Creator Spotlight: Cynthia Ruff
To set the context, could you share more about your journey to the creator world?
In 2014, I started a thrifted fashion blog while working in compensation consulting. It was my creative outlet between spreadsheets and meetings. I charged my first sponsored post fee (a whopping $10 styling fee) in 2015, and thought to myself “hey maybe there’s something here.” Now my branded partnership fees are in the 3-5 figure range with 25K followers. So the thought that you need 100's of 1,000's of followers to make impactful money as a creator is a myth.
I was able to establish relationships early on with brands like Toyota, Vineyard Vines, Garden & Gun, and more as Instagram was establishing itself. Now I've combined my compensation consulting and influencer partnership skills to help influencers and brands establish a pay framework that helps them feel confident navigating sponsored work. It’s my mission in life to help both sides navigate the art and science of sponsored post campaigns.
What are the most common ways creators can get their first brand sponsorship?
First, you need to get on their radar. Follow and genuinely engage with brands. Create for the sake of creating without getting anything in return. Introduce yourself to their agency. Have your creator friends introduce you to them.
Just like with the real world, no one is going to hear about you unless you introduce yourself to them first. You have to open the door and take that first step.
If you’ve never had a sponsored post before there are plenty of influencer marketplaces that you can go to to get matched with brands. If a brand has come to you, tell them you charge a fee for creating content.
The general “starting” rule of thumb is your CPM value (# of followers divided by 1000 times 1 plus your average engagement rate). Although, true pricing gets incredibly dynamic from there, something I am an expert at helping creators with.
What is your best advice for creators negotiating brand deal terms?
Negotiation is a learned art. What you as a creator have to keep in mind is your absolutely bottom standard for working with a brand. It will take some practice to get it right and you will always be perfecting your skills.
As far things I personally look out for are: payment terms, licensing, global rights, content ownership, and exclusivity. I’ve been burned multiple times before (contracts canceled, non-payment) so I have my baseline of what is acceptable for me.
As a creator, you need to have a list of non-negotiables that you look out for. If you don’t like the terms in a contract ask them to remove it. Never accept when someone says “we’ll use this email as a legal amendment to the contract.” Get the contract amended before you sign anything.
What are your top tips for brands looking to establish long-term relationships with influencers (for marketing)?
I like to use the analogy that you get more out of a friendship than a one night stand so if you’re going to establish a long term relationship, approach it as you would a friendship: casual introduction, interest in what they’re sharing, resharing relevant content, and focusing on a few worthy catches, not a spray and pray approach.
Influencer brand relationships are reciprocal. It's important that both brand and influencer assume noble intent when starting a relationship off. It's about being transparent (or overly communicative) on the goals of a campaign. On the influencer side, it's important to understand what success for a campaign looks like.
The thing no one tells you about being a content creator is that every new brand deal is essentially a mini job interview. The brand manager is likely exhausted staffing the campaign once they get to you. Be patient and be kind. Sometimes it's going to take a long time of courting the company/influencer before they accept an interview.
What makes a successful influencer marketing campaign?
All too often, we see this desperation approach to hiring influencers to make a product or service go viral. This most of the time is in a last-ditch effort to fix a company's overall marketing problems.
If your goal of working with influencers is to attract attention, trial product, inspire loyalty or create User-Generated Content (UGC), then success depends on what you as a brand define for each campaign quota. If you aren’t setting quotas to benchmark your efforts, then you have no clue how well your campaign is doing.
I see many brands say “influencer marketing does not work for us- we tried” or “influencer marketing is too expensive, we did not meet KPI’s”.
When I go in and do a deep dive on why these campaigns failed, the common theme is that they haven't set up a system to report on campaigns, haven't paired the right influencer with their campaign objective, and haven't diversified their approach for each type of influencer. In lamens terms, they cheaped out and didn’t do their homework.
Successful influencer marketing campaigns are ones that meet your campaign objectives where they are and scale across future efforts. One influencer is rarely going to do that for all objectives. Knowing what influencer to use for which type of campaign is critical to generating success.
And at the end of the day, the MOST successful influencer marketing campaign is where both parties (brand and influencer) leave feeling good about the content they created and the relationship that they started.
Influencer marketing has only just begun, and with the right approach and a strong foundation, any brand can learn to work with influencers in a way that benefits their business.
Cynthia Ruff left her career pricing CEOs salaries to help influencers and brands navigate the art and science of sponsored post campaigns. She consults on influencer marketing for brands at The Influencer Consultant and offers personalized pricing help for creators on CynthiaRuff.com.