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Advertising on Social Media. Our interview of Ashley Felts for “The Creative Influencer” podcast is available today for download on iTunes, Spotify, and premier platforms everywhere. Ashley is the vice president of the digital division at Murphey O’Brien, an integrated public relations and digital advertising agency. Previously, she directed the digital marketing strategy for Land Rover and Jaguar, where she launched those brands’ global social media influencer program.
A transcript of the full interview follows:
Jon: I am joined today by Ashley Felts, welcome to the podcast.
Ashley: Thank you very much for having me.
Jon: And you work where?
Ashley: At Murphy O'Brien.
Jon: And where are we now?
Ashley: We are in west Los Angeles.
Jon: At Murphy O'Brien.
Ashley: That we are.
Jon: What is Murphy O'Brien?
Ashley: Murphy O'Brien, is an integrated public relations and digital agency. We actually just celebrated our 30th anniversary last week, so we've been around for a bit.
Jon: What did you do for the anniversary?
Ashley: You know, champagne toast, lots of fun. Um, but it was great. You know, we've been around as I said for 30 years, and we primarily concentrate on hotel clients, real estate clients, and real estate and lifestyle clients.
Jon: Now, I looked on the website, and according to the website, you do a couple things. One is media relations. What does media relations include?
Ashley: Yeah, that's the fine art of working with all the media publications - so that would be print and online, the various journalists, everything from Conde Nast to vogue.com to all those different creative outlets - we work to get our clients in those outlets.
Jon: And then it also said you do social media.
Ashley: We do.
Jon: What does that include?
Ashley: The crazy world of social media. So we manage social media pages for our clients - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, youtube - do the content and then do community management as well.
Jon: And you are the vice president of digital?
Ashley: I am.
Jon: As the VP of digital, what do you do?
Ashley: I oversee our digital collection here and so any account that we have that has any social media or influencer marketing services, I oversee. I help bring the team forward, I help with new business, and I help making sure that our services are always kind of commiserate with the ever changing digital landscape.
Jon: And we'll come back to that. How many influencers does Murphy O'Brien retain in an average month?
Ashley: You know, it really varies based on what our initiatives are. But we work with about 110 clients, so as you can imagine, it's a lot. I'd probably estimate about 40 to 70.
Jon: So you know, as -- you're the person that's in charge of this?
Ashley: I am one of them. Yes.
Jon: So you know the secret sauce of what it takes for an influencer to get hired because you're the hiring person.
Ashley: That's true. Yeah.
Jon: Now, that's the tease. We'll come back to that.
Ashley: There we go. Okay.
Jon: So let's start at the beginning. Where are you from originally?
Ashley: I'm from Los Angeles.
Jon: Where did you go to college?
Ashley: I went to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Go Wolverines.
Jon: I knew that because I did some research. Ann Arbor averages 57 inches of snow every year.
Ashley: Not Surprising.
Jon: What was that like for a Los Angeles girl to go to snow country?
Ashley: Never ending weather and culture shock for sure.
Jon: You chose not to stay in the Midwest?
Ashley: That is true. I went to Chicago for two and a half years later and then quickly got in the car one January and drove back to LA and never have turned back.
Jon: Let's not leave studying completely. You went to Northwestern?
Ashley: Yes, I went and studied integrated marketing with a focus on, international marketing.
Jon: After graduation. I said this earlier and you looked at me kind of quizzically, but you worked for a circus?
Ashley: Yeah. So one of my very first jobs - it was actually an internship I think I had in high school - and one of our largest clients was Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Jon: And what did you do for the circus?
Ashley: Well, it was publicity, so we'd help drive awareness of different shows, different acts that they would have, when they were coming to town.
Jon: I guess that makes sense. And then you went to work for a PR firm where you managed, including a bunch of other clients, but the Chicago Bulls.
Ashley: Exactly right, yeah. I worked at a small shop in the West Loop in Chicago. There were only about 15 of us, and our clients included the Chicago Bulls and also Mike Ditka. So I worked with him about three times a week as well.
Jon: Did you ever go to Ditka's restaurant?
Ashley: I did. He was actually trying to launch a record label at that time. So I was publicizing --
Jon: What was he going to --
Ashley: Well, Ditka Records, obviously.
Jon: I know, but what kind of music?
Ashley: Actually, he had a really great kind of crooner that was like Frank Sinatra. His name is John Vincent and he's actually still in Chicago at this time. So he's sang a lot at Ditka's.
Jon: Because I've been to Ditka's restaurant, and he has everything branded.
Ashley: Everything, yes. It's amazing. He's very entrepreneurial, so it was really fun to work with him.
Jon: And eventually you moved on to mom blogs?
Ashley: Ah, yes.
Jon: What are mom blogs?
Ashley: The first frontier, I think, of influencer marketing. So this was when I was at PMK, which is a very large entertainment public relations company. And some of the first tasks that we had in the mom blogs sphere was outreach to them and get them to have our products and endorse them on their pages. So we'd send them the products, we'd work with them, they talk about them on their blogs, link back to the website.
Jon: Let's back up a second. When did blogging even start to be a thing?
Ashley: Oh, I would say at least 10 years ago. I probably started doing that about eight years ago. But it's been around for a while.
Jon: And then why mom blogs? I mean, why was that the genre?
Ashley: It's a good question. You know, I think that the essence of influencer marketing is really word of mouth. And I think there's so much power, especially in the mom community, for insight or knowledge of what products work well. And so I think there was just this really open audience looking for peer to peer recommendations on what "products should I use," and "what kind of clothing should I use," and "where should I go with my kids."
Jon: And how would you identify potential bloggers?
