You may not think someone in finance would make the switch to the influencer marketing world, but that’s exactly what Nicole Emerick did. Now, this banker-turned-blogger-turned-influencer-marketing-guru is the VP and director of social media and influencer marketing at the global advertising agency, FCB Chicago.
We sat down with Nicole to discuss her journey, how she chooses her influencers and the benefits of giving influencers creative freedom. So throw on those headphones, take a walk around the office (you know you want to!) and hit play to learn how you can make your influencer marketing strategy a little more human.
Interview with Nicole Emerick
Perlu: Hello and welcome to the Perlu Podcast, a podcast where we chat with influencer marketing professionals, social media influencers, bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters, you name it, about what has led to their success. I’m your host, Alexis Trammell, and today we have the pleasure of hearing from influencer marketer, Nicole Emerick.
As a recent college grad, Nicole kept hearing the same thing from women all around her, “Is this really it?” Like many other ambitious, yet unsatisfied young women, she started a blog without knowing anything about blogging. Nicole’s former blog, Ms. Career Girl, existed to help young women find out who they are, what they want and how to get there.
As her blog’s community grew, partnerships with large brands followed. Nicole realized social media would forever change business at large. Five years later, Nicole had a whole new career and sold her blog. Today, Nicole is VP and director of social media and influencer marketing at the global advertising agency, FCB Chicago. Nicole’s lifelong interest in psychology, entrepreneurship, and personal development paired with insights learned from working with the world’s biggest brands and influencers gives her a unique perspective on building impactful communications platforms. It’s so great to speak with you today, Nicole.
Nicole Emerick: Thank you so much for having me.
Perlu: Yeah, our pleasure! Way back when, you used to be in the banking industry and now you’re a pretty big deal in the influencer marketing community. What inspired you to make this switch?
N: Yeah, it’s crazy to think that I once did work at a literal bank. When I tell some of my colleagues that, or clients that now, they are scratching their head. I graduated with a finance degree thinking I would do something safe and secure that I could always support myself with. My dad recommended finance, tried to talk me out of doing marketing even though that’s where my heart was in high school.
I have no regrets about starting in finance, but it was a crazy journey. I was bored at work and I was not a very good banker either. I started a blog while I worked at the bank and that’s really what changed everything.
It was just a passion project and I wanted to talk to other women like me and give advice and solve problems for women that were in a similar situation. Over time I went from asking other bloggers for advice to bloggers and business owners asking me for advice. Eventually, I was recruited out of the bank and I took a chance and decided to dive into a whole new industry with really no experience other than writing my blog.
P: Wow. Wow, so impressive.
N: It was a crazy ride. For anyone thinking about switching career paths, took a couple of years to get through that transition and be back on my feet. But in the big scheme of a 40 plus year career, I think it was a really good move for me. If you’re thinking about it, could be a good move for anyone else on the verge there, but it definitely was a dip.
P: Yeah. What compelled you to start the influencer marketing practice at FCB, which is a large and historically traditional ad agency?
N: Well, my experience as a blogger was definitely the impetus. There’s also a gal I work with here who is an influencer in real life. Her name is Hyatt Rita. She’s a body positive blogger, a fabulous woman doing really great work on her personal platform. We got together and we’re just like, we need to do this here. Influencer marketing is modern media, is modern advertising.
We were seeing those budgets shifting away from things like TV into more emerging platforms. Social I think had been established for a while, but influencer marketing was a new way into social that allowed clients to get past some of the privacy concerns and just focusing their metrics on CPMs and impressions only and just go a lot deeper into the brand purpose and earning consumers trust. We just knew culturally and from a business perspective that the time was now to launch that practice.
We launched it a couple of years ago. I would say officially January, 2017. It’s been a wild ride, but we’re really proud of the work that we do and the point of view that we have. We’re a bit different than say a PR firm who’s thinking a lot about celebrities spokespeople who talk to the press, and a lot different than a media agency who may be buying influencer as a way to get more eyeballs through a mass briefing type of platform. We really go deep with our relationships and we try to go long-term as well. It’s been an awesome experience and just a really fun opportunity to engage with our clients and our colleagues here at the agency in a whole new way.
