What I Learned About Influencer Marketing on My All Expenses Paid Trip To Mexico

In early April I got a message from a client giving me a head ups. She had a potential brand trip coming up to Cancun, Mexico and..she’d like to take me with her.

I had a million questions, “What was the brand?!” “Who else was going?!” “What would we get to do?!” “How long would we be gone?!”, but I tried to play it cool.

For almost two years I’ve been dreaming of this experience.

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Just under two year ago I had this idea that I could be a travelling photographer for Influencers who were attending these brand trips but their Instagram boyfriends couldn’t come or straight up didn’t exist.

Taking Instagram photos, for many lifestyle accounts, is really different than professional photography. It’s less editorial, often done with an iphone, and requires quick turn around time. In the photography world it can take weeks or months to get your images back because of the labourous editing process. However, with Blog or Instagram content the photos pretty much need to be used immediately or at least within a few days.

With this knowledge in mind I emailed and pitched personalized emails to over 150 bloggers with my idea. I think in total I had a 10% response rate…They were super kind and encouraging but went something like, “this is a great idea I’ll keep you in mind for the future”. Cold calling is hard.

So when Claire, a client of mine for almost a year now, asked me to go I couldn’t believe it! Like I truly didn’t think it would pan out until I actually got the flight itinerary from the brand.

What I want to share here is how the trip flowed, what I expected to happen and what I learned.

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What Really Happens On Influencers Trips

How does it work?

So in the case of this trip the brand was the resort, the Fairmont Mayakoba. I have another blog dedicated to mostly pretty pictures of the resort here. The Fairmont Mayakoba in partnership with their U.S. based PR firm planned a 4 day trip for 5 Influencers along with their plus ones, and 3 writers. The writers essentially had the same itinerary as us but their days were switched, we really only met them at the last dinner!

From what I understand the PR firm was responsible for the guest list, negotiations for the Influencers, booking flights and working with the Fairmont to plan to the itinerary. The Fairmont was responsible for setting up accomodations, co-ordinating the planned activities and planning group meals.

So on Monday April 15th we flew in from all over the continent - guests from Raleigh, New York, L.A., San Diego, Austin, Winnipeg, Chicago and more to experience the resort and most importantly to share about it.

Each of the Influencers had slightly different responsibilities based on what they negotiated before the trip. So for example, the Fairmont wanted 6 Instagram posts and 1 blog post where 1 of the Instagram posts was a scenic shot of the resort. As you might be able to guess a scenery shot can look super random on someones feed if all of their photos always include them. So some of the girls negotiated this out of their contract or negotiated an image where the scenery was prominent but they were still in the photo.

These negotiations are not arguments. They are just a way for the Influencers to communicate what they know will perform best for their audience! Of course the brand will ask for something that is ideal for them but they understand they need to be flexible in order to get the best and most authentic content from the bloggers.

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So what actually happened?!

Let me preface by saying that the Fairmont Mayakoba is a 5 diamond resort and ranked number 1 in the Riviera Maya, so yeah I think ‘fancy’ would be the right word.

My flight was booked by the PR firm, I had a great itinerary, economy class (in case you were wondering) and flew from Winnipeg to Minneapolis to Cancun. After a 1.5 hour wait in customs which I spent listening to podcasts (thank god), I was greeted by a professional driving service, with a cold, essential-oil-infused face cloth and a bottle of water, and took a private van to the resort. Full disclosure, it was only private because the next girls to arrive were probably another hour behind me.

I was pretty awe struck when I arrived but I remember being handed a florally tasting drink that looked like sangria but tasted like a chilled herbal tea and having my suitcase whisked away as I followed them to my room.

Shortly after arriving I realized how starving I was and ordered room service; options ranged from pizza and burgers to ahi tuna sandwhiches, salads and speciality coffees. I went with shrimp fried rice and an Americano.

Just 15 minutes later a man shows up with 2 chilled drinks and guacamole with fresh corn chips. “This looks amazing but we didn’t order it!” I said, “Oh no”, he said, “this is from the Fairmont for you!”.

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I arrived at about 3pm and the first scheduled activity was the first dinner at 7pm so Claire and I caught up and toured around the resort making the 15 minute walk down to the beach during which we were approached by about 8 trollys asking if we needed a ride. The trollys run 24/7 at the resort. We politely declined each time but admittedly never made the walk again since the bikes and trollys were very convenient and a time saver.

Bikes were available on a ride-and-drop system so you could leave the bike whenever you stopped and the next person could grab any unattended bike.

Bikes were available on a ride-and-drop system so you could leave the bike whenever you stopped and the next person could grab any unattended bike.

We met in the lobby for the first dinner and exchanged lots of hugs and handshakes with new friends. There was a lot of “it’s nice to finally meet you” as girls from all over the country who had been following along on each others journeys connected in real life for the first time.

