Idalia Salsamendi, a Brand Strategist and All Around Badass
An exclusive Q&A with the person behind some of your fave influencers and brands.
By Emily Kelleher
If you ever wondered how influencers land collaborations with their dream brands, Idalia Salsamendi is the person behind the scenes. As a CEO of her own consulting company, Salsamendi does business strategy for brands like Valentino and Chopard and influencers like Brittany Xavier. She’s also the Director of Business for Chriselle Lim’s company. In her spare time, she founded “The Realization Podcast,” where she spills insider information about being the liaison between brands and influencers. Oh, and she runs a jewelry line called LaHavane with her mom.
Above all, her work is shaped around helping clients bring value to their followers, brand partners, and the world at large while shaping the industry to be kinder and more human. We talked to her about starting a business, working with influencers, and standing up for your values as a young woman in corporate America.
What was it like leaving a secure job and starting your own company?
As scary as it was, I think it was probably the most invigorating and exciting time in my life. It’s kind of like when you're baking a cake. You get all your ingredients, you do everything according to plan, then you stick it in the oven, cross your fingers, and hope that something good is going to come out of it. I knew I had the experience and the connections. I also knew going in that I wanted to have a very positive experience. I wanted to help the industry evolve and make it a little bit more human. So, I put my cake in the oven, I set it to 350, and what came out was what we’re seeing now, so I’m really excited.
You mentioned that you always ask new clients how they contribute to the world, how did you develop those guidelines?
It was at the forefront of my childhood and my upbringing. I don’t think business should be any different than personal when it comes to that regard. Both my parents are immigrants in the United States and they worked very hard to be successful and to give back in different capacities to the community. I saw it in my parents and in the way they deal with business. So, for me, it was a no-brainer. I was actually shocked when I realized that not everybody asked it. This came from personal questions like “What do you like to do on your time off or how do you contribute?” And when I didn’t see a charitable aspect, that’s when I started really honing in on that question and started asking, “Is there a charitable aspect to your business and or personal life?” I think it’s extremely rewarding when you are able to help others. Why not help another person or help an animal. I don’t know, I’m stumped. I think it’s a no-brainer.
How would you advise young women entering the workforce to stick to their values even early in their careers when they don’t have much authority?
I’m an extremist when it comes to that. My mom always says I’m very just. If I see something that I don’t like, I speak up. It has cost me jobs, it has cost me paychecks, but I’m okay with that because I’d rather grow as a person. The money will come. You don’t need to sell your soul for the money. However, I think a big tip or trick if you’re not comfortable with what’s happening on a moral level, is how to present it. In my 20s I was very abrupt about it, whereas in my 30s I kind of take a step back and ask questions: “Why are you making that decision? How is this benefitting your client?” And if I still disagree at the end, I’ll kindly say “I don’t think our values are aligned. I’m just going to take a step back on this project.” And saying it very calmly, saying it really professionally and from an educated point.
What are tips for being your own boss, whether it’s sticking to a schedule, figuring out how to log off, or not work 24/7?
You have to figure out what works for each individual. For me, I did like having a set routine when it comes to work, so going off on my own I made sure that I did. I wake up at the same time every morning, weekday, weekend — whatever — and I set out my days as I would if I was in an office.
Number two, anybody that works with me or for me, I definitely tell them: “Don't check your email after a certain time, don't check your emails on the weekends.” At the end of the day, we're not transporting organs to save someone’s life. We all work in different capacities, but really creating healthy boundaries and being verbal about it has made such a huge difference with branching out on my own.
And my last piece of advice is really ensuring that I’m always solving problems and encouraging people to jumpstart on their problem-solving tasks. When it comes to strategy or the campaigns I produce, I’m always saying, “Okay well what are your expectations, what do you want solved, or what’s the hurdle we need to jump?” to really make it a group effort. I really love when I work with clients or brands or influencers and it’s an open dialogue. I’m not here to tell you what to do, I’m here to listen to your side of the story and see how we can make it work. Having a dialogue has been such a huge key to success with any partnership.
I noticed that you sell these kits that explain how to pitch yourself to brands, create a media kit, take advantage of Instagram algorithms, and navigate contracts. What inspired you to create these kits that are available to the public?
Because no one else is doing it! When I got to this point in my career I said: “Man, what would I give 24-year-old Idalia just starting at a modeling or talent agency?” No one from the brand or agency side is giving out this information. You need a media kit, you need a one-sheeter, and you need to be able to email. Oh my god, I wish I had my Seal-The-Deal Kit 10 years ago. You have to be educated when you sign a contract and what to redline and how to legally protect yourself. With my Essential Emailing Kit, it’s all about email etiquette. I mean, I can’t tell you how many contracts I’ve seen fall through because influencers don’t know how to speak politely or professionally to brands and vice versa.
What would be your advice for aspiring influencers when pitching themselves to brands?
Start with the why. Why are you an influencer? Is it to give or to take? If the answer is to take or to get free things, you’re probably in the wrong business. The why is what you can give to society or to the brands that you work with. Once you understand the why, that will be your pitch. I work with a lot of brands and I receive emails from influencers that are like: “Hi, can you send me these 10 earrings or I want 5 full items for free” and that’s it. They don’t follow the brand, they’re not saying what they like about it. They don’t see the why, and it comes off so abrasive and rude. It’s costing these up-and-coming influencers huge deals because of miscommunication. Understand the why — what can you give. When you reach out to a brand you say, “Hey XYZ, I’m Idalia, I absolutely love your earrings, it’s such a big trend. I was wondering if you were interested in working with me. I’d be willing to wear it out to XYZ.” You say what you can give. And then you let the cards fall where they may.
Why represent other people and not yourself?
I think that you need to define what an influencer is. Some people call me an influencer, but I’m not out to sell you a Prada bag. Although I’m sure I could, that’s not my work. When I pitch myself to brands, it’s so that I can work with them in a bigger capacity. I do business strategy and campaigns for a lot of brands. I’m not out to get one Instagram post with them. I’m out to build a long term relationship. I’m a business girl. Of course, and it’s happened, if someone wanted to work within another capacity and for me to post, sure! I’m happy to do that so long as the brand speaks to me, but I don’t foresee my business taking a U-turn just to get an Instagram post and a quick paycheck.
I think the questions need to be: what is an influencer to you? Because my mom is an influencer to me and she doesn’t have a following. My aunt has these amazing yoga students and does so much work with people with cancer and anxiety and I see her influence on people one on one. I’m out to influence people to be the best that they can be.
What was it like launching a podcast?
It has been a very long time in the making. It’s really about providing information that will better the industry in one way or another. I’ve spoken at conferences throughout the world and sometimes I feel like what people are saying on stage isn’t necessarily what’s going on. So, I said okay, “What would happen if I spoke my truth, spoke about my experiences, and get people in the industry to come on and talk about their truth and experiences.” The main thing about “Realization” is helping others understand the industry — helping others understand themselves and where they fit. It’s also to have a bigger conversation about what’s going on in the world. There are a lot of things that integrate themselves with fashion, digital marketing, and social media that could get political, so it’s really about opening the door to that as well. And always keeping the giving in the backend. I really want people to finish the episode with takeaways. It’s about giving.