Get to know the foodie influencer as she chats to our Scottish PR agency
During this interview our Scottish PR experts uncovered that the world of social media “influencing” has changed dramatically, with adopted Edinburger Ailidh Forlan embodying this evolution.
Her gateway into the world of food and drink was as a reviewer for the University of Edinburgh paper, where she developed a passion for the committed indy restaurants – those at risk of being outmuscled by soulless corporate chains.
She’s subsequently become a published author, quit a high-flying day job and even launched a clothing brand.
So what are her irks and loves – and what keeps an in-demand foodie hungry?
1) What did you want Plate Expectations to achieve when you started it?
I started the account during my third year in uni – so in 2015 – simply as a space to put my food photos. I’ve always taken photos of meals, I guess I’m just ‘that’ girl!
Within weeks I started to realise it’s a brilliant platform to talk about indy restaurants – a chance to give them the limelight. That’s been my big goal since day one – celebrate those smaller names.
Back then food blogging wasn’t such a big thing – there was only one food and drink blog getting traction across the city.
I certainly never set out to become an influencer or content creator. I wanted to pay to visit great restaurants to taste and share and celebrate their food.
Looking back, the journey really started for me as a writer – I reviewed restaurants with The Student newspaper. So my goal with the account quickly evolved to provide quick, honest reviews that those following me could trust.
2) Have these goals changed?
Not really – I always wanted to promote those small indys without the big marketing budgets – and that’s true to this day.
My followers are becoming more and more my priority however. I hate the thought of them wasting their hard earned money.
It means I can be quite honest and scathing – and I want to draw attention to the restaurants that are all hype but are essentially rubbish – and especially those that mistreat their staff or customers.
I insist on a disclaimer so that brands offering me gifted experiences understand I’ll be happy to try the product, but I’ll review (or not) in my style.
I won’t just say something is lovely if I don’t believe it – it’s not what I’m here for and I hate the thought of ever becoming that. What’s the point?
3) How has your content changed over time?
Wow – a lot! Before I was just taking photos with an old iPhone – maybe even a 4. So think blurry shoddy images.
Since then I’ve done photography courses and I’m now on my third DSLR – and shoot everything in 4k. I’ve invested significantly in equipment and training.
In terms of content, it’s still all about the independents. Inevitably as my following has grown I have a higher quantity of ads, as I’m getting intros from lots of fantastic businesses and PR agencies.
I am very conscious of not becoming a giant billboard however – and I’m still passionate about recommending places, especially those off the beaten track.
4) What is your favourite social channel – and why?
I’d probably still say Instagram is my fav as I love the community and people. TikTok is incredibly impressive, how content can explode on its own merit.
My first video got 60,000 views with 100 followers. But people are so rude, and utterly brutal! They don’t feel like they’re your friends as they don’t have to follow you to see your content.
On Instagram they’ve made a conscious decision to follow. More often than not they’re there to support you and that’s lovely. So yes – Instagram is still the one.
5) Which accounts currently inspire you?
Believe it or not I try and reduce my screen time as much as I can, so when I’m not posting content I’m rarely on the platform unless for a specific purpose – I never aimlessly scroll. I’m aware of the irony here!
I’ve definitely got a bunch of favourite accounts though, some of them can be quite obscure. I love @Tobydavies.co in Dubai for his cool behind the scenes food shots, done in a creative way. A recent timelapse of ice cream melting was weirdly captivating.
Looking west and I’m always inspired by @GlasgowFoodGeek, @Rebeccacooks_ and @justjessfood – as well as Pippa at @Eatinburgh, who is almost a sister to me – literally, I’ve been with her brother for three years.
Pippa’s recent success and passion for TikTok was what got me into it.
A lot of people think food bloggers will all be rivals or competitors. But we’re all very good friends. I’m just so fortunate and lucky to be surrounded by critics and content creators that are so supportive. The whole community in Scotland and more closely in Edinburgh is fab.
6) Has the Edinburgh food scene changed since you started in 2015 – and if so – how?
