Podcast: Richard Bailey talks to Orlagh Shanks

Richard Bailey: Orlagh, welcome. Thank you for giving up a bit of your time this evening to talk about influencer marketing. Now it’s only three years, I’ve checked your LinkedIn profile, it’s only three years since you graduated with a degree in business and public relations, but I think you’ve very much become an influencer marketing specialist since then.

So talk us through where you’ve been and where you are now.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, of course. So I think bringing it back to my degree, so I studied public relations and business and I had an idea that I wanted to go into  magazines and work in the media industry and I thought public relations would be the best way to do that.

I went through different internships to sort out what I wanted to do to learn about communications, crisis communications, the publicity scene, general PR agency. And I really enjoyed the publicity side of things, working with celebrities and different kind of personalities. And then I got the internship at Coty during my university time, and it was a public relations internship. That turned into public relations and influence marketing internship. So it did evolve around that time. This is only maybe five years ago, I think. So still quite early days in influencer market.

But that was just as a company, they were starting to branch into it. I loved the job and didn’t want to leave, but I had to come back and graduate. And then after I graduated, I got an opportunity to move to New York.

I was toying with the idea of going back to Coty at the same time, but couldn’t pass up the chance to go and live in New York for a full year. And I ended up in the financial industry, which is something that I never probably expected myself to do. But I did enjoy like numbers and things at school, so it wasn’t too far out of reach, I did that for full year. Just working on social media, posting things, doing a little some press releases, some communications kind of things.

And then COVID struck, so it was time to come back to London after my year was up. And they asked if I would stay on at the job, so I wasn’t going to pass up the employment. So I stuck. And then it all came to a head where I just wanted to get back into influence marketing so much.

I was back living in Liverpool at the time and having a little look on LinkedIn to see what I could get into, and then I ended up at an agency. And worked there, I think only for seven months or so, and I worked across so many different brands, so many different campaigns across so many different territories around the world with different influencers.

Some of them didn’t speak English and it was eye opening, and I learned so, so much in such a short space of time. But I was there from the agency and life was very high pressure, very full on. And after COVID, I was like, I want my work life balance. I appreciate the early evenings, not working weekends.

Richard Bailey: Oh, very wise, you’re very wise

Orlagh Shanks: So then I looked for something very similar, but it just had more of a work-life balance for me. I ended up at Student Beans, so I was working on uni as a kind at the previous agency. So it was literally from going from one to the other very similar and I loved it. It was amazing.

The team were amazing. It was very much focused on culture and your mental health and like work life balance and that you didn’t work overtime or weekends, we weren’t working in influence marketing. But then very shortly after I started there, then the opportunity came up to go back to Coty, and that has always been my dream to go back and my dream job.

So I just took it and I went back and have been loving it ever since. And I’ve been working across all different influencers, all different niches, all different sectors. So I definitely got a lot of experience in a short space of time. But it’s been very wide and yeah, it’s brought me to where I am today. So very thankful.

Richard Bailey: We’ll come back and talk about your work at Coty in just a moment, but first, let’s broaden this out and let’s situate influencer marketing if we can. Let’s place it somewhere. Is it even marketing or is it a continuation of public relations that has always dealt with celebrities, Royal endorsement, that sort of thing has always tried to influence journalists.

Not sell to them, influence them, has always tried to influence analysts. And now we have influencers. So you could argue that influence marketing is just a continuation of what we used to do. Or you could take the view that it started in about 2005 with YouTube and accelerated 2010 with Instagram.

And now with TikTok, So it’s a new thing. Where are you on that? You know where I am on that, but where are you on that argument?

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah it’s a really hard one because I always said I never studied marketing at university. I studied a public relations degree, but I’ve ended up in influencer marketing.

So does that make me a marketer or am I still a public relations professional? So it is tricky. If you look at it as in what you said, the celebrity endorsements like that is such an old school kind of thing that tried and tested. It works all the time. And it was back in the day that we would send items to celebrities like fashion items, beauty items, and then hope that they’ll be packed and put in magazines and that’s what sold different items and main brands what they were.

And we still do that. We still send to key opinion leaders, VIP’s, those kind of people. And then that turned to magazines where everyone was reading a monthly magazine, a weekly magazine, finding out what the newest beauty product was, the new fashion item was. And we would send to the journalists and the editors, and they were the influencers at that time, and what they said was golden.