There were 5 bloggers on this trip, 3 of which I had followed for years and then of course Claire and only 1 girl I didn’t know. So it was super exciting for me to get to meet these other girls who I’d followed and even chatted with on Instagram.

The first dinner included I think 8 courses! Tableside guacamole, a pita topped with avocado, tomato and giant ants, grilled octopus, chaya tacos with a candied macadamia nut spread and more and more and more.

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At the first dinner I was at a table of only other bloggers and their plus 1s so we didn’t talk to the marketing representative from the Fairmont or the PR firm at all. I had definitely imagined there would be a bit of a pitch or a speech in order to share the Fairmont’s talking points that they wanted translated into Instagram posts but they totally let the experience speak for itself!

Day 2 - The First Full Day

7:00am Yoga at the beach. Some of the bloggers, us included, opted to get up even earlier in order to catch the sunrise and photo opportunities at the beach before the yoga class began

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8:00am - Breakfast. An A la carte meal. Dishes included avocado toast, crab cakes benedict, gluten free pancakes, and so much fresh fruit and fruit juices

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9:00am - Corral Reef Restoration and Snorkelling.

This is where things got educational but not at all salesy. We learned that the corral reef that runs along Mexico’s coast all the way down to Honduras is the second largest in the world next to Australia’s. The corral is struggling to survive due to pollution, global warming etc. which results in bleaching. The coral loses it’s bright and vibrant colours and becomes white before dying. What they do at the Fairmont is collect dead pieces of corral, attach them to a cement stone and sink them back into the ocean so that new corral can grow on them.

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We took a wind powdered catamaran about 10 minutes out on the water to a buoy and spent the next 30 minutes snorkelling. To be honest it was really windy and wavey. Snorkelling can be difficult as it is to coordinate breathing in and out of your mouth, staying calm and floating on your stomach. There were definitely a few moments of panic out there, like when you’re bobbing along and then all of a sudden there is coral RIGHT in front of your face. You think “AH I can’t touch it I’m going to hurt it!!”, and “Omg this is going to scratch the shit out of my stomach”.

All in all we saw lots of coral, sea plants and a few fish and no one died!

11am - Free time. The afternoon was available for free time to enjoy the resort and get lunch at our leisure before dinner at 7pm. Sounds like a lot of time to ‘relax’ but in reality we all knew it was work time. First priority get a post up, with only four days and 6 posts to make it was important to get on top of it. Step two freshen up and plan out the rest of the content. Claire and I went back to the hotel room, organized some interchangeable outfits and started to scope out locations. For every Instagram post there are at least 80 versions of it that didn’t make the cut, and probably 2 other locations with 80 of there own photos that didn’t even get considered.

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That might sound tedious but this is the stuff I LOVE.

We spent the next hours scouting, shooting, and sweating. Took a break for lunch, spent just 1 hour by the pool which consisted of another photo and answering emails and then it was time to get ready for dinner. That was the most downtime we had during the entire trip.

The second dinner was just as incredible as the first with another custom menu. After 2 passionfruit margaritas we were spent and ready for bed, but not before spending another hour on Instagram engagement, comments, and emails.

Day 3

8am - Breakfast

9am - River Boat Tour.

The river that surrounds the Fairmont and neighbouring resorts is a super important ecosystem that the resort has been working to sustain and help flourish over the last decade. The mangroves are a tree system with strong, expansive roots that help to hold on to the soil and keep it in place. The mangrove and river partnership is now home to over 300 species of birds when just a decade ago there were less than 20. You can also spot alligators, fish and many other creature in the clear, slow moving waters.

11am - Spa.

The Fairmont hosts a state of the art spa. Each of the Influencers selected a treatment of their choice, the rest of us were granted access to the spa facilities; steam room, relaxation area & roof top pool as well as a discounted price off services. I opted to get some shots for both my blog and Claire’s.

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1pm - Cenote Excursion to Sac Actun

Straight from the spa we were loaded onto a van and headed to Sac Actun a beautiful, massive underground cave system. The conversation with the tour guide about photos and the importance of why it was imminent was slightly confusing and a little lost in translation but after 20 minutes of swimming and an hour of attempting to get a photo, I think everyone got their shot.

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The reality is we had to put on an ugly yellow life jacket and crawl down a steep ladder with our camera in tow, get to the bottom, take off the life jacket, work together to provide and find the best light, get a photo that looks totally awful before it’s edited, put the lifejacket back on, carry the cameras back up, THEN actually swim in the water.

It sounds ridiculous but it’s how we can translate the beauty that we are seeing and experiencing. By creating an image that helps tell the story. Yes it’s staged and curated, but in that it’s art, and it’s not easy to be able to translate experiences that and share stories this way.

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3pm - Back to the resort. Time to catch up on work, post, shower and get ready for the last dinner.

