This is an archived blog from when I ran Conscious Public Relations Inc. from 2008-2018. Excuse the potential outdated-ness!

A lesson learned from Lord & Taylor’s influencer campaign

First of all, I’ll disclose that we’ve never run a paid influencer campaign for a client before. So this isn’t an experience we have firsthand, but one that is fresh given that our world now includes two elements that haven’t traditionally been a part of public relations: Influencers, and paid arrangements.

Not limited to online, it’s not unusual anymore for media outlets and influencers (individuals with a high number of followers on social media and large audiences) to charge for posts, which may or may not include social media. I started a LinkedIn Group discussion last month with members of the Canadian Public Relations Society when I balked at a print outlet asking for advertisements in exchange for editorial, and they all seemed to agree that consumer marketing clients can no longer rely solely on editorial pitches to secure coverage.

In Canada, the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards‘ second clause states that “no advertisement shall be presented in a format or style that conceals its commercial intent.” Paying influencers is very similar to buying an ad, and that code should still apply.

Conscious PR Lord & Taylor Disclosure AdWeek.comPhoto:

American department store Lord & Taylor was under fire for not disclosing the fact that they paid for an online article (often called a “Sponsored Post”) on as well as 50 fashion influencers (approximately $4000 each, no less) to post photos wearing the dress above on the same day. You might remember this campaign from last year.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) made an inquiry into the matter and despite the fact that Lord & Taylor said they never intended to deceive customers, they finally settled the charges with the FTC. (See related article on If they misrepresent paid marketing efforts again, they could pay penalties in future. While not all investigations are made so public, this was one of the cases where it was probably best to set an example for the rest of the corporate marketing teams out there.

Though I disagree with the fact that the influencers had to post on the same day because it just looks so obvious, it worked. Paying influencers and media outlets for coverage was not the issue here; it was not ensuring that disclosure was in place with the outlets and partners. In print, this is obvious when you see “Advertorial” or “Sponsored Content” written at the top of the page. For online, “Sponsored Post” is the norm, and for Instagram, using the hashtags #ad or #sponsored is an easy way to have influencers disclose the agreement. I honestly can’t believe that this omission slipped under Lord & Taylor’s radar before it was executed.

Last week I heard the Editor-in-Chief of DailyHive Farhan Mohamed speak on a panel about objective journalism and whether it exists. I appreciated his transparency about accepting sponsored content offers and he said that they always make sure that the audiences of their clients are aligned with DH’s readership. After all, it’s the paid content that pays for staff.

The next time – or perhaps the first time – you’re executing an influencer or any type of paid campaign, make sure that disclosure & transparency is part of the strategy. As Hoggan preaches: Do the Right Thing and Be Seen to Do the Right Thing. Don’t get ’em mixed up.

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