Reebok, like many brands today, deals heavily with influencers. Since December of 2017, it has been Purvi Patel’s job, in her newly created position as senior manager of influencer marketing at Reebok to find, contact, coordinate with and maintain relationships with influencers across the fashion and lifestyle categories.

Reebok has relied heavily on influencers to maintain its niche spot in the market, straddling the line between the mainstream lifestyle apparel and the hipper streetwear consumers who have become a key focus for activewear and footwear brands.

Under Patel, Reebok has done collaborations with influencers like Jay Versace, whose recent partnership with the brand on a series of redesigns of classic Reebok shoes from decades past tapped into the ’90s trend that is sweeping across the streetwear category. Jay’s Instagram post announcing the collaboration garnered more than 60,000 likes. The goal for Reebok’s partnerships with influencers both large and small is twofold: introducing the brand to new customers from the influencer’s audience and aligning the brand with the influencer’s image in an organic way.

The Adidas-owned brand has enjoyed a small but respectable share of the footwear market globally, hovering just under $1 billion in revenue in 2017, compared to $21 billion for Adidas as a whole and $34 billion for the dominant footwear brand, Nike, in the same time period.

Patel met with Glossy at Activate’s Collab/18 influencer marketing event to discuss her strategy for working with influencers, the importance of not trying to control influencers too tightly and the emergence of designated influencer managers at brands today.

How do you decide what type of influencer to hire?
We try not to put people in just one box. Think of the fashion bloggers that were around before influencers became so saturated. Their followers have grown with them through marriage and babies and major life changes. They’re not just covering fashion anymore; their audience cares about the full gamut of their lives. In the digital world, everything’s fair game. We try not to peg influencers as just a sneaker person or just a fashion person. Some people don’t have specialties, they just have their lives.

For some sneaker campaigns, we do look for specific influencers. For some of the stuff we did with Foot Locker, we worked with some rappers because we thought they were a good fit. That’s a situation where you want a specific person. But as the world gets more curious, people trust influencers sometimes more than friends and families. We try not to say, “Hey, you are only going to do [Reebok] Classics products for us.”

That’s the appeal of influencers for consumers, in a way. Brands don’t have complete control over what they do.
Exactly. I just started at Reebok a year ago, but one thing I’m trying to do is product integration. We don’t mind if the influencers we work with aren’t wearing head-to-toe Reebok; we’re happy to see how our brand fits in with a bunch of others. We might ask them not to pair with certain competitors, but other than that, we want them to wear things with whatever other brands they want. That’s how people dress in real life; they don’t wear all one brand.

We’ve been trying to get out of the mindset of thinking, “This person is a Classics consumer,” and “This person is a performance consumer.” People don’t dress in all one thing, and they don’t consider themselves all one thing. Sneaker fans are a bit more specific in what they care about, but in the rest of the lifestyle audience, people are pretty loose.

How do you balance between letting an influencer affect the direction of the campaign and giving them stricter direction?
It’s a fine balance; we try not to be too prescriptive. You’ve seen the horror stories of people just copying and pasting the wording you give them. We’d rather just say, give people some guidance of what the shoe is meant for. Like if we are promoting a running shoe, I don’t want the influencer to try using it for something other than running and having a bad experience. So we’ll say, “Here’s this sports bra. Here’s what it’s good for. Here’s some very general direction,” and then we let them do what they want.

The influencers know what works best. They do this for a living. People follow them because they like them and trust them. If you ask them to wear something they would never wear or do something that they would never do, it’s not smart. It will look out of place, and it won’t be authentic. Their audience will know it’s artificial. If you’re going to dictate the parameters of the post so tightly, you might as well just do the photo shoot yourself.

It seems every brand now has an influencer-specific person on staff.
It’s coming up more and more as people realize that influencer marketing is a bigger share of the mix now than it has been before. Influencers are usually handled by a brand’s social team, but I’ve seen more influencer-specific roles cropping up. It’s hard to have someone doing that as their fourth or fifth job. It’s gotten too big and too important now.