Adesuwa Ajayi is the founder of Influencer Pay Gap and multidisciplinary creative with over 10 years of experience across the creative industry. Recognised by Business Insider on the 2020’s Doer’s list, Adesuwa has worked across an array of niches, including editorial, events, entertainment, influencer management and more.
Influencer Pay Gap is a platform I set up to address the disparities in pay between black and non-black influencers, creators and creatives.
Given my time in the space managing and working with creative talent across several verticals over the years, I felt very strongly that the creative industry as we knew it was broken and had been broken for a long while. Ironically, the industry was ever full of potential and rapidly growing, there was still a strong sense amongst fellow minorities in the space that it wasn’t a level playing field, with an overarching sense that so many people had succumbed to the idea that “it is what it is” after all that’s how it’s always been right?
At the time, I was working at the agency AGM Talent, run by my good friend Daniel Ayim, and I was working with the black talent on our roster. I felt that with everything going on around that time, it would be an excellent opportunity to spotlight the issues faced by black creators/black creatives and help bridge the gaps in knowledge/access to information.
After a conversation with Dan and a few others, Influencer Pay Gap was born, starting off as a space for those who didn’t necessarily have the luxury of a network of other creatives who were willing to speak openly and honestly about rates to see what others were earning across the space.
At the time, I would find that many creators would utilise outdated online calculators which failed to consider the intricacies and the variety of deliverables/possible partnerships out there.
I felt that the information publicly and readily available didn’t always account for the variety of demographics, experiences and niches in the space. So, I set out to ask people to anonymously submit their highest-paid gig rates alongside information such as race, gender, niche and more to help a little with benchmarking.
In just a few days, the page blew up! What was once a small page starting at 0 has now turned into an amazing community of over 60,000 creators, industry professionals, and creatives. We speak about everything from rates, reviews, industry perspectives, and more.
Despite taking a hiatus, the page has gone from strength to strength, growing by the thousands, with entries still coming through to this day.
The roadblocks to fair influencer marketing
To me, the issue is undoubtedly multi-faceted and takes on different forms depending on where you are and what you’re talking about. However, there are common themes across the board that do come to light time and time again.
One major issue at the time, which is slowly beginning to change, is the lack of transparency across the industry on both sides. Companies haven’t always done a great job at facilitating a workable pipeline for creators to feedback experiences and feel heard, and as a result, many creators believe being vocal may cost them future or current work; effectively being scared of being blackballed, where you have fear you have slow progress.
Data also felt one-sided; some of the core information creators needed to understand in detail the value they bring to partnering brands wasn’t always readily accessible.
Racism, biases whatever way people wish to spin it, definitely plays a role; the constant erasure and unwillingness to advance black creative talent beyond a certain point remain an issue. Black creatives often feel as if they do not belong or are worth less than their white counterparts, despite their continuous contribution to the arts, social media and social trends.
Another area was benchmarking; there is little regulation that protects creators. The perception of this space as anything other than a viable career path leaves many creators vulnerable to industry-wide abuses.
On the flip side, you have the issue of who has access to the core information that will help creators on their journeys; objectively, that kind of information has either been in-house or spread via word of mouth.
But if you don’t have the luxury of reliable sources, then you’re pretty much winging it. The over-saturation of inaccurate advice online only makes it all the more difficult to determine worth.
Lastly, I quickly noticed the considerable gaps in knowledge and confidence in negotiating ones worth. Through running the page and also through my time in the space, I realised that irrespective of reach, or platform size, there were gaps in knowledge and a clear hesitance around demanding ones worth across the board on the creator side, of course, with exceptions.
Usually, the presumption is that only micro-influencers, new creators/creatives struggle, but that’s not always the case. Unfortunately, people of all levels of influence or expertise face setbacks in the space, and it can often be multi-layered.
How to deal with a difficult deal
If you believe you have done all you can to professionally communicate the value of your platform, time and offering, then make peace with saying no. Oftentimes free opportunities invite more free opportunities
When it comes to paying on time, there’s a recent rise in tech-enabled invoicing platforms solving this problem as of late. It would be worth searching for platforms both locally and internationally that speed up the payment process and offer immediate compensation, some free, some taking a low percentage.
Despite that, if that isn’t accessible to you, refer to the guidelines in your country. But as a rule of thumb, flag it up professionally through the appropriate channels, usually email, state that payment is overdue, including all relevant documentation. If your country-specific guidelines or regulations permit, as it does differ depending on where you are, then you may be allowed to charge a late fee.
In future, always read your contracts and ensure there are stipulations for lateness; contracts aren’t only there to protect the company, they’re there to protect you.
Three things we can do to campaign for a more transparent industry
I believe my work towards further transparency in the industry didn’t start when I created the page.
Having been in the creative industry for over ten years and witnessing first-hand its problems, it’s evident to me that everyone has a role to play, although having said that, others can do a lot more with the privileges or access they are afforded.
One of the ways I’ve personally worked towards that goal over the years has been through the consistent ways I’ve used my access, knowledge or network to support, amplify and assist in the progression of creatives, influencers and creators, advocating for them any chance I get. Those who know me will tell you that I’ve always been vocal about the plight of creatives and the changes needed in the industry.
Beyond the page, I’d say the efforts towards transparency and change that occur behind the scenes are most precious to me.
The wins that come from seeing a black creator get their first major deal or seeing them work through their anxiety to finally feel emboldened and encouraged to keep walking in their purpose means a lot to me. The ripple effect that comes from seeing creators empower one another by paying it forward is also a by-product of the time spent engaging and re-educating where necessary.
Working with organisations to foster further opportunities for creatives worldwide, amplifying others in the space who are working towards the same goal and opening doors for creators who otherwise wouldn’t have access are all things we can work towards.
I’ve had industry professionals reach out to me, saying my platform has inspired them to create a council or committee in their country, which blows my mind. On the flip-side, seeing the endless messages from creators thankful that a platform like mine exists lets me know that I’m helping in some way.
I guess another thing I do to encourage transparency is to cut through the crap.
I think we’re in a time where many people who could do a lot more hide behind the words “let’s have the conversation”, almost as a way not actually to do anything?
People will “let’s have the conversation” you to death and still do nothing tangible; I’m always readily available to nip that right in the bud, haha.
The future of the influencer marketing industry
If 2020 taught us anything, anything can happen, but my answer would be individual sustainability for creators.
Creators want to know how they can thrive independent of the traditional channels or partnership, not to eliminate existing options but to foster more financially stable opportunities that afford them better capacity to monetise their influence across the space. We will see further advancements in technology to help them do just that, as we’re seeing the millions being invested into the creator economy as we speak.
You can find out more about the Influencer Pay Gap on social media.
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Adesuwa Ajayi is the founder of Influencer Pay Gap and multidisciplinary creative with over 10 years experience across the creative industry. Recognised by Business Insider on the 2020’s Doer’s list, Adesuwa has worked across an array of niches, editorial, events, entertainment, influencer management and more, most recently as former Senior Brand and Partnerships at a UK based talent agency where talent on her roster have worked with a range of global brands. With a longstanding passion for creatives, Adesuwa seeks to further widen opportunities for creatives and talent alike.