This Social Media Influencer Asked for a Free Hotel Room. Instead, the Owner Sent Her an Invoice for 5.3 Million Dollars.

Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. Every story also has characters, a plot, and conflict. This story certainly has all three and I have a feeling we’re only in the middle of it. Let me introduce you to our real life characters:

Elle Darbe, a British beauty blogger who has 88.1k Instagram followers and 95k subscribers on YouTube.

Paul Stenson, the owner Dublin’s White Moose Café and Charleville Lodge.

Darbe sent an email to Stenson, asking for a free hotel stay during Valentine’s Day Weekend. In exchange, she would create and post content about his hotel on her Instagram and YouTube account, which in theory would drive sales.

His response was publicly shared, through which Darby was identified as the influencer requesting the stay. She then posted a long video video response about his response. He then sent her an invoice stating that she is being charged for ‘the provision of features in 114 articles across 20 countries with a potential reach of 450 million people’, and that the publicity Mr Stenson has obtained for her would be valued at €4.3m plus VAT.

Here’s the invoice:

That’s where we are so far in the story…

Darby’s proposal, and Stenson’s reply, highlights everything that’s wrong with the influencer marketing industry today and why it needs to mature fast.

I’ve worked in both influencer marketing and the hospitality company for years, most recently as the first ever Global VP, Creative and Content Marketing for Marriott International’s portfolio of 30 brands, so let me explain why both our characters are in the wrong and need to learn a thing or two about doing good business.

To most people, and even some in the influencer marketing industry, the request seems normal. A brand needs to market its product, she has a large following. Everyone gets something. But that’s not actually what’s happening.

Darbe does have a sizeable audience and high engagement on her posts and content, so there’s no doubt she provides value to the right partners — that’s key.

Here’s the problem:

Darbe didn’t present her proposal correctly. She essentially just said that she has a large following so she should get a free room.

In today’s world of influencer marketing, where everyone and their mother is an influencer and content creator, influencers must start qualifying their audience.

How does Stenson know that her audience is a match for his target customer? Is he trying to reach her fan base of 20 something followers interested in mostly beauty and fashion — which is what she creates content around?

Darbe also needs to provide real case studies and numbers of past engagements. Just saying her past engagements with brands were successful means nothing.

If Darbe submitted a proposal that broke down her audience, reach, and engagement, showing that they are in fact interested in travel, and engage with travel content, that might have caught Stenson’s eye. Then, she could have shared case studies, showing how she worked with other hotels or brands and how her content actually drove brand engagement and room sales — the ROI.

Influencers who just ask for free things will not be around much longer if they don’t start acting and operating like a real business.

No one is going to do business with you if you can’t tell your own story and the value you provide — which is what she does for a living — except when it comes to selling her own story.

Now on to Mr. Stenson’s reply. I think we can all agree that it wasn’t appropriate. Maybe he was having a bad day, maybe he’s tired of receiving requests like hers. Now he’s billing her for millions of dollars for the publicity he’s provided to her — LOL. It works both ways and Mr. Stenson is receiving just as much.

But how it all this publicity helping either? We all certainly know who they are now, but has it driven sales, brought in new deals for her, or helped in any way?

One thing it’s done is reignite the conversation we need to have in the influencer marketing industry — how data plays a role in informing business decisions.

Whoever it is, brands want to know whether they are partnering with the right creators, with the right type of content, on the right social platforms and taking time to look at the data will only help everyone involved.

Who do you think is right?

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