The devil wears Prada: an influencer’s story

“This is an industry dominated by women and essentially created by women yet women are still massively disrespected and underpaid, compared to men.”

It’s been an interesting journey for influencer marketing to the $16.4bn industry it is today. Whilst Youtubers were making millions monetising their home-made video content shot from their bedroom, industry professionals were slow to realise its a game changer for marketeers.

From getting fired from multiple jobs, to working with the likes of Dior and Neutrogena, PMW speaks with influencer Emily Valentine to share her journey.

Women have been at the forefront of the industry for Emily. Beginning with YouTuber Zoella inspiring her and others in monetising their social content, to now educating other creators and women in business, Emily is keen to share her lessons for success in a powerful, lucrative and unpredictable industry.

Influencer marketing: a bubbling undercurrent

2012 wasn’t an easy time to get a job, especially for a graduate. Disillusioned and struggling to hold a job, there was something catching Emily Valentine’s eye.

Zoella and a generation of YouTubers were climbing to fame with low-budget blogging videos made from their bedrooms, recommending products to a group of dedicated fans.

However, whilst Emily saw the monetary potential of blogging and reviewing her favourite beauty products, her current colleagues in the photography industry were slow to recognise the beginning of a new movement. The ‘Devil Wears Prada’ arrogance of the industry blinded them from seeing an untraditional and unfamiliar way to reach a new audience.

“It was back in a time where people in fashion were clinging on to print, like their life depended on it, and they did not want to know about this new sensation of influencer marketing. They hated it. There was a lot of prejudice around my little job on the side. People didn't understand it, didn’t take it seriously, and were very snobby about it.

“But then there was this bubbling undercurrent. In 2016, magazines were folding left, right and centre; print wasn't a thing anymore. Online was becoming more and more of a strong current, sweeping everyone up.

“A job opportunity came in for one of my makeup artists to do the cover of Glamour magazine for Zoella. I went to my boss and said she has to do it just for the tag on Zoe's Instagram alone, which has millions of followers, as that would be incredible traction for our makeup artists. My director asked who she was and why they would make a makeup artist, who's a Chanel ambassador, even associated with this girl who cries on YouTube and has a million views, it’s not gonna happen.

“But I was so excited. It was at that moment I knew me and this job had reached the division point. They fired me, I had less than 10,000 followers on Instagram, and wasn’t pulling in a salary.

“I put a media kit together, messaged everyone I knew and said, ‘this is what I can do for your brand. This is the kind of content I can produce.’ I hired an accountant from the get go because I didn’t want to be doing anything that distracts me. I was making 300 quid a month and I had a bloody accountant!

“Within a month I got an email from New Look saying they wanted to give me £5,000 to be the face of their new makeup launch. In a day, I had tripled what I was making at my previous job in a month. In my second year of influencing, I made six figures.”

Brands’ red flags

From growing her following from 10,000 to almost 50,000 on Instagram with another 37,000 on YouTube, Emily still fights to receive rightful respect for her business as an influencer, and she’s not alone.

She now takes her place as an influencer educator, giving advice to other content creators about what to look for and avoid in potential brand deals.

@emilyvalentineofficial Keep an eye out for these ������ when negotiating a brand collab! All of these could leave you put of pocket or completely burnt out �� #influencertips #influencercoach #objection #contentcreatortips #brandcollabs ♬ original sound - jas ✨

“I look at the money,” Emily states. “Influencers should ask, ‘does the brand light you up? Do you feel like you authentically relate to the brand and will your audience relate to the brand? If it's something that you love and you haven't introduced to your audience, can you do it in an authentic way to make them feel that this is something they could have in their lives or buy into?’

“The bottom line is: are they being upfront? Not a week passes when I don't get somebody taking the absolute piss. It's a dream when a brand is upfront and they state: ‘we want you to do this, this is the product, here's the brief, this is our budget, this is our timeline’.

“They sneak things into contracts all the time. It is a sure sign of disrespect towards women like me doing what I do and thinking ‘she won't notice it at the end of the contract in small print’. I go through these contracts with a fine tooth comb and I see it happen every single week.

"I wish they would address me B2B, rather than just B to young-girl-in-bedroom-with-iPhone."

“That is why female influencers are still massively undervalued. I am a woman who's had to fight tooth and nail to get my rates where they need to be. When I speak to other men in the industry, they do not have the same fight. This is an industry dominated by women and essentially created by women yet women are still massively disrespected and underpaid, compared to men.

“They need to understand that I'm a business, I charge for what I do, and it's not as simple as taking a picture and giving it to them or putting it on my social media.”

The power of nano-influencers: as your followers grow, does your influence?

“Your level of influence and engagement levels can actually drop as you grow,” explained Emily. “Nano influencers (zero to 10,000 followers) have the most highly engaged audience. Their level of influence is stratospheric. Yes, they're talking to a smaller group of people, but their ability to sell products is insane. They are a force to be reckoned with and brands are cottoning on to that more and more.

“It's more valuable to use your budget on a bunch of nano influencers, and use them to really engage with their micro audiences on a deeper level than just using all the budget on an influencer with 500,000 followers who will get the reach, but are they going to get the return on investment? Are they going to really infuse that brand's ethos and tell a story that's really going to resonate to 500,000 people? Probably not.”

But don’t influencers always want and need more followers? Emily explains how this vanity metric doesn’t always equate to pay.

“Any influencer would be lying if they said they didn't want more followers,” said Emily. “That's been ingrained to us from the beginning of Instagram's existence. Followers are power. Followers mean popularity, and essentially, followers mean more money.

“However, it's not been a goal of mine for a really long time. I've been around the 50,000 mark on Instagram alone and I really struggled to grow from there. I'm a legacy account now, which means that I've been around for 10 years and Instagram now pushes smaller newer accounts.

“I know people that have 100,000 followers, 500,000 followers, and we're often making the same amount of money. I put that down to do my savvy business and pitching skills.”

Staying fresh: “a social era of video”

“In order to have a successful and long lasting career as an influencer, you need to be 100% adaptable and try everything.

“A new platform like TikTok might come along and is the refresher that your online brand needs. Instagram has been around for 12 years and a lot of people are feeling stuck and stagnated on the platform right now.

“We're in a social era of video so you have to bring something fresh to every new platform. You need to look at it with new eyes and think about what your core beliefs are as an influencer, what your niche is, who you serve and why you do it. Then put that into a different style of content, which suits this new platform, this new algorithm, this new interface.

“When TikTok came out, influencers took their videos and put them on TikTok and they flopped because it needs a fresh approach. It's a different audience.”

The last 10 years has seen extraordinary growth for influencer marketing. What was a $1.7 billion industry in 2016 is now worth $16.4 billion in 2022. Quite simply, you’d be a fool as a marketer to not explore this profitable channel.

If you’re an influencer wanting to learn more, subscribe to PMW to keep up to date with the latest trends, and subscribe to Emily’s monthly newsletter.

Watch PMW's Instagram live on influencer marketing with Emily, LTK and Campaign Magazine here.