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Creators Can’t Count on Brands to Stick With Them Through Pregnancy

Stephanie Liu Hjelmeseth spent more than half a decade building her brand as a style blogger and was finally working with a slate of coveted fashion and tourism brands.

She was worried that another lifelong dream, being a mother, might derail her momentum.

“I was at this very great point in my career,” Liu Hjelmeseth, who has 111,000 Instagram followers, said. “I was super scared not being able to work for a couple of months … I talked to a couple of influencer friends [who said], you’re going to see a lag in projects.”

Those fears materialized. Prior to becoming a mom in 2018, 85% of Liu Hjelmeseth’s revenue stemmed from fashion and travel brands. Soon after she announced her pregnancy, many of these partnerships suddenly went quiet.

“Some were nice about it; some ghosted,” Liu Hjelmeseth said. “We would never have any explicit reasoning … it was all too coincidental.”

For Liu Hjelmeseth, she had to switch to beauty and baby-focused brands to replenish her income. These partnerships grew to the vast majority of her revenue—between 85% and 90%—until a year ago, when her child was older (now three) and Liu Hjelmeseth started building back her fashion roster.

Discrimination is not universal. Several sources who work in creator management said pregnancy can help creators stand out and open up new brand opportunities. While creators may have more leverage than ever—commanding higher rates and booking longer-term partnerships—their status as freelancers, coupled with a relative lack of legal protections, make pregnancy discrimination a very real risk.

Liu Hjelmeseth is not an outlier among creators. Alice Judge-Talbot, group operations director at creator platform Influencer.com said that brands pulling partnerships with pregnant creators happens across the industry.

“Creators who have become pregnant while working with brands, be it on a long-term or ad-hoc basis, have found themselves dropped from campaigns or excluded from work due to their pregnancy, with some brands openly admitting their pregnancies as being the reason,” she said.

The notion that pregnant creators aren’t relatable

Katherine Ormerod, a fashion-focused creator and writer, saw brand deals evaporate during her first pregnancy, prompting her to hide her second pregnancy on Instagram.

“I didn’t earn any money on Instagram for five months of my first pregnancy and that happened not because I became less stylish or less smart,” Ormerod wrote in a public Instagram post in January 2020.

When Ormerod confronted fashion and beauty brands, they often said that if she advertised the product, it would imply the company had a maternity line.

Brands feel that advertising with a pregnant person really cuts their audience size, which is crazy,” she said.

However, some brands are keenly aware that pregnant creators come with large audiences, making them more valuable, said Tiffany Romero, president of influencer management at influencer agency Sway Group. Romero added that pregnancy opens up creators to more brands and opportunities, especially brands focused on pregnancy and parenting.

Influencer platform LTK, which has an affiliate marketing program alongside more traditional partnerships, found that retail sales rose between 4 and 20% for its established creators during pregnancy, a spokesperson said.

Both Romero and LTK’s vp, head of brand partnerships Stephanie Sandbo said they hadn’t seen a brand back away from a creator due to pregnancy. “[Pregnancy] would help amplify [the creator],” Sandbo said, “as more unique or diverse within the casting set.”

Pigeonholed

While creators may find new brands reach out after a pregnancy announcement, not all opportunities are welcome. Some brands want to cast the creator as a mother and not much else.

Judge-Talbot started a parenting blog in 2009 and, even as she transitioned to more general-interest content, she said she struggled to build partnerships with non-parenting related brands.

“It was really hard to break into something when it wasn’t something that wasn’t my kids,” Judge-Talbot said, noting that even brands that don’t typically market to parents wanted a family angle from her. “It was never about me as a single person,” she added, so much so it pushed her to stop her career as a creator.

Liu Hjelmeseth said now that her child is three and, with the help of her agency G&B Digital Management, she is once again partnering with the fashion brands that made her excited about a career in social media in the first place. But for the first two years post-partum, she had to settle for the vast majority of her income generated from beauty and baby-focused brands.

“I never envisioned myself to be a mommy influencer,” Liu said. “I didn’t know who I was. I had an identity crisis. Did I have to focus on mom and baby brands?”

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