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Red Flags to Look Out for When Working With Brands

September 28, 2022

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There are definitely red flags that you should be keeping an eye out for when doing brand collaborations.

While some brands simply don’t know better and are learning through Influencer Marketing, there are others who are preying on uneducated creators because they want to take advantage of you.

So, if you’re an Influencer or want to be an Influencer, these are the things that you should be cautious of or run away from.

3 Red Flags to Be on the Lookout For

I’ve been pitched to by thousands of brands (yes thousands, I’ve gone back to check). In my 5 years of working with brands, I’ve made mistakes and been burned a few times.

I NEVER want that to happen to you.

Here’s a list of what to keep an eye out for:

Red Flag 1: Spelling

Whether the brand reaches out to you through DMs or email, if their spelling is all over the place, that can be a red flag.

Before, I never understood why spelling mistakes and grammatical errors could be red flags. But I’ve noticed that spelling mistakes could indicate a language barrier, which can make working together more complicated.

I’ve tried looking past this before with a particular brand, but the language barrier ended up being a huge issue on the backend. There was miscommunication on the deliverables and I ended up having to reshoot the content five times with a lot of back and forth.

While a language barrier doesn’t indicate a scam, it’s still something to be aware of in case you’re not prepared for dealing with miscommunication. If that’s something you’re okay with or if you have a multi-lingual member on your team, then use your own discretion with moving forward.

And make sure they don’t also fall under any of the other red flags.

Red Flag 2: Look at Email Addresses

One time I got a pitch from “Anthropology” (or so they said) saying they wanted to work together, but when checking the email address, it was from “@gmail.com”.

If it was really Anthropology, it would’ve said “@anthropology.com”.

So, if you’re getting pitched to by businesses and you can’t tell if they’re legit or not, always check their email address.


Sometimes smaller businesses and startups use @gmail or @yahoo, but I’m talking about big-name brands.

Red Flag 3: Not Able to Link to Their Website or Socials

If they’re not willing to brag about their business and confidently link to themselves, then they might have something to hide.

When someone emails you saying, “Hi Millie, this is Alex from SpreadShop, I’d love to work with you,” their brand name should be hyperlinked back to their website!

Also, their email signature should link to their website or their socials.

If you have to go out of your way to find that company and what they’re about, that’s most likely a red flag.

Red Flag 4: “Ambassadorships” or Other “Opportunities”

If a brand if requiring you to spend anything out of pocket without them compensating for your investment, you’re not an ambassador, brand rep, or partner. You’re a customer.

Yes, there are a lot of ways to partner with brands. You can absolutely do partnerships like this.

There are even instances where you may need to pay something out of pocket, like if the brand sells on Amazon or if they can’t initially cover shipping and handling. You can do those, as long as they’ve made it clear that you will be reimbursed.

But 99.99% of the time when a brand wants you to be an “ambassador” and hands you a discount code for you to buy stuff, that’s a huge red flag. You’re just a customer to them. Not an equal.

There has to be an equal benefit on both sides for it to be a partnership.

Red Flag 5: “DM to Collab” Comments

They don’t want to collab. It’s a bot.

Don’t DM them, it’s a waste of time. That’s all I’m going to say.

Red Flag 6: Accounts Reaching Out on Behalf of Bigger Name Brands

If you ever get a DM from an account saying they’re reaching out to you on behalf of a large brand like Anthropology or Starbucks, stay away.

Most of the time, that account is private and it’s some random person, completely unaffiliated with the brand they claim to represent.

Don’t even entertain these, they’re just a waste of time. It’s not just a red flag, it’s like 3 red flags.

Red Flag 7: Unwilling to Sign a Contract

No matter what the agreement of a partnership entails, always sign a contract!

If a brand is unwilling to sign a contract, RUN AWAY!

Contracts are great for protecting you and the brand. Brands should be willing to sign a contract as long as nothing shady is going on.

It’s a great way of ensuring the brand isn’t using you.

When I was originally starting, I didn’t use contracts for free stuff. I just figured they’re gifting me products, it’s not money, so I don’t need a contract! But it’s still important to protect yourself.

What I’ve found is even with free partnerships, some brands will milk as much as they can out of you, even if you didn’t originally agree to it initially.

For example, let’s say I agreed to partner with a brand to use their product for free and all they said I had to do was leave a review… and we didn’t sign a contract.

After they send their product, I leave a review, then say reach back out and say, “Actually, we wanted to leave the review on your Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube…” But they didn’t initially say that.

This can lead to a lot of back and forth where they try to milk what they can out of you because they’re thinking, “We already gave you our product for free, you need to do what we say now.”

