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Opinion

Grace Victory: How to Support Black Creatives in the Influencer Marketing Industry

Influencer Grace Victory opens up about her experiences of being a black creator in the influencer industry and how brand marketers, talent managers and agencies can help support black creatives in the space.

In light of the Black Lives Matter movement that is currently gripping the globe, we wanted to hear directly from creators about what it is like working in the industry so we can better understand what is needed to support Black creatives and help create change.

Grace Victory is a presenter and fashion, beauty and mental health influencer, and is part of Gleam Future’s roster of talent.

We had an open discussion with Victory to find out more about the challenges she faces, what talent management and agencies can do to support Black creatives, and what she wants to see from brands.

Many brands have posted support of Black Lives Matter. What do you think of brands’ responses so far?

There are some brands that have really got it right and then there are a lot of brands that are really showing their performatism and inauthenticity. I have seen black squares on all white IG feeds and its laughable, offensive, and far removed. I’m not surprised but it adds to the frustration and pain a lot of the time.

Give us an example of an on-going challenge you face in the influencer industry as a black creator?

A big one is the pay gap, which is something I’ve experienced for many years. Myself and other black creators are getting paid significantly lower than our white counterparts – if we even get paid at all. Brands rely on the silence and taboo that talking about money and how much we make is ‘distasteful’, but if there is no transparency, there is also no change.

I have witnessed (on emails I was accidentally cc’d in) that I was getting offered a deal with one of the leading fashion brands that was 50% lower than another blogger who was white and slim. She had fewer followers than me, too.

There is so much money to be made within the creator industry, but the money is not filtering down – it remains with a select few that all look the same. Myself and other black creators have to work ten times harder to not even receive the same amount of opportunities as white creators.

We have to fight teeth and bone to get paid a fee that’s always below our asking rate and the rate that we deserve. It leaves us vulnerable and exhausted too because if we don’t accept a rubbish rate, then we don’t get paid at all. Where do we win in all of this?

Why do you think this hasn’t really changed?

Nothing has changed YET because we have been silenced, shamed and threatened with “well brands won’t work with you if you talk about this stuff”, which is true. Brands will “blacklist” creators who are too political, too vocal, and too honest. This industry is woman-led but misogynistic, full of feminists, and not intersectional. However, there is power in numbers and the truth is now revealing itself.

There’s been a focus on diversity and inclusion in recent years. What have you seen shift (if at all) since you first started out?

There has been some change but the change is rooted in performatism and tokenism. Brands hire the marginalised and then throw them to the wolves if they talk about marginalised issues. There used to be no black women or fat women in campaigns and now you get the odd one or two thrown in for spice.

A campaign is not diverse or inclusive until everyone is included. I still don’t see myself in 80% of the campaigns, which is telling. The same goes for events and press trips. The same cookie-cutter, white, thin, young bloggers are flown across the world multiple times a year and it’s not only frustrating but it’s also embarrassing. Stuff has to change and that brands that don’t make these changes should be boycotted.

In what ways (if at all) is the influencer marketing industry supporting you and fellow black creatives?

It’s not. I, of course, have a wonderful team around me and I do get opportunities, but I am also aware that I am a palatable version of blackness and although I am plus-size, my hourglass shape still lends me privilege.

The only support we get is from each other – to vent, cry, and moan in frustration. There are companies like VAMP though, who represent the underrepresented, but there needs to be more, and it needs to start at the top. For example, I believe the social media algorithm is inherently racist and discriminatory to not only black people but fat people and less abled people. What are social media platforms doing to combat this? There is so much that needs changing.

Creators influence and therefore have the ability to change how culture shifts and influence what people do. Do you think there is too much pressure on creators to do the jobs that perhaps advertisers should be doing?

I do! Whilst I am aware of the platform and power creators have, we are also individual people who are trying to survive in a harsh world – especially those who are black or are of other minorities. It is not the work of black people to dismantle a system that we did not create.

The systemic oppression and racism needs to change at the corporate level. How will things change if we don’t have black PR agencies, black marketing managers, black brand owners, black managers, and so on? It’s not just about the creator, it’s the people at the top who can make change. It’s not that hard, which is why we are so tired.

Can you give us some examples of brands/creators/campaigns that are actively helping tackle the issue of racism in a positive way?

Universal Standard is a US-based brand that has been about diversity, which has been wonderful to see. ASOS is a brand that showcases different body types and skin shades without making it a big deal, they just do it and don’t ask for any praise. Albeit they could definitely do more, like most big brands. Dove also gets it right.

What steps can talent management and agencies take to support black creators?

Firstly, get educated on blackness, the black experience, and the issues we face. Secondly, fight for us and use the power you have as an agency. Make sure we are getting paid what our white counterparts are. Make sure we are at events and on press trips. Make sure we are getting the same opportunities as everyone else.

Black creators, fat creators, and the less abled creators should be booked and busy, because without us, what is the industry? It is whitewashed, boring, and bland. And thirdly, make sure there are black and brown people within your company/agency too so that we actually have someone who looks like us within our teams.

What do you think influencer marketing leaders should be doing to help black employees now?

Listening is a place to start. For so long black employees have been silenced and unheard and we cannot move forward unless these voices are listened to and amplified. Admit where you’ve messed up, admit the parts you have played, and then make changes.

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Photos: @jkgphotography

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