And then now it’s your everyday person. You’re next door neighbour that has that influence. Who is that both spokesperson for what is happening, what is new? So I think the person changes and the influencer has changed, but the influence has always been there. And like the whole premise of influencer marketing has been there, it’s just the person has changed. And I think it is a mix of public relations where you do send things gifted and the hopes that they appear on a YouTube video, on an Instagram story. So that is very public relations. But then you do have the aspect where we work with the marketing teams now and it’s collaborative where they’ll boost things. So they’ll put money behind adverts, but the advert is made by an influencer. So it’s mixed and it’s quite hard to say where it actually lies.

Richard Bailey: I’m smiling because as a university, part-time university lecturer, that’s the distinction answer. Influence is eternal, but influencer marketing techniques are new. We can agree on that. Coming back to your work on Wall Street for a finance company. Am I right in assuming that was more kind of business to business, was it or more corporate than the sort of business consumer world you’re doing now? So is influencer marketing scalable across corporate business to business as well as business to consumer?

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, so that was very business to business. Very corporate, very formal, a lot of processes, a lot of approvals. Nothing, went out on social media without going by 10 people reviewing and approving.

But my role there was an influencer marketing associate. So even though it had that in the title, I wasn’t doing anything that I was used to with influence Marketing, but it was making our experts in the finance industry influencers in their own right.

Richard Bailey: Oh, it was thought leadership. Okay.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, so it was working with the press, working with TV shows, news channels, your financial times, kind of those titles and getting them involved and getting them on tv, getting them on the radio and making our company an expert in that field with them as the influencer.

Richard Bailey: Orlagh, I absolutely love that. So you, your chief exec, your whoever can be the influencer.

And we call it thought leadership, but it’s again, a part of the continuum that we’re talking about. So we’ll move on. We’ll bring you then to where you are now at Coty. If you’re comfortable talking about your current role. I know some things ought to be confidential, so tell me things you’re comfortable answering.

So you are an influencer marketing or you’re in an influencer marketing team. What role do you report into? So who’s the sort of head of the department?

Orlagh Shanks: Yes. So we have our head of influence marketing and then I would be the assistant manager influence marketing. And then I report into the senior influence marketing manager.

But because we have such a wide ready brands within Coty, it’s split. So we have a manager that looks after this amount of brands and then a manager that looks after it this amount of brands. And then I support one of those manager on two brands

Richard Bailey: Can you pick a brand just to talk us through how it works day to day? So choose a brand if you like. Name a brand just to help us understand.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, sure. I work across Gucci.

Richard Bailey: Go that one. Okay. Even I’ve heard of Gucci. All right, so we’ve got a brand. Now here’s your challenge. You’ve got a product to launch. You’ve got to find 1, 2, 5, 10 Influencers you want to work with that seem right for the target customers.

Now, in the olden days when we talked to journalists, we had media directors. They used to be in print, then they’ve become online. There are a finite number of journalists. In other words, you can get to know them. A finite number of people work for the Sun Newspaper or The times Newspaper or the BBC. All right, so with research you can find out who they are, but there’s an infinite number of influencers. You’re an influencer, a considerable influencer. I’m a lesser influencer because of the nature of my job, but everyone on social media is an influencer of somebody. So there’s an infinite number of influencers. So you’ve mentioned Gucci, you’re launching a brand. How do you identify your top influencers?

What tools, techniques, processes do you use?

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, it’s tricky. So with other brands and the usual kind of tools would be to search on your platform that you’re looking for, Instagram, TikTok, we also have lists that we’ve used time and time again and we have our brand ambassadors and then just in general in the beauty space. Just by being on the platforms, you know who the big players are. You also have a look at competitors who are they’re working with, what influencer partnerships they’re doing and seeing if they work for your brand as well. Who are those influencers friends with? Usually they’re friends with other influencers, so it all really helps.