Ashley: That's a good question. You know, it really depended on did their voice and tone resonate with the brand? Would the content feel organic on their blog? What kind of other competitors or other brands were they working with? There were some that were very spammy and every blog post was brand, brand, brand. So we try and stay away from those. And then after a while, you cultivate relationships with certain mom bloggers and you know who is really advantageous and who is not.
Jon: You didn't have "likes" on blogs. How did you track engagement?
Ashley: That's a good question. You can look at the unique monthly visitors and see the site traffic. From a conversion standpoint, if they'd have links, you could track links to websites, you could track comments, the sentiment of comments. Kind of PR cache. So some of the early mom bloggers were kind of picked up by the media. So there are a lot of different metrics of success, and I think it's important before working with anyone, we'd really work with our clients to determine "how are you measuring success" and "how is this campaign going to be measured?"
Ashley: So you would contact the bloggers. How many of them did you work with?
Ashley: Oh, at least 50, I'd say.
Jon: How has that changed? If you're going to do a campaign today, are blogs even part of the campaign?
Ashley: For our clients, sometimes it's a secondary platform. It's not usual that we'd hire a blogger as a digital influencer, as the primary platform. Oftentimes we might hire for Instagram, and then if there's a supplement, blog posts as well. Blogs are really great for more lower funnel. So if you're really trying to drive to website, you want a lot of key messages. There's a lot of real estate on a blog. But again, I think the authenticity is really important. So working with a blogger for an ongoing basis, so their audience is continuing to see how the blogger is interacting with the brand and the products, is oftentimes the best way to go.
Jon: Then you moved on to what we think of as influencers today, by today's definition.
Ashley: You launched the first ever global influencer program for Land Rover and Jaguar.
Jon: Professional question: "Jaguar," or "Jag?"
Ashley: "Jaguar." Yeah, "Jag" is not the, it's how people speak about it, but technically "Jaguar."
Jon: It's not like "Vegas."
Ashley: Exactly. Right.
Jon: Okay. How do you convince a company like Jaguar to even have an influencer program?
Ashley: You know, I think it's a step by step process. When I started at our company, our agency was owned by Jaguar Land Rover, and we would start kind of dipping our toe in the world of influencer marketing. So we do a vehicle loan for maybe two weeks. We'd get some content. We'd start seeing some Instagram posts. And it was a very step by step activation per success metrics, activation to prove success metrics.
Jon: How long ago was this?
Ashley: This was when I started almost four and a half years ago.
Jon: Now, what is the demographic of a person who drives a land rover or a Jag? Jaguar, excuse me.
Ashley: High End, very high end luxury market. So definitely in the field of luxury marketing. It used to be more male skewed, but we definitely, with some of the new models started seeing it to be a more even split. For us, originally we were focused on the US market. Although when we did start bringing out the program to different markets, different demographics. There was a lot of psychographics. The benefit of working with a brand like that is they have a lot of research into the psychographics and demographics of our target audience.
Jon: When you say psychographics, what do you mean?
Ashley: More behavioral. So what is motivating them to purchase? What do they like to do? How are they spending their time? What interests do they have? So what types of enthusiasms do they have?
Jon: Kind of like the television commercial about a year ago with Jackie Stewart for Jaguar, I don't know if you ever saw it - old formula one driver - they clearly have identified that people that know him would potentially be a purchaser of Jag.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. I mean they definitely have the very high, very auto enthusiast kind of niche of the market. And then you also have your broader demographic that we're trying to sell to. So based on who we're trying to target, we would modify who the influencers were that we were partnering with.
Jon: So, you decide to start an influencer program. How do you even start that? This is from scratch, correct?
Ashley: Well, yes and no. I mean, when I came on board, there were a few kind of micro partnerships that were happening already and so we were seeing, "okay, hey this is starting to build a little bit, here's a great opportunity to put a formula and a strategy around this." Because so many questions come up. Is this hitting the right target? How are we measuring success? There's so many processes to get the car to the influencer. What does the content look like? So we kind of took some of our key learnings in the early days and then utilized those to create a broader strategy.
Jon: So for the car company, how do you measure success? How do you track that?
Ashley: You know, it depends. There's two kind of core ways that we worked with influencers. Number one was really for awareness and larger amplification of the brands. There's so many new models coming out, like the F-pace for example, which was really exciting. So we wanted to let our core audience know "this is coming out and this is something that you should consider." And then on the other side, we started to realize that using them as content creators was really an effective tactic. From a larger brand, a lot of our content was coming from London and oftentimes, it can look a little branded. And so we were recognizing if we worked with influencers as content creators, the engagement would actually be a lot higher on organic social channels. So we would either partner with an influencer for the awareness amplification or the content creator piece. And then sometimes it would be two-in-one.
Jon: Was it Instagram, or YouTube, or both?
Ashley: You know, typically we off more with Instagram, but we did actually hire later, especially for Land Rover, a few larger influencers such as Alex Strohl to do blog posts as well as YouTube videos. And then we actually used that content for our website as well, which is really interesting.
Jon: Did Facebook play any role in this?
Ashley: You know, it's interesting. We'd sometimes have them post on Facebook, but I can't remember really ever hiring an influencer primarily just for Facebook posts. We had a few on Twitter for the auto shows. We had a few Twitter influencers, more like tastemakers, but I really can't think again, from what I worked on, having Facebook be the primary audience.
Jon: Now I'm just thinking, it's never the primary posting place for any of my clients.
Ashley: Yeah, which is really curious because it's always, it's nice to have that supplemental, if you want to make sure that shared across Facebook. But yeah, I have the same experience.
