Nicholas Reichenbach may have been the only person in North America who hadn’t heard of Josh Donaldson when his agent called the Canadian entrepreneur last year. “I don’t follow baseball—I go to a Jays game once in a year,” admits Reichenbach, founder and CEO of Flow Water Inc. “I had to Google his name at the same time as I was talking to her, because I didn’t know who he was.”
Donaldson’s representative was calling because the Blue Jays’ third baseman had discovered Flow in the clubhouse, and wanted to get some more. Reichenbach was happy to oblige. After Donaldson helped the Blue Jays through the playoffs and won the National League MVP award, his agent got in touch again: The slugger wanted to work with Flow.
The company bottles water from the Reichenbach family’s artesian springs in southwestern Ontario. Though it only launched last May, Flow already has a retail presence in 3,000 grocery chain and independent stores across Canada. Reichenbach says the rate at which customers are likely to make repeat purchases of his product after buying their first bottle rivals that of far more established brands like Fiji.
This year, Flow launched a spring-summer advertising campaign prominently featuring Donaldson. “We have a series of videos going out across all of our social channels this summer, [and] a huge [point-of-sale] campaign that’s going through all of our retail locations across Canada,” explains Reichenbach. And once the playoffs begin, Flow will run ticket giveaways and other contests.
Thank goodness for Google. Here are TK things Reichenbach says companies need to know about working with influencers to promote their brands.
1. Make a genuine connection
The best influencer-brand partnerships involve real, mutual admiration. “If they like your product and you see them using [it], it’s a lot easier to engage with an influencer or a celebrity,” says Reichenbach.
You want the person shilling for your brand to be a genuine product advocate, not just someone who’s just taking your money to say what you want them to. In Flow’s case, Reichenbach could be sure that Donaldson was genuinely interested because the player approached the brand first, and as a user of the product. “He has lots of opportunities from lots of other companies, but he wants to work with Flow,” Reichenbach says Donaldson’s agent told him.
Of course, moments like these are relatively rare—most companies don’t have celebrities competing to work with them. Reichenbach says if you can’t find an influencer who’s already a user but you identify one you think would be a good fit for your brand, it’s important to pitch them on the product, not the deal. “Tell them about your product, the vision, why you created it,” he advises. “Don’t make it about money, because ¦ [agents] are masters at getting the most amount of money for their client.”
2. Build an ongoing relationship
The relationship between you and your influencer needs to be more than just client and service provider. “I think a great brand partnership is about what a person wants to do, not what you can get them to do,” says Reichenbach.
With Donaldson, Reichenbach laid out his vision, but solicited the player’s input as well. “I want to make Josh look like David Beckham in a campaign,” he told the agent. He suggested using a fashion photographer to shoot Donaldson in training. The player agreed to the plan, but he had one condition: No personal appearances during the season. “I could have said, Well, we need a personal appearance,’ and offered them more money,” says Reichenbach. “But that wouldn’t have been what Josh wanted to do with his brand.”
The understanding between influencer and company meant that when Flow asked for something not on the original agenda, Donaldson was happy to comply. Flow’s creative director suggested the player take photos or videos of himself in the flow,’ in the batting cage, playing ping-pong and so on. It wasn’t in the contract, but Donaldson agreed.
3. Set the terms
Reichenbach has plenty of experience negotiating with influencers and well-recognized brands thanks to another of his companies, Magmic Games. “I’ve done well over a thousand licensing deals with celebrities, actors, [and] movie titles,” he says, naming names like Indiana Jones and Star Wars.
All that experience with rights management have taught Reichenbach how important it is to set out the terms of the deal as clearly as possible. Map out all the things you want your influencer to do, all the assets that will be produced, and where those will be used—on retail displays, social media, television ads, and so on. “That’s actually a very hard thing to put together,” Reichenbach warns.
4. Use your assets wisely
Finding and signing up an celebrity is only the beginning. You also need to pick a creative direction, match your brand with your influencer’s, and make sure the output reflects your joint message. Reichenbach suggests bringing in a creative agency to coordinate all this activity.
“[It takes] hundreds of hours to make it successful,” warns Reichenbach. Flow, for example, had to get the assets it created into thousands of stores. “It has been immense but very rewarding and very successful.”