Digital influencers are as valuable to arts organisations as any mainstream brand

My moan earlier this week about the festival that seem to regard myself and others like me as less valuable than other professional digital publications, prompted some responses from them, and a subsequent compromise offer today. I wanted to reflect on those exchanges in this blog post. 

Some background might be useful here. I shared my original post with the Festival director and the Head of Press and PR. I pointed out that at least one of the platforms they regarded as credible didn’t pay its writers and was therefore on the same level as a blog as far as I could see. 

In response I was asked what mainstream coverage I could provide; I detailed what I would be writing on my blog and the podcast I would produce.

After that I submitted my site statistics plus additional background information on my career to date, the editorial proposition for this blog, and the kind of audience the content is written for.

The revised offer consisted of £153 to go towards travel, two nights accommodation and tickets to concerts. As a comparison, the cost of the travel would have amounted to at least £250 + food (a producer needs to eat after all). The underlying message to the revised offer was that ‘if you want to write about our Festival on your blog, you’re going to have to pay to come here’.

I could have pushed back more – if they can afford £153 then they can afford the lot. But, pushing back at this stage it was a case of diminishing returns. There clearly wasn’t any appetite for coverage (though the Festival encourages its visiting talent to use social media hashtags – a form of blogging which is amplifying its brand).

Entering into a continued negotiation to get all expenses paid (aligning the Festival with other international endeavours I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of recently) would have no doubt resulted in a visit experience not entirely dissimilar to the taste of ashes in my mouth. If the thing you’re pursuing is quickly losing its appeal then maybe its worth just backing off.

So, like the job interview earlier this week, I ended up doing the more difficult thing and turning the entire thing down. I’m pleased I did and perhaps a little relieved too.

But it underlines something which has over the past few months become ever clearer to me.

Here follows the unpalatable truth.

Artists, performers and artistic events seek coverage. They pay PR agencies significant sums to gain coverage, many of who come to people like me in order to demonstrate their effectiveness and collect their fee. And yet, people like me whose platforms are useful to PRs and artists struggle to get expenses paid let alone secure even a small fee.

To my mind that isn’t because there isn’t a budget available. There’s just an unwillingness to accept that content costs money – not necessarily a lot. Just a bit.

Their lack of appetite, by which I mean the artists, festivals and ensembles, is based on false assumptions about what people like me do: we write passionately and knowledgeably to our audiences.

PRs encourage their clients to think wider (I know this to be true) but the clients still insist on recognising only ‘big-name‘ brands. In that vacuum brands maintain their dominance in an ever-dwindling marketplace squeezing the rest of us out. The cost associated with widening the coverage net isn’t high. The benefits are considerable. They might even develop a richer more-vibrant conversation.

It is about time more people started saying the thing no-one dares to.

Digital influencers are as valuable to arts organisations as any mainstream brand, but some think they can get away with not paying anything or paying significantly less expenses than those perceived to be ‘professional’.  Digital influencers deserve equal parity because we’ve worked hard to develop our platform. We also represent good value for money because we’ve had to develop a wider variety of content production skills – we squeeze a lot of stuff out of a small amount of time. 

If you are someone who believes that independent writers and commentators who publish on their own platforms aren’t credible then you are part of the problem with snobbery the genre battles with at nearly every turn.

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