Jon: It's kind of a gorilla, but it's ignored in that sense.
Ashley: It's there, and you know you kind of need it, but you don't fully concentrate on it. So yeah, it is curious.
Jon: Okay, so you start the influencer program and it started the United States?
Ashley: No. What we actually found out was a lot of the different markets - I believe there were 18 different markets - they were all kind of experimenting on their own as well. So kind of a year in, once we started having these calls with all the heads of the different markets --
Jon: When you're talking markets, you're talking to different countries.
Ashley: Exactly, yeah. So Milan, or Madrid, or different cities within different countries that were controlling those markets. We actually started to see that a lot of them were doing some very cool test-and-learns. And once we started opening the communication, were actually to say, "wow, Australia just did this awesome campaign. How can we kind of replicate that and tailor it to the US market?"
Jon: How do you find influencers in the different markets? Because in LA, it's like they're everywhere. You can't walk down the street without bumping into one, but how do you find one in Spain or how do you find one in Australia?
Ashley: Yeah. So, you know, it's really up to the local markets. And as I said before, it's really about relationship building. So they have a lot of different platforms that you could use to source influencers. But what I've found is when you get into these really luxury niche audiences that you're looking for, it's really more about kind of combing and looking through one by one Instagram and kind of relationship building. Oftentimes we would work with one influencer, they'd recommend friends, and that would be a way. But we would really lean on the local markets to find their local influencers because they really would know best.
Jon: And what are the differences in sensibilities from market to market to market? For instance, you're going to do an influence influencer campaign in Australia versus an influencer campaign in Los Angeles. How do you tweak that?
Ashley: You know, I think it first starts with who is their target consumer and how do they want to partner with someone to hit that consumer? So that's number one. Number two, what are the platforms? So in the US, again, Instagram is really important, but sometimes we'd find in different countries the social platform would be different. The legalese, as you would know, is always different. You know, in terms of how the partnership can be constructed.
Jon: So all the disclosures.
Ashley: All the disclosures, all the contractual. You know, we found in the early days - close your ears - but a lot of different markets just didn't, it wasn't a thing yet. You know, and it still kind of is very nebulous in a lot of different markets.
Jon: And the truth is, in the United States, It's still that way in many respects.
Ashley: Probably. Yes. Although we always try and be top of the line on that one.
Jon: Now, I'm not talking you, but...
Ashley: No, absolutely. But that was really interesting. And then also, you know, the barometer of success. So I think we find in the US, there's just an explosion of options here, which is really nice. And I think the level of followers and engagement is really high in this market. I think that's very scalable. So smaller markets - if here we'd look for someone, I don't know, 250,000 followers with 3% engagement rate - sometimes we take that down by a third in different markets. So we'd scale based on what their pool of selects are.
Jon: When you do say percentage of engagement rate, how do you measure that? How do you measure engagement?
Ashley: We actually now here at Murphy O'Brien have an amazing tool called "tagger," which we automate and we're able to pull engagement through that tool. Because in the early days, we'd do it all by hand, and that is just very time consuming. So I think now as we're sourcing influencers, leaning on some software companies is really helpful. But it really is based on what the audience size, what is the rate of likes, shares and comments on a piece of content. Because arguably if you have a million followers but you have very low engagement, depends on what the goal is though, right? Because if it's awareness, you're like, "okay, we're still reaching that audience." But if it's really, you know, we want a more mid funnel, meaning we want more of that intrigue and desire to buy, we need to see the engagement increase.
Jon: You've referred a couple times to "funnel." Let's go back to marketing 101. What is the "funnel?"
Ashley: So the funnel is a very traditional way of speaking about purchasing behavior. And so in your customer journey, meaning you have a customer that has no idea of what a brand is. First you need to introduce him to a brand. You can't buy something without knowing what it is. So first, "Hey Jon, you don't know what this is. Here's something you might be interested in." You're aware of it.
Jon: So the awareness level.
Ashley: The awareness level. Exactly. And so that would be "upper funnel" in terms of this actual think about a physical funnel. And then we want to take you, now that you're aware of the brand, we want to kind of get you excited about it. So now we want to serve you different content where you're like, "now you know about it, but now you're really kind of emotionally getting excited about it." And then we want to take you further down to maybe you want to now share it with your friends and family. And now let's use the automotive example. We want to bring you into the dealership. So you're actually test driving. Then we want to actually get you to buy the car and then we want to continue because we want make sure that you're loyal to the brand, that when you're getting your next car, you're continuing to purchase from the brand.
Ashley: I just saw yesterday. It was a branding company that was talking about the funnel and then a reverse funnel. That essentially you wanted that same thing with existing companies.
Ashley: Exactly right. And then you're getting more into loyalty and retention because as we know, again, old school marketing, 80/20 rule, right? Always easier to continue to market to your core enthusiasts, so you never want to drop off. Once you're getting a sale, you want to continue to cultivate and that's oftentimes where email marketing and experiential marketing really comes into play.
Jon: Now, when you sign up for the email, I want to talk about the email marketing. The whole campaign of when you give your email to a website so you can get something to download. And then they send you an email every two days, three days a week, depending on the brand. What is the logic behind sequencing those emails?
Ashley: There is such a science behind that, you know, it, it oftentimes at brands, they have full teams dedicated to that. I'm not an expert in that area, but they have, it's all data driven. So they have so much data on open rates and click through rates and time of day to send. And when do you oversaturate your audience and then if you have a large email list, how are you segmenting the list? And how are you sending different communications to different pieces of your audience? So all that kind of goes into the wild, crazy world of email marketing.
