Dublin hotel hands influencer PR bill for free publicity

Most of us are, by now, already aware of the drama between UK-based influencer Elle Darby and Paul Stenson, the owner of restaurant and lodge White Moose Café. In the latest twist of events, Stenson has apparently handed the influencer a PR coverage bill worth 5,289,000 Euros for all the free coverage the controversy has gotten her. The hotel has also sneakily worked the publicity to its benefit and created merchandise and organised naming contests on social media for the said merchandise.

The issue first surfaced over the weekend when influencer Darby asked for free accommodation in return for a review of the lodge. Initially, Stenson lambasted the influencer for asking for freebies but made an attempt to conceal her identity and contact details.

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However, the netizen detectives were quick to uncover who the influencer was, which led to her getting flak for the request. In retaliation, she too posted a teary public statement through YouTube to address the issue. In the video statement, Darby criticised not only the hotel, but also members of the "older generation" for not understanding the value influencers bring.

This then led to netizens calling Stenson “unprofessional” and “childish”. In response to Darby’s statement, the hotel later issued follow up statements, stating that it would “ban all bloggers” – a move which caused further controversy.

While entertaining to watch and follow, Gaynor Reid, vice president communications Asia Pacific, AccorHotels deemed the saga as "a bit of a storm in a tea cup”. Given Stenson has been known for courting controversy, Reid added, "I am sure he was aware of what he was doing when he posted his response and  knew it would bring global attention to his hotel, although I am not sure it’s in the most positive light."

When asked if Accor often receives similar demands, Reid said that the hotel is approached almost daily by media and bloggers looking to experience its hotels, and each request should be handled on an individual basis. She added, that if there is a mutually beneficial arrangement that can make sense for both parties at play, the brand might agree, subject to availability of rooms.

“However, when we feel that a blogger or influencer’s audience or work doesn’t match our target nor needs, I would always respond in a respectful way. I am cognisant that influencers are only trying to make a living and there is no need to be rude if you don’t wish to host someone,” Reid explained, she added:

Quite often an influencer’s work doesn’t really fit with our brands, but there is no need to belittle someone or attack them personally.

She added that the best way to reach out would be by email with a full outline of what they can offer the brand and what it can expect from any hosted stay. It would also be good to include examples of previous campaigns with other similar tourism operators.

“Obviously we can’t say yes to every blogger who comes our way as we receive literally thousands of requests each year but we work with some very reputable influencers. We have created some great content from previous partnerships and we greatly value our blogger and influencer friends,” Reid added.

How do local influencers feel about the situation?

To find out, Marketing also spoke to YouTuber content creator Jian Hao Tan, founder of Thejianhao Media Co. Tan is of the view that the influencer community is often “looked down upon especially in Singapore”. Whenever there is drama involving influencers, the “same old” critical comments often appear online.

“Maybe it's the notion of being able to get free stuff or living a luxurious life without seemingly working for it. To be fair, some influencers also come off as privileged kids so I wouldn't say the general public's image of influencers is undeserved,” Tan explained.

He added that it is just unfortunate that all bloggers, vloggers, content creators are just grouped under the category "influencer", and wished that people could understand that there are some influencers some brands are "dying to work with".

In this situation, I think it is crazy that the hotel has banned all bloggers.

When asked if he would have approached the hotel the same way, Tan said yes.

“Honestly, I don't think she said anything wrong. I probably would have phrased it a little differently in a sense where I would ask for the free stay then I would tell the hotel what I could do for it in exchange to see if it is open to the idea.”

Tan explained, adding that he would also send examples of past collaborations and the results garnered if possible. But hotel's being picky about which influencer to work with based on its demographics and target audience as well as the image the influencer portrays, is not uncommon.

“Here's a tip to some influencers while looking for hotels - just search their Instagram page or their hashtag to see if they sponsor other influencers as well. If they do then it's highly likely they will be open to working with you or offering some sort of media discount,” Tan explained. As for the hotel, Tan explained that the hotel could have just replied "no, we're not interested" or not reply at all.

What Stenson did was very unprofessional and it isn't a voice I'd want my brand to have.

“There are many ways to nicely reject someone. Just as there are many influencers, there are many hotels and I'm sure there are other hotels that would have worked with her,” Tan said.

Agreeing with Accor's Reid was blogger and host Jemimah Wei, who added that the hotel owner is known to be quite an “internet troll” and the incident was likely to be a publicity stunt.

“While what he did was quite unkind, as a brand owner, he is free to do whatever he feels is right for his brand. Given
his history, the move to publicly call out the blogger was likely in line with his hotel’s branding,” she explained.

Wei added that while she did not think there was anything wrong with her email, she did understand why people would feel upset or triggered by Darby's actions. By mentioning her collaboration with Orlando Disneyland, Darby placed herself in a position for criticism, especially from people who feel negatively perceived influencers to be living a luxurious life for free. Wei added:

The timing of the post also comes at a time where there is a negative sentiment towards influencers and the industry as a whole.

"This was likely the reason the post took off as quickly as it did because many people might have had bad experiences with entitled influencers, bloggers and YouTube content creators. As such, people are making a bigger deal more so than usual even though it something which happens all the time," Wei explained.

In Singapore, the landscape according to Wei is quite different especially in the hotels industry which sees most brands being quite eager to involve online personalities in their marketing. This is especially towards the influencers who are better established.

"To my knowledge, not only do brands but influencers too receive ridiculous requests pertaining to collaborations. But when that happens, its usually due to mismatched information on either side. Although it is something which can get upsetting, it is not something worth taking personally," Wei said.