Nope!

You don’t need to do anything for anybody. What you need to do is sign a contract.

Red Flag 8: Strict Posting Guidelines or No Creative Freedom

I know if a legit brand is wanting to work with you and pay you legit money, it can be tempting.

But if they’re being really strict about what you say, they give you a script of what you have to say, or they tell you how you have to pose in your photo… hard pass.

The reason brands should be reaching out to you is because of what you’re already doing.

They should be thinking, “This person would be a great voice for us!” Not, “Our voice would be great from this person!”

They should trust that you know how to talk to your audience better than they do.

This happened to me when a brand told me how to pose and what to say in my videos and my audience was able to sniff it out immediately. They knew it was a toneless ad and that content completely tanked.

Just be upfront and tell the brand in your own way that the content won’t perform well if you do exactly what they’re asking. Stand up for yourself and your audience.

Of course, it’s normal for brands to give you talking points and campaign briefs, but if they’re trying to take full creative control, just pass.

Red Flag 9: “Perpetuity” in Contract

If you’ve been able to go through the whole collaboration process seamlessly without noticing any red flags, don’t just sign the contract right away.

Always always always read the contract before signing! If you see the word “perpetuity” in the contract, that’s a red flag.

What is perpetuity?

Perpetuity basically means forever.

Oftentimes, this will be in the contract when the brand is talking about usage rights and their ownership to the content you’re creating for them.

So it could say something like, “we own your sponsored segment/content in perpetuity,” which means they own that segment or content… forever!

They could do whatever they want to it, whenever they want, for however long they want to. Basically, they own your face forever.

No content creator should be giving their face up to another company. This could hurt you with future partnerships.

Let’s say you give Starbucks the right to use the content you made in perpetuity. But three years later, you now have over 10 million followers and Dunkin’ Donuts wants to sign a $100k deal with you.

Oh wait, but they see that ad you made for Starbucks three years ago and now think you’re partnering with their competition and don’t want to partner anymore.

Ouch.

Even if you have 100 followers now and giving perpetuity rights may not seem like that big a deal, but you never know when your brand will take off!

So just stay away from that word and tell them to take it out of their contract. If you want to keep the perpetuity rights, they better be paying you for that. Either with a portion of the revenue they make from the content each time they post it or a lot of money upfront.

Tips for Avoiding Red Flags

There are things you can do to avoid red flags and scams. Here are three of them:

Direct Brands to Your Email

As a general tip, if anyone reaches out to you via DM, always direct them to your inbox.

You can say something like,

“Yes, I’d love to partner with you! I manage all of my collaborations through email, please email me here [insert email].”

Easy as that.

If a brand isn’t willing to email you, that could be a red flag.

It’s important to have documentation of your conversations with a brand. On Instagram, you’re able to unsend messages.

So if you communicate with a brand on Instagram and they say, “Yea, we’ll pay you!” but after the collab, they can unsend that message and claim they never said they’d pay you.

Now, I’m not saying this happens every time a brand prefers Instagram as their main way of communicating, but I’m saying it’s a possibility. To further protect yourself and your business, it’s better for you to handle everything via email.

Keep Track of Brands You Don’t Want to Work With

If you plan on being in the Influencer space for the long haul, you will get thousands of DMs and emails from brands wanting to work together.

A majority of those won’t go anywhere. That could be because some are blatant spam or some just don’t make sense for your audience.

Then there will be brands that make sense on paper but end up not being a good fit for one reason or another.

If there are brands you end up having a negative experience with, keep track of them.

If you use project management tools like Trello or ClickUp, make notes or cards to remind you that you don’t ever want to work with this brand and the reason why.

As I said, if you’re in this for the long haul, there’s a chance you may forget you ever interacted with this brand. Or maybe years down the road, they reach out again but it’s a different rep and they’ve changed the way they do Influencer Marketing. Then you can refer back to your notes to confirm things are different this time.

These notes could even be helpful if you hire someone to manage your collaborations. That way, they know whose emails to ignore or turn down.

That will help avoid headaches and wasting time.

Do Your Own Outreach

The best way to control what brands you partner with is to reach out to them yourself!

I know it can be very daunting, especially if you’re just starting out, and that’s totally fine. That’s to be expected.

If you need help or some pointers along the way, I have plenty of resources for you. Download my free outreach templates for ideas of what to say, or check out my blog post on how to pitch to brands for collaborations.

If you still have questions, ask away in the comments of this post! I’m happy to help in any way I can.

Follow your joy!

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