Jon: So back to the different countries. Because there's different sensibilities in different countries. And I'm not talking from a legal perspective, but just from a taste perspective, what can you get away with in other countries that you can't get away with here? And I'm not talking, "get away." I'm talking more, "pushing the envelope."
Ashley: Yeah. You know, I think for in the US, you know, I think there's, there was actually most recently in the past two weeks. This is actually starting to be a lot of news against this, but this idea of a curated feed. And I think in other countries sometimes the feed is a lot more organic. The content looks a lot more like someone would kind of take from their phone, versus in the US, a lot of our influencers have much more curation on their feed. So I'd say that that's probably a big --
Jon: Stated a different way, Photoshop.
Ashley: Yeah. Enhancement.
Ashley: Exactly right. And I think oftentimes this idea of videos and speaking directly to the audience, that's something that other countries will do in different ways.
Jon: Kind of the vlog versus the edited video.
Ashley: Exactly right. Yes. Although I will caveat that when you're working with large brands, there's very strategic and relevant brand guidelines that we all have to go off of. So at the end of the day before anyone's posting, they do need to be kind of blessed by the certain creative director in making sure that it's all brand compliant.
Jon: I want to now go to a more general question. How do companies determine whether to hire influencers versus doing a traditional celebrity advertising campaign? What's the decision thought process?
Ashley: Again, I think it really goes back to what's your macro goal of the campaign? And I think with celebrities, oftentimes you get a lot more media value in PR value out of it. Meaning you can pitch it to a People or an Us Weekly.
Jon: So you get the ancillary coverage.
Ashley: Exactly. Whereas influencers are going to be oftentimes much more targeted from the social sphere only. I'd say the other really large parameter is budget. So when you're dealing with any kind of celebrities, you're budget is always going to be very high. With influencers, it could be as well. However, you could do an influencer campaign with a much more minimal budget.
Jon: What's the return on investment of a celebrity versus an influencer?
Ashley: It would again be dependent on your overarching business goals. But I'd say from a macro perspective, your reach is going to be a lot larger with a celebrity. Most celebrities, again, you're going to get your reach from your PR value as well as from your social posts. Oftentimes they're going to have many, many millions of followers. Your engagement, thus, a lot of times, will be higher. However, with influencers, oftentimes their audience is a lot more targeted to the brand's audience. So you're directing your message in a more systematic way.
Jon: Assuming it's an organic following.
Ashley: Exactly, yes.
Jon: As opposed to the paid. Okay. So you have a green light, you're going to do a big campaign for, X company. How do you determine the mix between traditional versus social?
Ashley: In terms of pitching traditional media?
Ashley: Yeah, I mean, if you're pitching to the client and youhave the whole broad brush, you can do whatever you want. How do you decide "I want to do 50% traditional, 50% social" or 80/20, or is there even a rule anymore?
Ashley: Yeah. You know, I think depending on what the campaign is you do - I think having the mix of different types of distribution is really helpful. I don't know that we look at it in terms of percentages. I think it's more from a media perspective, target outlets. So it's our goal to be in these five, these 10 target outlets. And from a social media perspective, how are we making sure that we're amplifying the message on all the appropriate channels? How are we working with our SEO teams? How are we working with our e-marketing teams? How are we doing our website? So we oftentimes want to look at all the different touch points that you have. Think about what your message is and how you can best amplify that message via those channels.
Jon: You mentioned SEO, search engine optimization.
Jon: How important is a company's website? So they decided to going to do a social campaign and a lot of us to drive traffic back to the website to get information. How important is to get the modern website so it matches the idea of what you're having the social do?
Ashley: If you're driving traffic to your website, meaning you have links in different articles or on your social media channels, it's extremely important because you're spending all this effort to drive your audience to the website. And so there should be a very clear message or call to action that the person or the user is going to see.
Jon: And how hard is it to get a company to - because generally websites are by committee at a large company - how hard is it to get the company to modernize the website so it matches the campaign that you want to have?
Ashley: Actually, in my experience, I'd say that most clients are very open to making sure that their website looks really up to date, especially companies that have e-commerce components are really important. Meaning they're selling any types of products or services through their website. Also with something like an automotive brand, you can configure a car. So it's very interactive. So there's a lot of time and effort, oftentimes, spent on websites. However, if you're a company where your website's just you kind of need to have it, but all your marketing is either driving to retailers or different things, maybe it wouldn't be as important. But it's always better to have a more basic website that's well done than a very kind of crazy website.
Jon: Because I come from a sector - that being the law - where the websites are terrible. They're just terrible.
Ashley: But the services that you provide are just so about you and your service, however, if you go to a website and it really doesn't look great, that could have a negative effect on the user.
Jon: So how do you start to build a team? You're now here at Murphy O'Brien. How did you start to build your digital team?
Ashley: So when I came on board, we definitely already had some digital team members. We've definitely grown since I've come onboard. I've been here for almost two years in September. It's a really a mix of things. It's what our clients, what are our target clients that we want to go after, and what's the skill set that we're really looking to hire? I think one of the largest challenges in social media and digital and influencer marketing is people can kind of put a bucket on it. "Oh, you're social." However, within social there are so many nuanced,, different skillsets and that really needs to be addressed when you're hiring. So are you more social on the account side. Are you on a creative side? Are you a video editor? Are you a photographer? Are you a copywriter? Are you all of them? What do you like to do? And so I think that is the challenge hiring. Making sure that we're making the team structures really solid to deliver the clients what they're looking for. Because a lot of our clients have different services within their scopes.
