Influencers and celebrities have long partnered with brands to launch special collections and collaborate on campaigns linked to music, film releases and so on but two headlines this summer have taken this a step further. Creative director roles at Pretty Little Thing and FWRD were announced, respectively, in August for Love Island’s Molly-Mae Hague and in September for Kendell Jenner.
For some in the industry these promotions undermine the value and skill of an experienced retail professional who has risen through the ranks to become creative director of a brand and for others the title is merely bestowed as a headline grabber and does not convey the true remit of the brand ambassador’s role. There are those, however, who perhaps optimistically cite true talent as the rationale for these promotions noting that not all the biggest successes in fashion have risen through the ranks in the most conventional way – Victoria Beckham being an obvious example.
Of course, where a partnership has been successful, hiring an influencer as a creative director potentially locks that individual into the brand for a longer time period and is more likely to guarantee decent exclusivity for the brand, not to mention the media hype that surrounds these sort of tie ins.
So what could possibly go wrong?
The key issue, which to some extent can be managed from a contractual perspective, is the potential for reputational damage. From the start, consumer opinion is often split when brands appoint influencers in these sort of roles. Some consumers are drawn in - the chance to wear clothes designed by their heroes - while others see it as a marketing ploy that cheapens the brand. More of a concern, however, is the constant worry that the infamous name at the helm of the brand may lose public favour.
Celebrities have always gone in and out of fashion but never so quickly as in this century where a new Love Island contestant is poised and ready to pinch the following and acclaim of their predecessor. This natural cycle of fame may, at any time, be completely overturned by a PR scandal leaving a brand with a disgraced creative director together with current and future collections that are unmoveable.
It goes without saying that thorough due diligence on the influencer is essential prior to any engagement or partnership, not to mention a longer term employment role - but what else can brands do to protect themselves? You are no longer dealing with a marketing contract that can be quickly swept under the carpet, you are potentially dealing with a figurehead in a very public position of responsibility.
- Consultant or Employee?: consider hiring the influencer as a consultant rather than an employee. This gives the brand less control over the individual and should be managed in consultation with an employment law specialist to ensure the role is a true consultancy but this set up potentially lowers the brand's risk of employment claims in the event of a termination.
- Termination rights: of course brands will want termination rights where the individual has done, been involved in or is in some away associated with something that causes reputational damage to the individual and/or the brand but consider also shorter, fixed term contracts that can be terminated (or indeed extended) by the brand without cause if the value of the influencer diminishes over time.
- Morality clauses: general obligations around behaviour and values are useful to set the tone of the relationship and ensure it is clear what is expected of the individual. We have seen these clauses open up conversations during contractual negotiations which have resulted in cancelled plans where the brand realises they aren’t working with someone they can trust
- Post termination silence: an obligation to remain silent following a termination, dismissal or contract expiry can be useful where an influencer leaves a role in sub-optimal circumstances.
Engaging an influencer as a creative director (or similar) is certainly a risky game and engaging anyone without a formal background or qualification in a senior position is not for the fainthearted but where it has been successful the payoff for the influencer and brand alike can be huge.
Social media stars are rising up the ranks of fashion and, while giving them jobs for which they may not have traditional qualifications might rub some people the wrong way, the power of celebrity might just trump it.