7pm - The last dinner at the restaurant.

Asian inspired and oh so good! At this dinner we were lucky enough to sit with two of the executives from the resort, both incredibly knowledgable and again….you might have guessed..not pushy about their selling points whatsoever. They both we able to answer any and all of our questions proud and confidently.

We learned that their main visions for the resort focus on sustainability and wellness. Often when getting back from vacation we can feel more lethargic or even sick from overindulging. The Fairmont Mayakoba aims to intertwine wellness into the entire experience from having healthy, light and fresh items on the menu, to offering bikes all day long, a stacked gym for everyones needs, different types of fitness classes all day, the spa, and even small details like aromatherapy in the hotel rooms and games on the beach like bean bag toss, beach volleyball, and ladder ball.

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Their sustainability efforts are reflected in the minimal requirement of single use plastics, although water bottles still prove to be a huge hurdle. They focus where they can with LED lighting, controlled air conditioning that shuts off if a door is left open, not offering straws and providing biodegradable ones when necessary, transitioning to more local food and ingredients, and minimizing the amount of towels washed daily by encouraging guests to re-hang their towels and providing a new set just once every 3 days.

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What I Learned On My First Influencer Trip

1. Who books and organizes the trip.

It’s usually not the brand itself that organizes an Influencer trip but instead it’s in combination with a PR firm that they’ve hired for not just this but also press releases, social media and other marketing year round

2. The Influencers were not paid.

I was surprised to find out that there was no additional compensation on top of the trip itself. Flight, accommodation and food expenses were however, covered! I learned that in a situation where a separate brand was hosting an Influencer trip AT a resort then the resort would most likely cover the accommodation and food costs and then the other brand would absorb the cost of compensating the Influencers for their content and exposure

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3. Me being a photographer that is paid to travel with Influencers is fairly unrealistic

LOL. To put it into perspective the plus 1s included 2 friends, a sister, a husband and me (a half friend/half employee). The friends who came along both had substantial Instagram followings themselves so they definitely knew what they were doing. That being said, because most Influencers are posting iphone photos they can pretty much bring whoever they want and pull it off. Additionally if they aren’t getting paid to be there there is probably no room in the budget to pay me as an additional content creator for them.

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4. The brand was not salesy

I thought the brand aka the resort would be way more pushy, salesy and educational. You know when you go to an all inclusive resort and they want to tour you around, have lunch with you, give you a free t-shirt and then try and force you to buy a time share? Of course I thought we’d have to go through that same process! Minus the time share sign up sheet. But it wasn’t like that at all. They were 100% confident in their experience, their food and their customer service. No one felt the need to disclaimer anything or over sell and all questions were always answered immediately and with detail.

5. It’s really fun to get together with a group of people who also love to create content for social media

At this point in my life no one is surprised when I’m standing up in a restaurant to take a food photo, or asking Jared to take 100 photos of me at any given event, OR planning to get ready early just to be able to get a photo in the sunlight. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel awkward to me every time. In this case it’s the total opposite, everyone is taking that food photo so everyone else is helping them by offering up their dishes to compliment the image, strategically holding phone flashlights and helping reposition forks.

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6. It’s Valid To Be Creative In This Way

I know that ‘content creator’ can be looked at as a bit of a joke of a job. But what I wholeheartedly believe is that it’s a relatable and creative way to story tell. It’s by using curated and styled photos that we can tell the story of an experience in a captivating way, and ultimately it’s a modern marketing tool that really works. I 100% believe in the power of connecting through this art form and Influencer marketing as a whole.

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Conclusion

All in all the trip was a total whirlwind! It was amazing but a really packed itinerary and I don’t think my brain stopped running for a single second. Because I was there to support Claire I always wanted to make sure her needs were taken care of.

I had my share of fresh guacamole, sun and passionfruit margaritas but was admittedly sick for most of the trip as I got the flu on the second day, just chills and nausea but no indigestion so not all bad but bad enough to proceed to take 2 Advil every 6 hours after that to maintain my energy and hold off the fever. I didn’t want to complain about this on social media or my IG stories because it really wasn’t a complaint it was just a reality but another one of those things to kind of prove that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies.

Everyone undoubtedly enjoyed themselves on this trip but also had to work hard to understand the brand, create their content and keep up with their regular work by being present for their audience on Instagram and responding to emails, planning their upcoming campaigns etc. It was definitely not an out-of-office type of week.

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I’m so so SO lucky and grateful that I got to go. As I learn about being a better content creator and content marketer for my brand as well as other’s brands, every experience is always welcomed with open arms. There were a lot of takeaways for me this week which was invaluable.

It truly was the opportunity of a career for me thus far.

xx.

Jo

PS. If you want more info (and pics!!) about the resort specifically I have another blog post here on that!