Jon: And I'll get to the influencer side of it, advice for influencers. But advice for somebody that wants to work for a company like yours, what advice would you have for somebody that's just coming out of school on what skill set they should develop to even be marketable?
Ashley: You know, right now I definitely say and I advise a lot of our interns being comfortable with content creation. That's a large bucket, but being comfortable with video editing and Photoshop and InDesign and a lot of those tools, it's something that makes a candidate extremely attractive. Content creation is expensive. It's hard to do. And if you can come in and say, "Hey, I actually know how to do these skills or a portion of these skills," that's wonderful for us. Also having a passion for social. It changes so much. So being able to demonstrate that you're really on top of the trends and you're understanding how to pivot quickly is really important. And then also kind of demonstrating from your own self, that you're able to have experience in either drafting content calendars or content from existing clients or even from internships or even volunteering. "Hey, I manage the page for my volunteer organization." So you can show --
Jon: So those things do matter.
Ashley: They do matter. And the last thing that matters is making sure that your own social media channels are at least at the very least clean and professional. It goes without saying, but I'm still shocked sometimes that when you look at a candidate's Instagram or Facebook, and it's old college pictures of drinking and whatnot, you know. And again, we couldn't mandate that legally.
Jon: The proverbial Red Cup.
Ashley: You know, just the be cautious of that.
Jon: Okay. Now earlier I teased it about the secret sauce about what brands look for when they hire influencers.
Ashley: Ah, yes.
Jon: What advice would you give for an influencer to get hired?
Ashley: So here's an interesting answer, because I think about this a lot. I think influencers that have a good knowledge of how marketing works in general would be really helpful. Because it's such a partnership. And at the end of the day, the influencer wants to have a partnership that's going to increase their following and their engagement and their brand cachet. However, our brands - they oftentimes don't understand what the brand is really looking for. And so I think if influencers are able to really understand marketing funnel metrics and why it's important to stay on brand guidelines, and disclosure, and these things that makes the relationships so much more successful.
Jon: So on a working basis, once you decide you're going to hire a particular influencer, now what advice would you have for that influencer in working with the brand?
Ashley: Timeliness in communication. Reading all the materials that are sent over. We have these creative briefs that very systematically outline all the details of the relationship. "Here's the objective, creative guidelines, disclosure, all these things." Really taking time to look through that. Taking time to really look through the brand - the website, social pages, past PR articles - to really get a feel of what it is, and ask a lot of questions so they're not coming up as the partnership is already launched.
Jon: Do you find that for most influencers: do they act, or are they passive?
Ashley: It's a mix. It's getting better, I'd say, especially because a lot of influencers - most of them - have managers and publicists. They have organizations that help work through a lot of these elements where I'd say probably three years ago, more than 50% were working for themselves.
Jon: On their own.
Ashley: Exactly. Which has again, it's own set of positives and negatives. So I'd say it's getting better. I also think really thinking through if you're hiring an influencer as a content creator to really look at a brand's social media page and really envision, is this content that I'm going to give you, Could this match?
Jon: Is it consistent?
Ashley: Is it consistent? Exactly right, yeah.
Jon: What about follow through? Back to the old school show up on time, do what you say you're going to do. How important is that for an influencer?
Ashley: Hugely important. Hugely. Because at the end of the day, influences are people. And I like to think of this really as a talent agency model. We're working with the person and we're hiring you for your content. But oftentimes we're hiring influencers to come to an event, or come Dj at a hotel, or come open a restaurant. And so that in-person element is really important. And so I think at the very least a level of professionalism, punctuality, those are all really important, especially when you're working with more luxury brands. You know, I can't speak to maybe some mass consumer, if you're only doing a YouTube video, but you're never showing up on set. But if you have any kind of facetime with the client or with any kind of teams, it's really important. Because that's another piece that we look for. And we always say, at the end of the day when we debrief from a project, "how was that influencer as a person, working with them? Do they amplify our brand and are they someone that we really want to move forward with?"
Jon: That's a great segue: when you're done with a project, what debriefing do you do?
Ashley: We do a few. Internally, we debrief. We kind of go through all the different elements. What was the content like? Did they follow everything in the creative brief? Were they on time? Are the assets what we were looking for? We then also debrief with our clients. So we'll prepare a campaign report and making sure that at the beginning what were we trying to do? Did we hit it and if not, what can we learn next time? And then we like to debrief with the influencers. We like to talk to them and be like, "what was your experience? Could we have done anything better? Could you have done anything better?" So there's almost a three pronged approach and that is really important because again, a lot of times we're working multiple times with the same influencer. And so that relationship and that transparency is really important.
Jon: The old "know, like, and trust.
Jon: How do you identify new talent?
Ashley: So, you know, we partner with a lot of different influencer management agencies across the United States, in LA and New York. And so they're always sending us new emerging talent. So we'll vet those. Oftentimes our influencers will actually send us their friends to vet as well. So when we vet, there's probably 20 different elements that we get into. Everything from followers, authenticity of followers, engagement. What type of content? What are your comments looking like? What type of people are commenting?
Jon: So brands actually read that?
Ashley: Oh, everything. Yeah. So when we get that, "well who were you looking for?" It's a very scientific approach and we spend a lot of time making sure. We also use our tool Tagger to make sure that the influencers' audiences are who we're looking to target. Because oftentimes you'll have a great person, you run them through and you find out that 90% of their audience is based in Brazil, which could be fine if you're working with a Brazilian company, right. But when I'm trying to drive for something in LA, that isn't a good fit.
Jon: To a bagel shop in West LA.
