How Hershey Protects Against Potential PR Disasters in Influencer Marketing

March 22, 2018

By Ryan Dinger



Sherry Ulsh has spent the majority of her career on the finance side. Working for both Burger King Corporation and Church's Chicken, the Miami University M.B.A. built her reputation on financial analysis and ad fund management. That is, until she made the logical jump from finance into the world of marketing procurement. Last year, she accepted the job of senior manager of indirect sourcing at The Hershey Company.

At the 2018 ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference, Sherry will explain her approach to influencer sourcing and management at Hershey. Ahead of that session, we had a chance to sit down with Sherry to discuss the challenges her new industry presents, the risks involved with influencer marketing, and why the contract has to be your first line of PR disaster defense. You can find that conversation below.


Before working for The Hershey Company, you worked for Burger King Corporation and Church's Chicken. Can you tell me a little bit about the challenges that The Hershey Company presents versus those other companies?

With those other companies, it was one brand. So, things were different in how you deal with the companies. They were companies that had a variety of different products, so how you set yourself up from a marketing point of view, how and what you must work across is just different. With The Hershey Company, you have multiple brands. You work across a lot more people and things are a little bit more decentralized. Another thing that was different with Burger King Corporation and Church's Chicken is that you have another, different constituent, and that is the franchisee. And you don't have that at The Hershey Company.


At your session at AFM, you'll be speaking about social influencers. Could you tell me what you think brands should be looking for in a social influencer and what The Hershey Company specifically looks for?

I think marketers are becoming a bit more educated about that. In the beginning, it was just a question of how many followers did they have. And as time has gone on and a variety of new information and research comes out, people have realized sometimes that some of the audiences/followers aren't real. And the focus has shifted to the level of engagement the influencer has. But really, we look at how they are engaging audiences. What's the level of likes, comments, and shares? And what is it that made this influencer who they are and what purpose do we need them for? I think now you must get much more nuanced and really go back and understand the influencer's voice and if that fits with your brand voice. Are they authentic? It's about a lot more than just having a "million" followers now.

The other thing to remember is influencers need to be part of your marketing plan. They can't be your entire marketing plan. They can be very, very helpful, especially for a niche brand or one with a limited budget. But they aren't the be-all, end-all. They must be part of a bigger plan.


You mentioned how things have changed with evaluating social influencers for brands. It's also changed in that these people are now much more visible. When you consider something like what happened with Logan Paul and what he did in Japan, that presents a little bit more risk for brands. Do you think the risk is greater with a social influencer versus a traditional celebrity?

Well, celebrities come with their own risks, too. There's risk whenever you take your brand out of a very narrow, prescribed way of communication. If you're going to have a radio or TV spot, it's very prescribed. You can control the look and the variables and take and retake. You think about the early days of radio when you would provide some copy for a DJ to read. The copy was there, but the DJ could add their own flare or nuance and perhaps step out of line. There was risk there. When you move into celebrity or influencer agreements — which are separate and different agreements — we build as much protection in there as possible. The ability to walk away, the ability to collect damages, the ability for indemnification. All of that needs to be built into the agreement. But sometimes, even with the best of agreements, things happen, and the brand damage can be significant. I think the key is your agencies, your brand people — these groups really need to do as much background review as possible on influencers and really understand who they're working with. In the case of Logan Paul, what he did in Japan was unacceptable and in very poor taste. But a lot of what he did before that was not in the best taste to begin with. So, the risk was already there. And there is a point where you get what you pay for. If you want to go edgy, well then there's always the next edge that an influencer is going to go to. There's always the chance that things can go off the rails. You need to vet as much as you can and understand that there will always be risk. That's why you need to build a contract that is fair to both parties but that also provides a certain level of protection for your brand.


You can get more procurement advice and insights from Sherry Ulsh at the 2018 ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference, April 29 – May 2, in Hollywood, Fla.

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