‘Not Ketchup’ Founder Erika Kerekes Cooks Up the Dos and Don’ts of Working With Influencers

 

Not Ketchup was cooked up from the inspiring blend of a successful trip to a ‘pick-your-own’ farm, and the consequent creative stroke of genius in founder Erika Kerekes’ Californian kitchen. In the following two years, she’s grown to sell her small-batch, hand-made fruit ‘ketchups’ to retailers all over the country and online.

With a professional background in Social Media, Erika is well versed in Marketing and Product Management. She also knows the importance of keeping her (substantial) network in the know. A food blogger since 2008, Erika is by all accounts, an influencer herself.

“I basically come at it from both sides” Erika explained, “having been a blogger for years, I have worked with a ton of brands and other people. I knew how I liked to be pitched and what got me excited about products. That really helped me as I was launching my own product.” Shortly after bottling her first official batch of Not Ketchup, Erika got in touch with a friend at the Los Angeles Times. That fateful call is what catapulted her brand into the spotlight (and a major retailer – hello Sam’s Club!) for the first time.

An expert when it comes to leveraging one’s connections in order to (quickly) build a successful brand, we asked Erika for pointers on what every brand should and shouldn’t do when working with Influencers.

*Images via @notketchup instagram

“There are a lot of different ways you can define Influencers. Throughout the period I had been writing my blog, I met and connected with people like manufacturers, brands, PR people, marketing specialists, commodity boards, journalists and other bloggers. And I maintained all those relationships. When I was building this company, I brought all of those people in and found a reason to ask all of them for advice.”

“If you go to somebody with your hand out because you want them to do something for you, that’s one kind of relationship. But I felt it was much more useful to try to get those people psychologically invested in the success of my company. One way of doing that was to bring them along with me on my journey and not only ask for their input, but listen to their input as well. I had food blogger friends proofreading my labels, helping me with flavour names and creating the first set of [Not Ketchup] recipes. There’s no way I could’ve created as much content as I had in the beginning without their help.”

“Make sure you’ve allocated in your budget what you will need to work with Influencers. A lot of them – depending on who they are and what relationship you have with them – will expect to be paid. That’s just the way it is. Whether or not you pay them in cash, you still have to send them products… and postage is not trivial these days! For me to send out full sets of my bottles (between postage, cost of goods and cost for my time) it comes to well over $30 out-of-pocket. So every time I want to work with an Influencer, I know that’s an up front cost. If it’s somebody that I don’t have a relationship with already, I’m probably paying them money on top of that as well. So make sure to have that in your budget to work with.”

“The thing is, a lot of people looking to work with influencers are strictly looking at the numbers. How many followers do they have? What’s their reach on Facebook? How many hits is their site getting? It’s fine to look at that but I wouldn’t discount people who, at the moment, have a smaller following but will be really happy to work with you. For one thing, they’re going to be cheaper, and I have found that people who are in the process of building up their audience often have a very engaged and passionate following. I also look at the quality of their work. Do I like the kind of recipes that they share? Do I like the pictures? How active are they on social media? Are they doing a lot of sharing? Are they giving the brands they work with a lot of love? Are these people whose content matches the kind of thing I think my brand should be associated with?

I would say my products are healthy-ish. One is made without any added sugar, which the Paleo folks like, and I’ll be introducing more products like that. They’re natural, they’re short in ingredients and there’s nothing artificial. Health and Wellness bloggers have approached me before but I’m not always sure that’s the right audience for me. Their audiences tend to be very strict, let’s say. Definitely make sure you’re looking at people whose audience and point of view match what you want for your brand. For example, one of the luckiest things that has happened to me is getting hooked up with a group of guys who do grilling videos on Youtube. They all have their own engaged audiences and make really interesting videos featuring my products, wearing my [merchandise], and talking about how much they love my product. That’s been absolutely invaluable. I can see the people commenting, “I need to try this, where I can I get it?” and they’ll tell them. After every one of those videos come out, I have seen amazing growth in Amazon sales.