When Agencies and Influencers Collide


In this age of social media, influencers and agencies have a fascinating relationship. The increasing perception that conversations build brand awareness is being embraced by brands and agencies alike which leads to the need to tap into the pool of influencers, buzzers, or key opinion leaders. This business relationship unfortunately can go sour quite easily.

Comedian, actor, and influencer Muhadkly Acho on Tuesday morning aired his grievances about working with an agency that has yet to settle their invoice. He said on Twitter, “first time I’ve come across an agency that refuses to pay when billed because the client hasn’t paid”. If you understand Indonesian, all the replies and conversations that follow from the tweet is priceless.

While he made a point that this is not the norm, it clearly resonated with many other social media influencers as fellow comedian Ernest Prakasa replied, saying, in all caps, that there are many who does this. Web video producer Nico Alyus chimed in with a similar sentiment, admitting that he gets the cold shoulder treatment from agencies often.

This underscores a very serious problem with how some agencies operate with regards to working with influencers. Despite a binding contract, a number of agencies skirt this responsibility, and in several occasions, allow an invoice to remain unsettled for more than a year after rest of the contract terms have been completed.

Some of the other classic excuses that agencies come up with include, “client’s finances are being audited”, “the finance person is on leave”, and, “there is an internal issue”. Seriously? Why bother running a campaign without the budget to cover expenses?

Narrada’s Chief Creative Officer Adi S. Nugroho said, that if anyone has a problem with an agency, they should bring it up to the agency’s employee that they know and mention the agency to avoid the public from generalizing the situation to include all agencies.

Unfortunately this ignores the fact that in many cases, the only agency employee that they know are often the contact person whom the influencers deal with in the first place. Mentioning the name of the agency publicly raises the risk of litigation and in a country where legal cases can easily be turned around, not to mention time consuming and costly, this is not a risk that most people are willing to bear.

Indonesian social media influencers tend to be part of a tightly knit community and when one of them has a negative experience with an agency, it can easily spread among the network, leading them to blacklist the agency or even sometimes, the client if the issue is serious enough.

Jenny Jusuf, scriptwriter for the movie Filosofi Kopi, doesn’t agree with public shaming rogue agencies. She said, “we don’t know their internal conditions”, so it’s wiser to keep the agency name private. Additionally, she doesn’t think that there is any benefit to doing such a thing, even if she herself was a victim of at least one rogue agency.

Writer Alexander Thian, who happens to run a small digital agency of his own, was involved in a social media campaign a year ago by a different agency. Apparently his fee had not yet been paid as of yesterday, so he sent an email telling them that they can keep his Rp 4 million fee if it’s so difficult for the agency to make the payment more than a year after the contract had been completed. The agency had given him the excuse that they were closing their books for the year.

Clearly it is unacceptable when agencies unnecessarily postpone or actively avoid paying their fees to their contractors because they are legally bound to do so. Even when the client has yet to fulfill the payment for the campaign, agency contractors should not have to be affected as their arrangements are not with the client but with the agency. It is therefore the responsibility of agencies to ensure that they are able to settle with their contractors one way or another.

Many small digital agencies are part of a much larger group of advertising companies so turning to the group for assistance could be one option. If a client is unwilling or unable to disburse a down payment for a campaign and the agency knows that it would not be able to settle on time, perhaps the campaign should be shelved or modified to not involve a third party. It seems obvious that it’s not a good idea to cause ire to a key opinion leader.