But with the likes of Gucci, Gucci are very, very niche and Gucci like the weird and the wonderful and the wacky to tie in with their brand and their launches, so it is the hardest job in the world trying to find the perfect influencers for. It’s just time and searching, and there are different platforms out there that can narrow your search down, especially in terms of looking for influencers that have the location demographic that you’re after, the age demographic that you’re after. And then we take those things into consideration, their engagement rate, their following, their content, all that kind of thing. But it is just search and time on the app and seeing what our competitors are doing, who they’re working with, and who you’ve heard of, and who other people have heard of, who they can recommend.

And it is, you would think, a massive pool of people, but when you get into it, it’s actually quite small. And the ones who are at the top of the game are quite small, especially when working. Brands like Gucci, it’s very luxury. They only work with certain people, and that poll is a little smaller than your average brand I think it would go for,

Richard Bailey: You mentioned working with perfect influencers, but I want to ask you about imperfect influencers. Those who take the money and let you down. Those who take the money and don’t declare that it’s hashtag ad or sponsored content. So is this the wild west or is regulation catching up and are imperfect influencers being caught out or hounded out?

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, I think that’s, I’ve been quite vocal about that before where you see all the time influencers don’t declare ads and it’s annoying and it’s so blatantly obvious as well. And it’s especially on Instagram stories when you know they’ve been paid to do things and because they’re only out for 24 hours, no one’s going to come back and tell ’em off or say anything.

But I just think that the influencer poll is so wide, especially over every sector, every niche, there is so many influencers that you can’t track them all. And I don’t know how the ASA or the equivalent in America or wherever else can do that. And they don’t have the facilities to do it. There’s no tools to do it, and it’s really hard and it’s only the ones that are flagged or reported. It’s always the same kind of people. The ones on reality tv, they’re always ones that are on that hit list. What do they get other than a slap on the wrist? It’s not, then it’s not really going tell them off.

But then I always think, who is at fault here? Is it an influencer? Is it the influencer marketer? Because they should tell them to put the declaration on like we always do. It’s in their contract, it’s in their guidelines. You have to declare whether something is an ad. So if the penny does fall with the influencer and the marketer, that they should be following that up and saying once they’re posted “Oh, you haven’t added that”, because it’s very simple to just edit the caption and put it in, but they don’t do it.

So there’s no real repercussions that I can see at the minute.

Richard Bailey: Or the footballers one, which is cut and paste the “Please cut and paste this content and share it to your social media.”

All right. Now don’t give us any commercially sensitive stuff, but rate cards. In the olden days of advertising through the media, there was a rate card. You may not pay the rate card, but you knew what the going rate was for a full page ad for a TV ad slot. There is no rate card with influencers, there is no going rate. So broadly how do you know if you’re getting fair value? How do you negotiate fees with influencers?

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, that’s a difficult one. I think especially influencers that don’t have any agents, they have no idea what they should be charging, and there is a lack of education around how much an Instagram post is worth, how much a YouTube advert is worth. But there’s no real distinction of what it should be charging. I think there is some formulas out there that calculates cost per view, cost per engagement, those kind of things, which we do work off. And you have to look at the size of the following, how much engagement you think the post is going to get, and the amount of time is going to be put into the editing, into the creation of the content. There’s so many different factors, whether there is boosting behind it, so will that influencer appear on an ad for six months and then that’ll stop them getting partnerships with other brands, there’s so many things to consider, but when it comes to influencers that don’t have any agents, we seen like such discrepancies between what agents are asking for and what standalone influencer as they’re asking for, but we can only go off what they ask for. We can’t go back and say, Oh, you should be charging like so much more because that’s not what we’re here to do.

Richard Bailey: But in truth, Orlagh, there are an infinite number of influencers. There is only one brand called Gucci. So you actually have quite a strong negotiating position. Either they want to work with you, so you control that part of the negotiation. It’s not just them saying, you want to work with me, pay me X, pay me Y. So it probably will shake out and work Okay.

So you’ve hired some influencers to work on a Gucci launch. You’ve paid them some money, it’s gone really well. Your boss says “What value did we get out of it?”  So what measures can you use? What proof can you give? This, by the way, is the age old problem of public relations. What value did it deliver? So what’s the formula or what’s the secret source with influencer marketing.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah. So believe it or not, we do actually use EMV still on some platforms and that. Like a tool we use it tracks an account with EMV.

Richard Bailey: spell that out. EMV.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah. So editorial media value.