Most definitely. The quality of restaurants has only grown. Recent months in particular have seen the number of new openings increasing. There’s two or three new restaurants a week at the moment and it’s great to see creativity and ambition taking over after such a tough time.
We’re spoilt for choice – more so than ever before. So much so it can be so difficult to know where to eat.
The ethics of the food scene has changed a lot recently – people are much more intuitive and care more about morals and supporting businesses that are fundamentally “good people”.
During the pandemic certain people handed things poorly – and they’re going to struggle to find customers as a result, people won’t forget.
People seem more inclined to “shop local” – and less likely to support chains if they can. Sustainability is huge now too of course.
7) How has your life and business changed after going fully self-employed?
I left my job in March this year (Marketing Director for a software firm) – and so far I’m loving it. The focus entirely on what I’m passionate about and there’s no ceilings to my success. There are no time constraints or juggling acts involved anymore.
I also love being the captain of my own ship, having my own meetings on my own terms and I can also turn down brand partnerships that don’t 100% align with my beliefs and natural eating habits – I turn down more bill-payers than many people would believe.
Of course there are downsides. I’m working constantly – even during Love Island!
I don’t have a sick pay, and don’t have someone controlling my 9 to 5, kind of in a good way, but I’m also a workaholic so do tend to work late into the evenings.
8) What’s been your favourite campaign that you’ve worked on?
It was actually one of my very first – maybe I was a bit starstruck and excited.
It was with Scotland Food and Drink and LIDL – back in 17/18.
I filmed myself shopping and cooked breakfast lunch and dinner. A friend took up the filming and I could focus on the content. LIDL is where I shop myself and they celebrate so many Scottish producers, whether in the meat aisle (which is better than the posh supermarkets) or as part of their Scottish Beer Festival or Scottish Gin Festival.
In truth I haven’t not enjoyed any of the campaigns I’ve worked on. I only work with the businesses I would genuinely promote off my own back anyway.
I had a partnership request recently from a high street burger chain that wanted me to eat their food every day for a month. It sounded like a cruel experiment!
9) What is the most common mistake by brands or agencies pitching to you?
I hate it when somebody doesn’t use my name, especially when my name is so publicly available.
My pronouns “she” and “her” have also been on insta for a long time, so please don’t blanket send to me, starting “hey guys”… it’s only going in the bin.
Many still demand the world without a fee… and are giving you deliverables in exchange for a free meal.
It’s just not appealing to me. If a food critic or blogger promised the world before eating, then how can you trust them? You don’t even know if they like it? I’m happy to pay for food – and in the same ane I’d like brands to be respectful and pay for what I do in return.
The whole influencer relationship is not always healthy. People tell me their payment plans after agreeing for me to provide a service.. you wouldn’t tell your plumber when you’re going to pay him, he tells you his payment terms. It should be the same for creatives.
Speaking for myself and friends in the industry – we just don’t like when people take the piss… There’s limits to what we can do for a free meal, it’s lovely – but ultimately not going to pay the bills!
10) What inspired you to start Pretty Pickled – your clothes brand – and what are your ambitions?
I always have three or four business plans in my head – and I’m determined to implement one at a time. I had a burning desire to launch an embroidered t-shirt biz. I wear basic tees myself but find it hard to get good quality sustainable ones and so many have printed designs on them which in my opinion look a little tacky.
It’s a passion project that I wanted to do for a long time – when I left the company I worked for it felt like it’s now or never.
We’ve been live for 10 weeks and so far had 86 five-star reviews… so I’m chuffed with how things are going.
In a business-headed way my background is in e-commerce and my audience is primed and will love food and drink clothing.
There’s loads of scope to do collabs with local businesses too – I’m currently working on a pizza tshirt that will be out soon and I’m about to be stocked in Cuckoo Bakery’s two cafes. Who knows you might soon see Pretty Pickled all over Edinburgh and it might scrap all my other business plans!
What’s been a real insight for me, is working with influencers. So I’m now seeing things from the other side of the fence. I’m reaching out and working with fashion influencers and they’re modelling my shirts.
You may laugh, but dealing with some of them can be a total nightmare!
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