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Madeleine Spencer on brand collaborations and resonating with your audience

Hayley Smith
24th September 2020

How brands and influencers work together and communicate with their audiences is changing, fast.

  • “The whole world has shifted in 2020, and we’re far more aware of us all being part of the fabric of society, and that we need to pull our weight for the collective good.”

  • “I’m always staggered by how few people care about trends, and how the same themes come up again and again; most people just want to look their best selves.”

  • “Brands and influencers get the best of a collaboration when it is truly a collaboration. I know my style and tone and what will resonate with my community better than anyone.”

Madeleine (or Maddie, as I have always called her) and I first met when we were both on the beauty desk at Marie Claire a few years back. Together, we produced pages for the now defunct print magazine, while also creating content for its online platform: marieclaire.co.uk and various social channels. This was right on the cusp of some pretty seismic changes in ‘traditional’ publishing where journalists suddenly had to become social media editors, videographers, bloggers, vloggers, and more. 

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In truth, Maddie was already halfway there, with her own very successful blog Madeleine Loves and ever-growing Instagram account. Maddie was a multi-hyphenate before the term had even been coined. She continues to write for both digital and print publications (including The Times), her blog remains hugely successful, not only due to its beauty content but its honest look at mental health and her Instagram account has continued to attract an engaged audience. What’s more, Maddie is a makeup artist and, more recently, a podcaster after launching her incredible Beauty Full Lives podcast where she has interviewed the likes of Kylie Minogue (her idol) and ex-VOGUE editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman. Here, Maddie shares an insight into her career as a digital influencer and journalist and sheds light on how to get the most out of brand/influencer collaborations.

Mb: Tell me how your career evolved to become what it is now.

MS: “Each of the elements of my career happened in their own time, with fits and starts.

I grew up wanting to be a writer, so that was where I funnelled my energy at school and university, where I studied English Literature.

“Once graduated, I embarked on internships at papers and magazines, but as I suffered badly from panic attacks and agoraphobia in my 20s, I found being in an office challenging. After eventually finding a good therapist to address my mental health issues with, I started a blog, viewing it as a platform as good as any to work from. It - and offshoots like Instagram - attracted a fairly good readership and, from there, I went back into magazines, where my digital knowledge and experience of blogging set me in good stead in an environment where everything shifted quickly. Then, after a stint at InStyle UK as their Beauty Director right before it shut, I went freelance and started my podcast. Meanwhile, my make-up artistry sideline spread by word-of-mouth. Today, my job consists of doing make-up for people and on shoots, writing and editing features, consulting for brands, making my podcast, and working across my blog and social media, as well as writing little bits and bobs of what I hope will become a book.”

Mb: You work with brands a lot. How did that come about?

MS: “Brands approach me because I have a really engaged and engaging community on Instagram where I encourage my followers to send me their tips for me to share on my stories as well as me sharing my recommendations. It’s a good space for a brand to be nestled, right in the middle of a flowing conversation.”

Mb: How has your journalism background contributed to the success of your social media career?

MS: “I think it primarily informed my outlook. As a journalist, a big part of your job is to be rather forensic and to question claims. Equally, journalists will often have to find a personal angle on a story, walking the line between confession and entertainment. While Instagram is a social media platform, and my posts are more personal and therefore about me reflecting on my life and the things I’ve discovered, my approach towards it is precisely the same as it would be if I had a column, say.”

Mb: Likewise, how do you think your experiences as a makeup artist has helped you with your social media content? 

MS: “It’s helped enormously. Make-up artistry is an intimate job and you are privy to some emotionally-charged moments. You are also touching someone’s face, without any make-up on, which for many can be an exposing experience. I’m therefore fortunate enough to have had some very candid conversations with people about the way they feel about their appearance, what speaks to them, and what makes them feel comfortable or uncomfortable. 

“I’m always staggered by how few people care about trends, and how the same themes come up again and again; most people just want to look their best selves, which acts as a sort of armour for difficult situations, or amplifies their energy for a celebration. I take that information and use it to help me to have very frank conversations across my social media.”

Mb: What do you think are the key elements of a great working relationship with a brand?

MS: “Both sides get the best of a collaboration when it is truly a collaboration. I know my style and tone and what will resonate with my community better than anyone, while a brand will, of course, have objectives and things they want to spotlight. So a conversation is the best starting point, always. I will only work on a promotion for a product or campaign I think is beneficial and which would be useful for my audience to know about, so I know almost immediately when approached if it’s the right fit or not.”

Mb: What do you wish brands knew, or at least took into account when it comes to working with digital influencers?

MS: “Brands mostly work with influencers to launch or highlight a product, but don’t take into account that an influencer with integrity will only work with brands they really like, and will, therefore, continue to mention products by that brand, if relevant. I think it would therefore serve them better to set out long term relationships more often where a few products or a period of time was earmarked so that an influencer could build deserved trust across ads.”

Mb: What inspired the move to launch a podcast? Can you tell me a little bit about it?

MS: Beauty Full Lives in no small part came out of the conversations I’d have with women while doing their make-up. It struck me how much childhood played a part in what they did and didn’t like, and how emotional the connection to products and beauty moments was. I decided to parlay that into a podcast in which I asked women from lots of different walks of life to come and tell their life story, touching on the products and beauty memories that were significant to them and perhaps buoyed them up or made them feel worse about themselves at times.”

Mb: Have you noticed any changes in how your audience engages with you and the type of content they’re asking for or engaging with since the arrival of Covid?

MS: “I absolutely have. It feels like the whole world has shifted in 2020, and we’re far more aware of us all being part of the fabric of society, and that we need to pull our weight for the collective good. It would be crazy not to acknowledge that, or to talk about how my views and life have been altered as a result of this year.

“That said, I also think there’s still a place for escapism and a bit of lightness in a world that’s very heavy all of a sudden. As such, I’ve mostly stuck to my usual content on social media, but have talked about Covid and my experience of lockdown, while adding (hopefully) entertaining posts to break them up.”

Mb: Have you seen changes in how the brands you’re working with operate?

MS: “I have been approached by some brands who are more aware of the emotional and psychological side of beauty, and who understand that I’ve done quite a lot of work in that field, but on the whole, I think brands are being a little slow to find a working model with influencers on this front. There is, however, an overall trend shifting towards an understanding of how beauty really is much more than skin deep.”

Talk to the digital marketing specialists

We know these are daunting times for a beauty brand, especially when the existing ways of doing things no longer work. We understand it’s hard to know where to start and land on the right influencers to further your message. Let us help you. Get in touch with our Managing Editor Suzanne Scott for a chat.

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