content. This lasted over a span of 2 months and the content never went live. I still got paid though!

Kelsey-Marie Mohammed (@kelseydashmarie

Kelsey is an NYC-based content creator, writer, CEO, and visual artist. Having worked on campaigns with Crocs, Visit Seattle and more, her insights on working on brand partnerships are both impactful and smart. 

On key things that she looks for before signing on to a brand partnership:

When it comes to signing contracts, I look at the deliverables to make sure they align with my brand and are clearly outlined. I also read the contract carefully to make sure the brand didn’t sneak anything in there that we didn’t discuss or agree to. That’s super important. Making sure I'm aware of any whitelisting, non-compete clauses and usage rights is standard. Lastly, I confirm that the payment terms are correct and that the contract benefits not only the brand but also myself. 

On the worst brand partnership he’s been a part of:

The worst partnership that I've been a part of is one that didn’t respect my work as a creator. They tried to lowball me on rates, equating my worth to follower count. Brands should know by now that following isn’t the most important thing. Creating quality content takes time and creators should be compensated for the quality of their work, not the quantity of their following. 

Kelsey’s biggest tip to brands for improving the brand partnership process:

If I could give brands one tip to improve the creator partnership process, it would be to do their research on a creator. Really take the time to see the type of content the creator makes and assess whether your brand would align with that specific creator before reaching out. 

The creator economy isn’t going anywhere; it’s actually getting bigger each and every day. So the importance of building strong relationships with creators like Nick, Jonta’ and Kelsey can be the key to success for a lot of marketing teams across different industries. 

3 takeaways for brands when developing campaigns with creators in mind

Let’s say this one more time: brands can truly unlock the next level of success with powerful creator partnerships. Here are 3 key takeaways learned by the above creators.

Takeaway No. 1 (from Nick) 

Brands need to treat creatives like partners in this experience. That should be the basis of everything. You tapped us for a reason, let us shine and do what we do, and let’s do it in a way that’s collaborative and mutually beneficial!

Tip No. 2 (from Jonta) 

Allow creators to have creative control over the content that is being produced. Stop sending overly detailed briefs that restrict the creator from doing what they were asked to do — to create. Being too restrictive is the quickest way to get soulless, under-performing content…and nobody wants that.

Also, be upfront about your company’s budget and payment schedule. Brands need to understand that they're partnering with the creator, not bossing them around because they have a company name behind them. 

Tip No. 3 (from Kelsey) 

Trust is key! Trust that we can create content that is aligned with your brand and still can resonate with our community. 

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