Ashley: Totally, right? Or if their audience is 18 and younger and we're trying to do a luxury hotel, that doesn't work. So a lot of nuances. Are they open to - oftentimes exclusivity is a big issue. So a lot of our clients don't want to have an influencer stay at a property or endorse a brand and then go and in two weeks turn around at the competitor. So are they open to exclusivity? Lots of different elements go into that.
Jon: What are some of the greatest challenges you've faced in working with influencers?
Ashley: I think one of the largest challenges is, when you're working with a lot of very established brands as we talked about before, there's brand guidelines. At the end of the day we can get away with a little bit of wiggle room, but we have to adhere to. And influencers, at their core, are creative. They want to be collaborative and oftentimes we can try as best to meet them in the middle. But at the end of the day, we need the content to comply with the brand standards on message. And so the challenge can often be, they can try and do that to the best of their ability, but where's that fine line where we can then use the content or use the messaging? So I'd say that's always a challenge. We've gotten better at that by doing a lot of these creative briefs. There's a lot of calls before the partnership to make sure that we're really working with them on that. But again, they're people and they're creative, and so you always have that level of x-factor, I'd say.
Jon: I want to completely shift gears.
Jon: You've been a guest lecturer at USC.
Ashley: I have.
Jon: Tell Me about that.
Ashley: So USC, they're awesome. They're pioneering one of the first influencer marketing classes. And so I was invited to be a guest lecturer for one of their Tuesday night classes on kind of the whole wild world of influencers. So as we're talking about vetting influencers, what goes into a successful campaign? How was the influencer landscape shifted? And the students were awesome. They were so engaged. Everyone was asking questions. Brilliant group of students. I was really impressed. So it was really fun.
Jon: And you're also coauthoring a book.
Ashley: I am. So with the same professor, we're now coauthoring a book on influencer marketing. Because you know, us in the brand world, this has been going on for a while, but in the larger kind of marketing educational world --
Jon: There's very little out there.
Ashley: Very little out there. There's some books in different countries and different languages. There's a few in the US, but we're really trying to have a book that you can use in either undergrad or graduate programs. And then also potentially the brands can use to help educate, because education is such a huge piece in this still. So we're working with the professor, a few researchers, and then there's going to be four or five of us, kind of more brand "experts" That are going to come on board. And really dig into this topic from a sociological, psychological insights and then kind of campaign-based approach.
Jon: And is there a target date for the publishing of this book?
Ashley: TBD. I'll let you know. We're working through all that. As soon as I have any public facing information, I will let you know.
Jon: And you are preparing to give a TEDx talk?
Ashley: I am, yeah.
Jon: On what subject?
Ashley: So this is kind of a big pivot from that, but in November, I want to do and I'm planning to do a TEDx talk on spiritualizing the corporate world.
Jon: Which is a great segue to your Instagram account. You are on Instagram.
Ashley: I am.
Jon: We talked about this before, but you have a unique way of using Instagram. How do you use it?
Ashley: Yeah, so I really use Instagram for inspiration. A big focus of my life - personal, but now really it's part of my corporate life - is mindfulness and meditation and really bringing in a lot of these principles to enhance my concentration, my peace of mind, how I mentor, how I coach. And so I use my Instagram to really help influence in that way. Rather than kind of a, "here's what I'm doing," it's "here's maybe a message that might resonate," or "here's something I do with my team that I feel has been really effective."
Jon: And then when it comes to followers, people you follow, what's your method?
Ashley: Only inspirational accounts and then a few nonprofits that I work with. But about a year ago, I went and kind of - and sorry for any of my friends out there but just kind of - stopped really following anyone else. So it wasn't personal, not personal at all, you know, but I just find there is that kind of addictive nature. And I was finding myself kind of going down that path of comparative and what's everyone else doing. And it was messing with my mind a little bit. So I just decided in one fell swoop, I'm not going to deal with this. So now when I log on, I have probably about 300 different accounts of just fun mantras or quotes or people that I respect and what are they saying and what's a little tidbit that I can then take into my day?
Jon: On one of your posts, you mentioned unplug meditation. What is that?
Ashley: So they're a great meditation center in Brentwood, and then they just opened a location, I believe, in West Hollywood. And from what I know, they're one of the first meditation centers in Los Angeles. Now there's quite a few more. So you have Den Meditation, Ceremony Meditation, there's a great one in New York, Mindful Meditation. It's wonderful. You get a lot of people to come in. They have classes throughout the day, and they have for the professional world 30 minute lunch drop-ins, and you go in and they have a variety of teachers speaking about how to decompress or how to work with anxiety or visualization. So I'm a huge fan. I frequent those a lot.
Jon: One of the posts on Instagram was "what if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones?" I saw that and I thought, "that's a great quote."
Ashley: Yes. And I think about that a lot. I see in myself and I get exhausted and tired and I feel like I'm spinning. It's a big alert to pause and work on myself to get grounded. Because I'm giving so much everyday to the management team and my clients and my team, not to say my family and my friends and my volunteering, and everything else that I'm doing. It's easy to get depleted and you cannot give what you do not have at the end of the day. And so it's really important to have that self awareness to pause, recharge, and then to give back.
Jon: Tell me about your mindfulness practice.
Ashley: So there's a few different techniques that I use. I think the best thing about mindfulness is that, at its core, it's really non-judgmental awareness. So it's really a way of approaching your thoughts. And when I'm feeling myself spinning and getting exhausted and anxious, it's not judging it and being like, "oh Ashley, why can't you handle this day?" Or, "what's going on?" It's, "hey, this is a passing emotion. I'm detached from it. I am not this thought or emotion. How can I give myself grace as I'm passing through it?" So it's first the awareness of what's going on, detangling from the thought or emotion, and then doing a practice - either a breathing or a visualization - to help kind of calm the mind and the nervous system.
