The impact of race on influencer pricing

There are some harsh truths about the current state of the influencer marketing industry that need to be exposed

Last year, a luxury lifestyle brand offered me a £200 fee for an Instagram feed post. Nice, you might think. But what if I told you that I know the going rate for similar campaigns was as high as £3,000?

Let me explain and introduce myself. I’m the founder of SevenSix Agency – an influencer marketing agency with a focus on diversity and inclusion – as well as an influencer myself. I’m also black mixed-race. 

The £3,000 fee I mentioned, 15 times more than my offer, was attached to a similar campaign for a white influencer. There were small differences in terms of followers and campaign scope, but broadly we were in the same ballpark. According to our recent research, the fee for my proposed work should have been around the £1,500 figure. Whether we’re comparing £200 to £1,500 or £200 to £3,000, either way I think we can all agree it’s a big difference. So what caused that huge pay gap?

Now this is of course one example and it may be easy to write off, attributing it to other factors. It’s my view, however, that it is impossible to disregard the possibility that race and ethnicity played a part.

It may be one example, but it is not a one-off. It’s the volume of similar anecdotes that pushed us to spend time investigating the pay disparities and lack of structure that exists between influencers, as well as the role that race plays in these differences. So, at the end of last year, we reached out to brands, agencies and influencers to try to pull together a picture of the landscape. 

Unfortunately, the results have confirmed our suspicions, with over half (57%) of influencers believing ethnicity impacts the fees they can charge. 

Some 37% believed this impact was a negative, with their price decreasing as a direct result of ethnicity. Within this group, nearly all (99%) identified as a person of colour. By comparison, of those who didn’t believe their ethnicity affected their prices, less than half (45%) identified as a person of colour, with the majority (55%) identifying as white.

The majority (69%) of influencers believed they undercharged on paid partnerships, but look deeper and you can see some clear differences across ethnic groups. Nearly half (49%) who believed they undercharged and thought their ethnicity impacted their fees were black, followed by 18% South Asian and 13% mixed (black and white) heritage. Only 11% of this group were white.

Another issue the report brought to light was the lack of transparency from parts of the industry. We received nearly four times more responses from influencers than brands and agencies; we guaranteed full anonymity, but I can’t help feeling that must be due to a fear of being “exposed”. 

This fear of transparency is impacting the ability to formalise pricing structure, something influencers are desperate for; less than a quarter told us they felt confident setting a price for paid campaigns and we see these questions being posed daily. Just last year, I held multiple pricing-related talks, plus more than 50 one-to-one sessions on the subject. 

What’s clear is that the question is no longer whether brands pay influencers different rates, but how to minimise this, or at least justify it based on relevant and consistent metrics, eliminating race as a factor. 

I founded SevenSix to tackle the lack of representation from brands within the influencer marketing space, so spent significant parts of last year on the frontline of conversations with brand marketers as they grappled with how to approach the post-Black Lives Matter resurgence era. 

Despite lots of talk, these figures uncover some harsh truths about the current state of the influencer marketing industry. It's good to see work such as @influencerpaygap, which exposes the pay gap between white and black influencers, but we have barely begun on the journey to full diversity and inclusion. I’m open to having a conversation with anyone who disagrees. 

Openness and a willingness to have the tough conversations is a good starting point, but we also need to ensure those conversations are converted into action. We’re calling for a committed focus from all parties – brands, agencies and influencers – to work together in tackling these issues. 

Oh and did I accept the £200 brand post offer? Absolutely not. 

Charlotte Williams is the founder of SevenSix Agency – a social media and influencer marketing agency with a focus on diversity and inclusion

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