Richard Bailey: Okay. Within our publications, we would call it advertising value equivalent. So it’s yeah, an advertising rate.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, like AVE. Yeah. EMV. It’s the same thing.. But we always ask influencer for their screenshots and their analytics. So we see how many impressions a post got, how many likes, how many comments, how many shares. Ideally they would always put a link in with their content so that the consumer, the viewer could then go and purchase, which is the whole point of the partnership.

But that’s probably the key info that we like to see is the number of clicks that advert is getting because that means, the consumer is having to look at the product considering the purchase or whether it actually goes through and purchases. So that for us is like our measure of success: how many links we get, but also how many impressions that it does get, like how many eyes are seeing. What would we have got if we worked on a different platform or a different sort of stories versus post, what’s performing better? Because looking at all those numbers, then we can decide for the next launch, okay, which platform should we go for and which type of content should we create?

Richard Bailey: Let’s quickly reviews some platforms because you’ll have a lot of expertise on this. I’m just an observer. Give me a sense of whether they’re up, whether they’re down. Instagram.

Orlagh Shanks: Instagram, I think everyone has a love hate relationship with Instagram at the minute. For me it’s definitely going downwards.

In set off, it started off as a picture posting platform. Everybody loved it. That’s what it was for. And all of these changes they’re making is just destroying what it was built for. Because we have TikTok, we don’t need a TikTok 2.0 because as well as TikTok, you’re reaching so many more people. Their following numbers are crazy, that if you post every day, if you have a good niche or whatever, you can build a massive following.

So the opportunities on TikTok are so much better than Instagram. They don’t have same capabilities and advertised on TikTok. Works so much better than Instagram. So Instagram are lagging behind, but they’re just following what TikTok are doing instead of just sticking with what they are and being good at what they are.

Because if they go so much further, the photograph app that they were at the start, somebody else is going to come in, take over, be that photograph app that everybody actually wants, and Instagram’s going to be left behind.

Richard Bailey: Yeah, YouTube, it’s been there forever, since 2005. We don’t talk about it much, but it’s really big in search, isn’t it? So YouTube is as a platform? Up, down, stable ?

Orlagh Shanks: So there’s never really any chat about YouTube. Nobody really talks about whether anything’s going on with YouTube or whatever’s going up, what’s going on. But I think YouTube is a very, very stable platform and it’s been consistent and you still see massive numbers of views on content.

Richard Bailey: It’s Google owned and it’s so strong in search, isn’t it?

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah. And we have so many young influencers as well on that platform, and they come through and it works in a way that they have lots of subscribers on their YouTube channel, and then those subscribers follow on to their Instagram onto their TikTok. But they discover them on YouTube and people do spend a lot of time watching YouTube, especially that it’s now integrated into most smart TVs. So you can watch YouTube on your television instead of your Netflix or your cable tv. But for me, like YouTube is still a big platform. I would say the quicker, short form content on TikTok works better for advertising purposes. But if you have a majorly engaged audience or a certain influencer on YouTube, then if partnership, if the brand aligns with that influencer, it’s definitely a good avenue to go down on YouTube and having a few videos sponsored or them wearing products or things like that. But YouTube is more obviously the long form content. It’s you sit down, you watch it, you don’t sit and watch it and then go, “Oh, I’m going to go buy this” like a spur of the moment thing, that’s more TikTok. But for relationship building, brand building, I think YouTube is a good place

Richard Bailey: And here’s a really generational division one Snapchat.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah. I don’t use Snapchat anymore. I think it’s very much for the younger generation.

Richard Bailey: Oh, You old Lady!

Orlagh Shanks: I know, like some of my cousins, like younger cousins there do use it, but mainly only use it as a communications platform or use WhatsApp. They use Snapchat. Okay. I think advertising on Snapchat is very good from a marketing perspective. Use an influencer content, maybe as an advert, but organically wise, posting wise, No. I think it’s all just by paired content on Snapchat.