Jon: How often do you do this?
Ashley: On multiple times every day.
Jon: Do you do formal meditation where you sit quietly?
Ashley: I do. I do 20 minutes every morning before I go to work and it's a routine. People say, you know the apps that I love the apps, but it's five minutes. It's easy. It is not easy. Sitting there for 20 minutes is one of the hardest things that I do every single day. And the amount of excuses that I have, "oh no, I should check my email or take the dog for a walk." I literally have to force myself to sit down and I kind of think about it when you're running and the first mile is just brutal, right?
Jon: Until you finally get going.
Ashley: And you're like, "just why?" And you're just like, "ugh." But after the first mile you kind of dip into this rhythm and this calmness. And so whenever I'm teaching it's like "don't expect the first 30 seconds to be like some big," I mean it could be, but it's really about endurance, consistency, and practice.
Jon: Has it ever been? Because the first 30 seconds, the first minute --
Ashley: I probably have one out of 25 sessions where I can drop quickly into it, but that really is probably after a day of calm and warm up. Cause it takes a while for your body. You kind of wake up with all these to do lists. And so you know your body, it's kind of a machine, it's a living organism. And so you need to give yourself space to kind of like let the dust settle and then you can move into whatever practice you want to do.
Jon: So if somebody wanted to start. What advice would you give for someone who wants to start meditation?
Ashley: I'd say first, really think about what are you trying to get out of it, because there's so many different reasons that you can do this. Are you trying to reconnect with yourself? Are you trying to get rid of anxiety? Are you noticing that your heart's racing and you want to do this for a physical practice? Is there some larger spiritual or existential element that you want to do for it? And after that, I would just recommend starting with every morning or every evening just as you would do brushing your teeth, right? Sitting in a quiet space for three minutes and just watching where your mind goes and being acutely aware of every time your mind starts moving. I like to say it's almost like a leaf falling off the tree. Watching that thought and watching it move out of yourself and coming back to yourself. And when people talk about coming back to your breath, it's because it's a nonstop anchor. And so you pause, you come back and just watch. And just get to know yourself. It's like you're a scientist and you're digging into yourself.
Jon: Is yours a breath practice or a mantra practice?
Ashley: Mine's a mantra practice. Yes.
Jon: Does the mantra change daily, or do you have the same mantra?
Ashley: Same every day.
Jon: How did you pick it?
Ashley: So I actually go to the Lake Shrine. It's a part of Self Realization Fellowship. And so I have my mantra through that organization. So I'm a student of that organization. But you know, I would say there's so many different mantras and I don't know if it really matters what you're doing. I think that the goal is to have the intention to pause and to kind of disassociate with your thoughts and your emotions and to get to kind of renew yourself and quiet yourself
Jon: Instagram just announced a week or two ago that they're considering getting rid of public tracking of likes.
Jon: What's your take on that?
Ashley: Honestly I think for the human psyche, I think it's really positive. There's a lot of research that has been coming out over the past year or two about just kind of the negative effects of the likes and how they'll withhold the likes to see all of it. There's a lot of kind of addictive qualities in that. However, from a brand perspective I would say, "Oh my God, what are we going to do about that? Oh No." Because we've all been working for so long to try and showcase to our clients that it's not about the followers as much as it is about the engagement. And that's such a key KPI, key performance indicator, that we use for success. And so I think if that goes away, we're going to really have to kind of reframe what our conversation is.
Jon: Well there's some debate. I've been trying to find through the literature that Instagram is putting out, and you can't, will the influencer or the actual user, be able to track their own likes, It just won't be public?
Ashley: Correct. Yeah. And I believe there are Beta testing it in Canada right now, so it'll be interesting to see if and how that would roll out to this market. Again, because from an advertiser perspective, it's so much based on that, but I think we're going to have to see.
Jon: Have you done any research or have you seen any research on how many people like things just because they have a lot of likes. You're scrolling through, and "Oh, Kim Kardashian has a million likes. I should like it too." Versus you're scrolling through and somebody has two likes?
Ashley: I can't say that I can cite any specific research, but I think that's a phenomenon. And it's when you're walking down the street and one restaurant's full and the other restaurant is empty, why do you want to go to the full restaurant? It's the power in numbers. Right. And so I definitely say that that's kind of a human truth that is transposed onto social media.
Jon: Right in front of us, though.
Ashley: Exactly. Yeah.
Jon: Again, shifting gears a little bit, how do you keep up with what's going on?
Ashley: So I'm on a lot of different blogs and websites every day, always checking. We also have an internal email that we send around to every week to the agency. But I'm always looking at Social Media Today, Ad Age, Fast Company, Digiday, the blogs of Facebook and Instagram. One caveat, too, also follow influencers because I need to be seeing what they're doing. So I just kind of watch trends of content, whatnot. And then the news in general. There's a lot of fun, trending, we call it "agility," moments. Things that are going on out in the world that we want to keep our eye on for clients. Like the Royal Baby: how do we want to plug in from a brand perspective.
Jon: Well, that's important.
Ashley: Totally. Yeah. So I'd say that it's a mix of all that, but staying on top of that is really important because I think for our clients, when they hire us, it's our job to sift through the thousands of updates and let them know, "what do you need to pay attention to? What do you not?" So yeah, it's definitely something that if you're going to be working in this space, it's everyone's, I believe, responsibility to be diving into that on a daily basis.
Jon: Okay. I want to shift to the personal Ashley as opposed to the professional.
Jon: So what question do you ask to find out the most about a person. You just met somebody, what question would you ask?
