by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Earlier this week the excellent Irina Trofimovskaya aka The MICE Blog posted a long-form, thoughtful piece on Influencer Marketing in the MICE Industry. Towards the end of a well reasoned article she sets out a suggested fee structure that “influencers” might charge clients. This prompted me to tweet:
My tweet, in turn, was re-tweeted and a level of conversation took place around my key question: can influencers live with these fees?
What to charge as an Influence Marketer?
So what was Irina suggesting that “influencers” might charge meetings and events clients for their services?
The range here is from “no charge at all” (just give me a room in your hotel and feed me and I’ll do a blog post on you!) to £500 for a “sponsored post”, ie, an article published on the blogger’s site and maybe on the client’s site too. For tweeting, instagramming and posting on Facebook during a live event Irina’s recommended rate is £100 or, for a full account takeover, £250.
To put these suggested rates into further perspective, consider the following. If, as a freelancer, you take 5 weeks vacation per year to include the customary Christmas and Summer breaks plus another 10 days for public holidays, stripping out weekends that leaves you with 226 “available work days”. If you managed to get work for 60% of this time, ie, 135 days, then your maximum earnings at £100 per day would be £13,500 or, at £250 per day, £33,750. Average monthly rent for a 45 sqm studio in London is £1200 or £14,400 per year. So, to answer my own question: no, we cannot live with these fees.
What is the issue?
I agreed during a Skype chat with Irina that I’d post a response to her article with the objective of stimulating more dialogue so here it is!
The core consideration here pivots around what constitutes an influencer or, better, what constitutes an influencer in the MICE industry. Once we’ve defined that we can ask what is the value of that influencer to the destination, hotel or venue that decides to engage with him or her.
Influencers, in general, are high profile celebrities and media figures with millions of followers so a single tweet or instagram post from them in support of a product or idea can, undoubtedly, be extraordinarily impactful. And, of course, social media has no barrier to entry so now amongst the constellation of celebrity and media influencers you also have shining stars whose right to be there has been earned solely by the random way their social media posts have managed to chime with the zeitgeist.
But there are also – and Irina highlights this too – micro-influencers with smaller cohorts of followers who “own” certain topics of conversation. These are described by the prestigious Wharton School as follows:
Micro-influencers are not traditional celebrities, but rather individuals who work in their category or are truly knowledgeable, passionate and authentic and are seen as a trusted source when it comes to recommendations for what to buy. [Dr Jonah Berger, Wharton]
This is what we mean when talking about influence marketing in the meetings and events industry – truly knowledgeable, passionate and authentic individuals who are seen as a trusted source and, of course, have a ginormous social media profile.
What would Sam Johnson say (but not the Head of the DCB!)?
When asked to comment on a new piece by a young aspiring writer, Samuel Johnson famously stated:
Your work is both good and original. But the parts that are good are not original and the parts that are original are not good.
To be an true influencer in the MICE industry you need to be adept on social channels and “knowledgeable, passionate and authentic” about your topic. Could it be, to paraphrase Johnson, that those who are adept on social channels are not seen as a “trusted source” and those who are a “trusted source” are not adept on social channels? Somehow I think this is a generational thing – social media is the purview of the young while wisdom is synonymous with age?
Lest I be castigated for reverse ageism let me highlight that these are mere questions that I’m putting out there to advance the conversation. If we compare the incidence of influencer and content marketing in travel with its overall adoption within MICE it’s like comparing the rich complexity of a 2011 Opus 1 with a bottle of this season’s Lambrusco. In ways there’s no comparison at all as one sector is sophisticated and mature and the other has the flightiness of a Golden Retriever pup.
The MICE sector – which we all love so much – is still caught like the famous traveller at the fork in the road in Robert Frost’s famous poem: one path leads to the tactile reassurance of a hug and a handshake while the other offers the mysterious allure of the digital world. Like Frost’s traveller, most of us see it as an either/or choice and haven’t figured out at all how to combine the two. The older we are, of course, the more likely we’re are to be entrenched on the tactile side, often unwilling to admit there’s any merit at on the other side at all.
What makes it more challenging, to return to Irina’s fee structure, is that budgets are assigned and decided upon, generally, by more senior players in destinations, hotels and venues – the very ones least likely to understand how “Influencer Marketing” works. It’s far easier for a Babyboomer destination marketer to commit budget to a print advertisement or a direct mail campaign. These are tried and tested methods with long established metrics and, like they say about buying IBM equipment, you’ll never get fired for making that decision.
The challenge we face in the MICE industry regarding digital is to do with slow adoption by a demography dominated on the SEMA side by babyboomers. Essentially, we’re pathological laggards and while there are a few early adopter mavens out there, they’re far too few and far between. We lack scale and volume so it’s hard for us to demonstrate the effectiveness of our channel. Clients still misunderstand the metrics so they look at your number of followers or your Klout score and these will never be high enough when compared with influencers on the travel side.
What to do?
Firstly, we must be patient because sooner or later there’ll be wider adoption of digital channels in general and influence and content marketing in particular. We have to keep on keeping on. But we shouldn’t drop fees and rates to levels below what constitutes professional dignity. If we’re truly knowledgeable, passionate and authentic about our topic, if we have earned the right be be seen as a trusted source then we’re marketing consultants and should be charging a daily rate of £500 – £2500.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum aka SoolNua are all active influence marketers working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training and charging between €500 and €2500 per day for their services.