Richard Bailey: Okay. Another one that’s quite niche. But you’ll have some insight, Twitch.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, Twitch. I have never used it. I’ve watched one live stream during Covid. It was of Penguins in Azu and you could just sit and watch them all day and it was very therapeutic. But I know it’s very big for the gaming community and I’ve seen it work very well. People that have large following, obviously just sit there and play a little, their plays station game, but then they put in links and they put in the products that they use are usually all sponsored, like their whole gaming equipment Yeah. So for that nature it does obviously work very well. It’s all live form content, so I think we’re are going that way towards live form content as well. We’re TikTok Origin, TikTok live Instagram of Instagram Live. So if you can sit and do a Twitch live for three hours, then that’s making you like a presenter. So it, it’s kind of getting your skills up there to then transfer over to different platform. So it’s quite good.

Richard Bailey: TikTok ?

Orlagh Shanks: I think TikTok is the best app at the minute for influencer marketing or marketing purposes.

Richard Bailey: But the search is terrible. So you have to go by the algorithm, which is random and brilliant, but random.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah. So I think with TikTok, I would only do like pair partnerships and TikTok if you’re going to put money behind them because it doesn’t cost that much and you boost to an audience, you target that audience as well. So you can also have the top few ads, so if you open your TikTok app first on the morning, that first advert that you’re going to see if everybody’s going to see that same advert in the UK or in London. It’s all going to be targeted. The impressions, the rate is immense. And for example, like we did a TikTok today that went live and it was boosted within three hours. It was seen by half a million people. And it’s all very initially targeted to an age group, a gender, a region, so the targeting capabilities are amazing. And if you have you don’t have to have an expansive influencer either.

Richard Bailey: And to be honest, that those users will never be sitting down and watching ITV and receiving ads through their television. Never. Maybe through Netflix in the ad funded version, but never through traditional. Broadcast advertising. So yeah, the advertising is shifting onto social channels.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, it’s good. And TikTok, you can add in a link in things straight to that product page. So I think TikTok buy in has really took off. And I know there are things like TikTok boxes that different high street drug stores you’re selling where like you have all your beauty products, things go viral. Like we’ve seen that so many times, especially in the beauty industry that I’m in. So it’s, yeah, if you can get a good campaign on TikTok, you definitely are winning.

Richard Bailey: Let’s finally then end with two questions around the future. The middle distance future, looking out five years maybe. So what about the maturing of the industry?  The growing of the industry? The solidifying of it. How do you see the industry growing and evolving in the next five years?

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, it’s a hard one. Cause I always said, we all follow these influencers. Are we going to follow these influencers forever? But, I think if you are growing up, you’re going to follow someone that’s getting married. You’re going to follow someone that’s having children. You’re going to grow up with the influencers that you follow. So it does make sense that you do grow up alongside your influencers that you follow and that you do relate to the content they put out and you will over a certain amount of time.

It just all depends on the platform and how the platform evolves. TikTok wasn’t here three years ago. It was, but it wasn’t popular. And now that it has just completely taken over, Snapchat, we don’t really talk about anymore, Instagram. everyone’s on love/hate with Instagram, so unless that, changes itself, the blog. Is it completely dead? Does anyone read blogs anymore? It’s so hard to say, but it’s obviously it’s going to change in five years’ time. There’s new apps coming out all the time, like we’ve seen this new one be real. It’s, about authenticity and in the moment, but there’s no real opportunities for PS influencer marketing on there that we can see at the minute.

Will it evolve? Yeah, it could potentially. Who knows? But it’s all like in the early stages, so it’s exciting industry to be in because you just never know what’s going to take off.

Richard Bailey: And final question, we started with you. Let’s end with you. Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Orlagh Shanks: Oh, it’s hard, but I don’t even want to think about myself turning 30, but at the minute, like I’m very happy.

Richard Bailey: Oh, but turning 30 means reaching your peak.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah, I hope so.

Richard Bailey: It’s that decade that is peak decade in my experience.

Orlagh Shanks: Yeah. Cause I’ve obviously come back to work in the UK again. I am enjoying every minute of it at the minute, so unless I change location, that’s only kind of change I see in the future. I do want to stay for quite a long time.

And that’s, yeah, that’s how I see my future holding on, obviously in influencer marketing. But there is a little bit of me that dream that I still want to work in the music industry, but whether it ever comes to fruition and I live in Nashville, who knows? But that is the end goal.

Richard Bailey: Brilliant. Have that dream. Orlagh, thank you so much.

Orlagh Shanks: No problem. Thanks so much for having me.