Ashley: "What is something in your life that you truly value?"
Jon: What is something in your life that you truly value? I'm throwing the question right back to you.
Ashley: Every day, my thought is before I go to work or before I go into my day, I am here to serve to the best of my ability. So what do I value? I value my self-care, my self-boundaries, so I can be my best self to serve others. Because I really do think one of the best ways that you can receive joy is to give joy. And I really try to act as an ambassador of change and inspiration every day. That's not to say I do in any way, but I value that commitment and I value that kind of lens that I try and calibrate all my decisions through.
Jon: What's your guilty pleasure?
Ashley: My guilty pleasure. I don't know. If I could just go to yoga every day. If I could go to four yoga classes in one day, that would be fantastic.
Jon: What's your favorite kind of Yoga?
Ashley: Vinyasa flow. Yeah, I love it.
Jon: Where do you go?
Ashley: I go to a bunch of places.
Jon: My place is closing, Santa Monica Power Yoga.
Ashley: I heard about that, Bryan Kest.
Ashley: Yeah, I know.
Jon: At the end of the month. Now I've got to find a new yoga place.
Ashley: Yoga Hop on Montana is great. Matthew Reyes is a great teacher. Yoga Loft in Manhattan Beach is fantastic. Lane Jaffe is a great teacher there. As I Am, in Brentwood, I loved but they're closing next week. And then Yoga Collective in Venice is wonderful. So whenever I can jump to a class again, part of my personal practice, that's really great because you get the mental and you get the physical effects and just kind of an hour and a half to just release. Yeah.
Jon: What TV channel doesn't exist, but should?
Ashley: One of my favorite podcasts is Oprah's Super Soul Sundays. She just interviews amazing, inspirational leaders, and I'd love to see that. I don't know, maybe this is on TV. I know that she has her interviews, but I'd love to just see her--
Jon: I think it might be.
Ashley: But I want to see the people that she's interviewing and I'd love to see them speaking and their experiences, you know? And so I think something like that, or something kind of like TEDx. And I'd love to see those. Like Brené Brown, this new thing on Netflix I'm so excited about. I'd love to see more TV channels dedicated to this inspirational content.
Jon: What's your biggest pet peeve?
Ashley: Oh, that's a good question. My biggest pet peeve recently has been when you ask people, and I do this myself, "how are you?" And it's the, "I am so busy," or "can you do this please? I'm too busy." Because really, if you think about it, the subtext is "that's not a priority." And so I really try and encourage my team to kind of get that out of their vernacular - because there's a lot of kind of egoism and buisiness in that -and instead say, "hey, I can prioritize it now," or "that's not something I'm interested in."
Jon: What piece of entertainment do you wish you could erase from your mind so you could experience it again, for the first time?
Ashley: Probably different types of music. I'd say music is something that can kind of take you back. It's very inspiring and so different. Concerts or music, probably.
Jon: If you live in someone else's shoes for just one day, who would it be?
Ashley: We had this conversation around my dinner table the other night. That's a good question. Right now, I think this would change in an ongoing basis, but I would love to be in Brené Brown's shoes right now. I think she's amazing. Pioneer, she's a researcher. Comes from a very kind of technical background.
Jon: From Houston.
Ashley: From Houston, but has this wonderful message around vulnerability, and shame, and how can we help combine our self identification journey with our outward journey of being successful humans. And I love her just kind of Odyssey of going from that research, to on the TEDx stage, to how many millions of views, to now on Netflix. While still being a very - she's someone that you can really relate to. So I'd just love to be in her shoes to see what that journey looked like, and all the challenges and joys that she's gone through.
Jon: Back to work for just a second.
Jon: What you see as a trend for the next six to twelve months, in the social media field?
Ashley: Well, as of the last two weeks, they've been really talking about this huge pivot on social content from being very curated to much more organic. "Organic" meaning not as polished, as photo-shopped, as prescriptive. And I think that's going to have a huge effect if that continues to go.
Jon: But do you think people are really going to do that?
Ashley: You know, I do. I think a lot of social media plays into larger human truths and cultural phenomenon and I think we're seeing a lot more in terms of mental health awareness day or month, and vulnerability. There's a lot of this desire to kind of normalize.
Jon: To just be real.
Ashley: Yeah. And so I do think, because we're not only seeing it in social media. We're seeing it in music. The Ugly Dolls, this movie about not being perfect. I think when we're starting to see trends in entertainment, music, different societal pieces, you're definitely going to start seeing that on social media.
Jon: What do you see in the next year to two to three years? So a little further out.
Ashley: Short form content continuing to be shorter. I think we're seeing a lot of new production and content houses coming up. This long form video is so expensive to make for social media. Live video is continuing to be important. So how can we really play with these different content formats as not only the platforms are changing but the user is changing? They just had this great piece of research, the average length of concentration has gone from twelve seconds to eight seconds now, eight or nine seconds.
Jon: And they have an app for that now.
Ashley: Yeah, it's crazy. So people don't have the concentration in their head anymore. So how can you make sure that you're hitting - we count a view in three seconds, but how do we make sure people are watching a full piece of content from beginning to end and still being engaged with it? And I think that there's going to be a lot of different companies, production houses, influencers, are going to be experimenting with that. Because that's a really hard thing to do.
Jon: One last question. How can people find you?
Ashley: How can you find me? You can go, I guess on my Instagram you can follow me. Which you'll be posting, I guess. And Yeah, if you want me, just email you, and you can feel free to email me with any questions. I'd love to be in touch with anyone.
Jon: Thank you. It's been great.
Ashley: Thank you.
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