Nowadays, beauty-related brands and marketers looking to partner with an influencer on a brand deal have a plethora of digital stars to choose from. But not all brands and influencers can or should work together; both parties need to match up in tone, message, goals, and more if they want to reap the most benefits of their partnership.
Fortunately, some savvy creators understand the delicate balance that occurs with brand deals, and are eager to work with brands who truly “get” them. Take YouTuber and model Cassandra Bankson, for example. On YouTube alone, Bankson boasts over 800,000 subscribers and 124 million total video views. She reaches over 922,000 fans and followers across social media. Her success as a beauty vlogger (despite suffering from acne, a fact Bankson is very open about) has garnered her brand deals with several top companies around the world, including Maybelline, Aussie, Body Shop, Clairol, and NYX.
As part of our “Day in the Life of” series, we sat down with Bankson and her manager Ellen Abramowitz to discuss how Bankson launched her digital career, what a day in her life looks like, and how she and Abramowitz approach brand deals to ensure all parties involved enjoy working together.
Growing a YouTube Career
Tubular Insights: How did you get started as a YouTube creator?
Cassandra Bankson: My career started completely on accident; if we rewind to three years before I ever posted on YouTube – I was suffering from severe acne and a crippling state of low self-esteem, and working through a private study program in which I didn’t have to interact with the public, or any of the students who I had been tormented by at school.
I had been using Google to do additional research on my studies, and had found Youtube a resourceful learning tool – I decided to study skin care as well, and was introduced to the wonderful world of YouTube makeup videos. Although I never posted videos at that time, I considered myself a part of the community; commenting, conversing, and learning from the small group of girls around the world about how to apply makeup.
Years later, after I had graduated and perfected my own makeup skills, I was working as a model. This was juxtaposing for me; the ugly duckling from school was now being paid to promote items in photoshoots and magazines. This was very dichotomous to me, so I decided to take my tips and tricks and share them on the Internet – my way of giving back to the community that taught me everything I knew about cosmetics, and subtly trying to reach out to anyone else who had faced bullying, low self-esteem, or psychological depression/issues because of the way they look – if I could cover it up and find confidence in a stick of concealer, so can someone else.
TI: What does an average day look like for you, step-by-step or process-by-process?
CB: When it comes to my life, no two days are the same! There are some rituals I try to practice daily for my overall health and well-being, such as givens like brushing my teeth, and I always try to find something to be grateful for every morning. This simple step has helped me immensely when it comes to self-confidence and acceptance issues I faced over the last 24 years. When the cereal bowl comes out, so does the Facebook feed! I eat a vegan breakfast to nourish my body and brain, while hoping to help the environment and other creatures – it’s time to check emails, notifications, and post a status update.
If my day doesn’t involve school or travel, I’m likely to start researching ideas for a new post or video. If it’s a video on skin care it might involve going to the library or calling up a professor from a previous class, if it’s more beauty or trend-based I might head on over to the makeup store to play around with new products or foundation formulas, and if it’s self-help or inspiration-focused, I’ll actually take a moment to go through some of my old journals and reflect on my old thoughts, comparing them to my current ones and try to create an understanding of how I got from the depressed place where I was, to the fulfilled place I am right now, and translate this into a video to help others with those experiences.
For whatever reason, I think best when I’m moving, so I will generally pace the house, walk loops around the backyard, or hop onto a local hiking trail and start scripting out basic bullet points or ideas that I know I want to touch on.
By the time I get home and take a shower, the sunlight in my living room where I film is just right to start shooting! I set up lights, tripod, backdrops, and any props or notes I may need (I swear to God, a good fourth of my job is f^*ing with a tripod). When I sit down, I start applying my makeup. It might take twice as long as normal, since I need to make sure to pause and get the right shots that accurately show how a product covers acne, or how a color blends into another on your eyelid. Also, don’t forget those close-ups of the beautiful packaging, and any notes on what the brand contains or if it’s cruelty free! For non-makeup-based videos I sometimes allow a stream of consciousness to flow, and bounce my words off of the ideas that I bullet-pointed.
Once the video is done filming, I run around with whatever light is remaining and try to capture supporting shots/B-roll, such as acting out the actions that are described in the video, or showing other visual representations/actions to support what I’m saying and make each clip interesting. Afterwards, it’s time to get a headstart on editing. While I am cooking some food or responding to some more emails, I allow the clips to download to my computer, and start cutting, pasting, color adjusting, sound adjusting, adding transitions and breaks.
Quite often I have events to attend, which is wonderful for meeting new bloggers and catching up with other friends from the “internet space.” On my way over, I’ll probably be on a conference call discussing travel or trend plans for the next couple weeks, or answering questions for an interview. When I arrive, it’s time to take an adorable outfit photo and post it on Instagram – if I took the time to shave my legs and change out of my sweatpants, it needs to be documented. Events usually consist of good food, productive learning about a new product or trend, and of course catching up with wonderful creative people. I often meet friends in the blogger space as well as photographers who I collaborate with for shoot covers for my digital magazine, or for my own socials.
Although I’m a night owl, I usually try to head out of an event early – it’s time to re-collect my thoughts, and evaluate what I’ve just learned. I usually jump over to a local coffee shop or workspace to catch up on some homework, or some blog/article writing. Sometimes I will grab dinner or a snack with friends, and around midnight I generally answer a few final emails, and look at my schedule for the next week – any travel? Photo shoots? Some hard hunkering down at school preparing for a test, or creating an interesting presentation for any of our brand partnerships? My plans always change, but I have found that if I list out my duties I can arrange my schedule around them and be the most productive.