P: That’s great to hear that you are very interested in keeping your long term sustainable relationships with influencers. I’m curious, how do you sustain those?
N: Well, I think what’s neat is because we have just a small team of people with relationships with agents and then some talent, a lot of these people are in our phones now or we see them at events. So, if things go really well on one brand and they fit super well with another program, we’ll often try to partner with the same agencies and talent because we just really know them and we know their style.
Just keeping it one on one, and again going deeper with less people is how we’ve been able to try to make that happen. It doesn’t happen every time and sometimes it’s not even a good fit. But I think it’s just like any relationship, if you can nurture it over time and get one-on-one as much as possible, try to give those influencers the creative freedom that they need to be themselves, I think everybody wins.
P: I love that. I love that you were talking about giving influencers that creative freedom. Do you often bring in your influencer partners upstream while brainstorming your influencer marketing programs?
N: That is definitely where we are headed, and I am on a little campaign, if you will, to educate both our internal creative teams and our clients about the benefit of that. Something that I believe is actually more powerful than having influencers do sponsored posts about the business problem and about this target audience, because they have more trust than a brand will ever have with that target audience.
Most people think of influencers as a mere distribution channel, but the reality is they’re so much more than that.
What we would love to do is start putting together groups of influencers that brands get to have throughout the year, almost the way we would in advertising run a focus group, but run it with influencers; reviewing our work, reviewing our briefs, looking at the business problem or the client’s products from a new angle. I think that is the future of influencer marketing.
P: Oh my gosh, I love that you said that. You’ve said before that you like to help brands focus on the moments and messages that matter in social. How do you do that?
N: Great question. I love the concept of moments in life and in marketing. But to make it really tactical. If you think about a consumer journey, how some of them might go from hearing about your brand or product to actually buying it. Oftentimes there’s many steps and ups and downs and even emotions in that journey.
I think that it’s really important not to try to do it all or do every step of the journey or even be on every platform. I really like to Marie Kondo my programs and make them super focused on just those key moments. Sometimes that means taking a risk and giving up something else or letting another channel do heavy lifting. That’s how I think about it. I look at the journey, I think about what moments matter in social and in influencer, and then we try to just build really focused programs from there.
P: Marie Kondo it. I love that. Tell us about your most impactful influencer marketing campaigns.
N: My favorite program that we’ve done recently was a program with a very cool appliance brands. Very stylish, customizable hardware, beautiful. They were launching some new finishes that were really different, not stainless steel, first customizable appliance.
What we did was we put together a group of nine women who I’d consider more of experts and taste makers than traditional lifestyle only influencers. We didn’t pick them really based on their following count. We picked them based on their expertise, their style, because this is a style forward appliance line. Several of them were interior designers, food stylists, just really, really cool, all different group of nine women, all different styles. We brought them together to an immersion event at the headquarters of this manufacturer.
We had beautiful set designs, lunches and jewelry making. They got to meet with other designers and make mood boards that we turned into ads. What I like about the program was it was a long-term program, nine women for six months. They all got kitchen suites at their own homes. They all got to meet each other.
By the time those women left the immersion event, they felt really confident in the brand. They knew how to correctly speak about the brand, the brand felt really confident about their abilities and they all ended up making friends with each other and then engaging with each other. We also connected this to PR so that any time their PR firm wanted to pitch a story about kitchens or design or anything like that, they could work with the women to give them additional opportunities for exposure.
The program was really neat because it ended up being a content engine where typically, at a traditional ad agency or doing a shoot, and we still do shoots, but this was a really neat way for social to activate without having to do a traditional shoot, just have some videographers and photographers in the background of this immersion, and then have the women go off and create the beautiful content they already create in their own ways to really bring this distinct design to life. I love this program, it’s just wrapping up now, but I love the women in it and the whole strategy. It was awesome to see.
P: Wow, that’s wonderful. I love that they came together and got to meet each other and a kitchen suite’s not bad either.
N: Oh, yeah, for sure. That’s beautiful.
P: Wonderful. Well, how do you choose the right influencers to work with?
N: I’m a big fan of leaning into what I call adjacencies. Let’s say we have a health and fitness brand. I wouldn’t necessarily go right to health and fitness influencers. One of our brands is a Halo Top competitor for example. It’s ice cream, but it’s protein packed ice cream.
That was an example where we actually, instead of going to, say, food bloggers or dessert bloggers or moms, we actually partnered with a bunch of health and fitness related influencers. Even people who are counting macros, doing weightlifting, all sorts of different versions of health and wellness. But you wouldn’t think of ice cream and health.
That’s one example of an adjacency, but sometimes it could be that people who are into, you name it, are also into sports, parenting, entertainment. I like to lean into those outlier categories because I think it breaks through more in the feed. Because you always expect, let’s say a beauty blogger to write about beauty products. But if now they’re writing about say, a vitamin or a travel destination or a credit card, it kind of stands out.
It has to be relevant. But we always try to use audience data and different technology to figure out who in this audience also likes other things and how do we connect those dots so that we’re not just another beauty product and a beauty feed. Does that make sense?
P: Oh yeah. That makes so much sense. This is some really great insight that you’re sharing with us. I’m sure that there’s a lot of trial and error, but for the newbies in influencer marketing, I’m curious, in your opinion, what does it take to be successful in influencer marketing?
N: Influencer marketing is a super human business. At the end of the day, it’s all about how you treat people and of course relationships.
But Anna Rosette, who’s a Chicago influencer, gave me this craze that has really stuck with me and she calls it emotional labor. Which means you’re constantly going back and forth with the content. Sometimes the client has revisions and legal has revisions and something happened, or her plane gets delayed. There’s always a series of human errors that will occur and important conversations that have to happen.
We’re people who want to be in this business long term and who want to rise in this business, you have to be extremely kind and extremely patient and empathetic to the influencers. In my opinion, you have to lean in a little pro influencer.
I think the fact that I have been back in the day, what would now be considered a micro influencer, gives me more empathy for how tough it is on their end. They’ve got all these brand deals going at once. They’re trying to live their life, they’re trying to create so much content, keep themselves together because they’re so in the spotlight. You have to have patience and an empathy for these people who are really hustling to make a living. This is not easy work.
Thinking about it as emotional labor and making sure you really want to do it. It’s not all glamor. There’s a lot of administrative work with contracts and payments and all of that, but at the end of it, it’s always very rewarding too. If you’re a patient and kind enough person, I think you could do really well. If you could get down to understanding what these influencers are motivated by, what their purposes really are, that’s when you’re going to have a lot of fun in the business.
P: That’s awesome. They’re all people. Love that. What advice do you have for someone who is trying to break into influencer marketing?
N: Well, there’s two sides to the business, right? There’s maybe even three. But you could be somebody who is the influencer creating content, being a thought leader, expert taste maker. You can be someone who’s connecting influencers with brands. On the second part, connecting influencers with brands, there’s obviously many routes; agencies, platforms, even just being a talent manager is another really neat way into the business. I think you have to think very carefully about which side of the camera you’d like to be on. Do you want to be in front of the camera? Do you want to be behind the camera? If you choose behind the camera, you also have to think carefully about the role you want to play in the process.
If anyone listening is thinking about getting into the business, I think the best way to start is to show some type of proof that you get it and how you do that is by just starting to do it. Whether you rep a friend who’s emerging or you do an analysis of all the platforms out there that connect brands and influencers, or you just have a really cool Instagram about cupcakes, I think having some type of proof that you get it is what’s going to set you apart and what’s going to keep you going in the long term.
P: Very well said. Thank you so much.
N: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
P: Yes, such a pleasure. Thanks Nicole. Take care. And thank you to everyone listening to the Perlu Podcast. If you like our show and are interested in what it takes to succeed in influencer marketing, check out our blog at blog.perlu.com for more podcasts and blog posts. Sign up for Perlu at perlu.com to meet, mingle, connect, and collaborate and grow your career. Don’t forget to join us next month for our next installation of the Perlu Podcast.