When it is time for me to go to bed, I have been trying to make it a practice to reflect on what I’ve learned that day, and think about a problem that I’m looking to solve – my dreams and subconscious have become a very helpful tool in allowing me to figure out solutions to my problems while I sleep. I try to sleep for a full eight hours (although it’s probably more like five or six), and wake up the next morning reflecting on the past day, thinking of what I am eternally grateful for, and ready to take on the new challenges and adventures of tomorrow!
TI: What do you believe has been the primary key to your success on YouTube so far?
CB: I believe that my authenticity has been a lighthouse for those who have ever struggled with an insecurity or barrier, whether it is self-imposed or imposed by others. There are so many amazing creators on YouTube who produce beautiful content, funny content, and creative content – but something that my audience has told me over and over is that I have inspired them, and even on bad days my videos can make them smile.
For quite a while I didn’t allow myself to accept those compliments. Perhaps I was still insecure myself, but now I have come to a point where I realize that I have made a difference in other people’s lives, and that is one of the biggest gifts they could ever give me: their trust, and of course their time.
I believe that that key to success lies in the relationship that I have with every person and being I interact with daily. Honesty, understanding, and genuine love and positivity. I want to live my best life, and I want others to live their best, most compassionate, most current successful and most positive lives as well. My content is aimed at helping them do that. And I think that that genuine intention comes through. Watching YouTube videos absolutely changed my life in such a myriad of ways, and hopefully watching my videos can change someone else’s (even yours!), too.
Brand Deals and Being an Ambassador
TI: How do you approach brand or promotional deals? How do you pick brands to work with?
CB: Before it was a YouTuber, I was a telemarketer. I made minimum-wage, and spent whatever I earned at Sephora on the latest skin care product which promised it would clear my skin, would get me an awesome date, and a beautiful life. I was constantly disappointed. When I started my channel, I refused to work with brands that I didn’t absolutely love, because I know what it feels like to be taken advantage of by marketing and advertising.
The same holds true to this day: if it’s not a brand or product I would spend my own money on, it’s not something I would promote. Being a vegan, and eating a plant-based diet for the environment, animals, and my own health, I have been learning more about the cosmetics industry and animal rights. This is something I am slowly transitioning into – I’m not perfect, but I’m constantly working towards being a better person for myself and others.
As I do this, I have been saying no to more and more of my favorite friends who don’t align with my morals and values. This is hard, because I still love their products and I know my audience does too, but I am working to be the best I can be, and I have been completely transparent in this transition with my audience. Their support and understanding has been wonderful, and hearing that they have made positive more compassionate choices of their life because it makes any struggle worthwhile.
TI: How does a brand deal work/look on your end? What expectations do you set up beforehand?
Ellen Abramowitz: A lot of pre-work goes into securing/landing the right brand deal. Aside from the obvious that the brand and influencer have to be a fit on demographics, psychographics, values, etc., it has to be organic and feel natural that the creator would be creating content with that brand. All those things seem obvious, but many brands need a fair amount of coaching and guidance on that end.
More specifically with Cassandra, since her message and voice is so unique, I spend a lot of time making sure that she can craft a story that is consistent with her channel. We look at things very specifically though the acne/skincare/skin science/inspiration lens, so we also have to make sure that is understood by the client as we are discussing and negotiating the project. We know that approach is what her viewers want on her channel and that she will feel good and authentic about delivering it. Once that is all clear and confirmed, we set up very specific expectations that might include:
1) copy points that must be included
2) any call-to-action: We discuss CB’s preference for including the information in the description, not as a call out in the video.
3) timing, of course: Does the client need to see a draft of script? Does client need to see draft of video? How many edits are permitted?
There is so much more, but from my point, as CB’s manager, most of my work happens in the pre-stage. I have a sense early on in these conversations about how much latitude we are going to have with this client. This is the time before anything is signed, to make all expectations are super clear. I spend a great deal of time talking with the client and making sure that we are making the right decisions for the right reasons.
TI: How can a brand deal provide best returns/investment for the influencer and brand?
EA: Brand deals with influencers are moving in a new direction where influencers are being hired much more like celebrities used to be, as brand ambassadors. Those deals, when they are fully thought out, are much more than influencers doing basic videos for their channel on behalf of brands. They are true 360-degree marketing programs with content (can be written and video), PR campaigns, speaking engagements, creating products, and beyond.
We are embarking on a big deal like this right now and I am not at liberty to say who the company is. But my feeling is that when people find out about this deal (or any deal), it should make so much sense that no one needs to explain why the brand or why the influencer.
TI: What could brands do to improve the likelihood of influencers wanting to work with them?
EA: Brands need to figure out a way to marry what their message is and the message of the influencers to achieve their goals. So many force-feed one way of doing something or saying something just “because.” Take some risks and believe in the influencer and why you hired them in the first place. Figure out how you can help move the influencer forward with their goals. Take time to build the relationship. It is not just a transaction.
We’d like to thank both Cassandra and Ellen for such an informative interview. If you’d like to hear more from Cassandra you can hear her thoughts on an exclusive Millennial Woman Report webinar. The Millennial Woman on YouTube report gives an unprecedented insights into this demographic, and you can access the full deck plus get access to this exclusive webinar right now by filling in the form below: