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Do influencers still need management?

Talent management is nothing new – all musicians, actors, TV presenters and writers have had teams behind them for years.

These ‘teams’ (as they’re so often glamorously referred to as) are on hand to help with anything and everything from styling and childcare, to coffee runs and major PR sprucing, and of course, the ever important money-making contract negotiations. Many of the legacy talent agencies have kept up with the times by making moves to manage social media talent, content creators and influencers. Alongside the iconics, we’ve also seen a rise in independent social talent management firms, friends and parents of influencers managing them and even more recently, agencies dedicated to TikTok talent have been popping up.

Right now, the social world of stardom sits in balance – but are the scales tipping backwards? 2020 has been a whirlwind of a year so far, and it would be a lie to say the influencer industry hasn’t been affected. Sadly, it’s influencers themselves who were most adversely affected in recent months, with brands recoiling campaigns in panic, leaving creators high and dry. So, perhaps now is the right time for management to be stepping up? After all, their job is to negotiate more affluent, beneficial contracts for talent. On the other hand, if influencers are strapped for cash, perhaps shelling out a percentage of their cut to management isn’t worth it right now. Many talent agents have been furloughed globally, meaning influencers would be getting less support anyway, when really they need it the most. Encouragingly, in spite of the year we’ve had thus far, deals and influencer campaigns don’t appear to be slowing down too much. In fact, 89 percent of marketers still say influencer marketing has produced just as good or better ROI than other channels this year, and by 2022, the industry is still on track to be worth as much as $15 billion, according to data compiled by Mediakix. Whilst lockdown measures may have cancelled influencer trips and on-location photo shoots, it’s accentuated the importance of authentic influencer relationships and influencer-generated content, and as a result, screen time has skyrocketed.

Whilst celebrities have the safety net of being household names, influencers’ recognition tends to be more contained within social channels. TikTok, a platform that has flourished in 2020, has seen mentions of their platform increase on beauty and fashion influencers’ Instagram feeds by 99%, according to Traackr data.As TikTok diversifies, increases in popularity and the focus pulls away from music focused trends, it’s still TikTok creators who are paid less than any other social channel, for far more organic engagement than any other platform – so, is management more of a necessity to them right now? It goes without saying that the only route to change is longer-term, more substantial brand-influencer partnerships – that management isn’t necessarily a part of. Oliver Lewis, founder of The Fifth influencer agency, speaks on behalf of Medium, saying that:

“While managers have brought a much-needed sheen of professionalism to the space, they haven’t necessarily produced the most compelling work. Influencers were accustomed to creative freedom and their content creation process was often reactionary. Their power lay in their human approach – the natural rhythm of their speech, their flaws, and their honesty. Yet with the monetization of the industry came scripts, strict guidelines and – in some cases – inauthentic brand deals.”

In light of that quote, it seems influencer management has only emphasised the need for agencies like us to exist, especially in the wake of everything 2020 has thrown at us so far; that is, agencies who ensure authentic, effective brand deals. As the demand for influencer talent continues to grow and stakes get higher, the more established content creators have grown wise to their standalone worth and peeled off from management agencies, taking work in-house. They don’t need the help of management teams to create content anymore, and from our own experience, many are capable of negotiating brand deals alongside an agency, because our job is to benefit all sides of the triangle. Original Youtubers like Zoella, Alfie Deyes, Joe Sugg, Victoria Magrath (@inthefrow) and a host of others have recently left their management teams to go it alone.

So, perhaps it’s time to imagine a management-free industry – after all, is it really all still necessary? At Connects, we’ve worked with many talent managers who really understand the worth of influencers, and therefore represent their clients excellently. In order to soothe qualms over whether or not influencer management is still necessary, we pitched a few questions to two leading influencer talent managers, Meryl Hoffman (MH), leading agent at Curtis Brown and Laura Nelson (LN), founder and director of Laura Ronnie Management.

1) How big a role does a prospective client’s existing social following play over and above your traditional methods of accessing whether or not to sign new talent? 

MH: It’s not a deal breaker for me personally but it certainly enhances their potential. When thinking of signing a new client, I think it’s essential to spend time on their socials and get a feel for their tone of voice, content and way they interact with their audience – and how regularly/consistently. Often, it can be something I notice on their social which reveals a part of their personality I know a TV commissioner or development producer would find interesting.

 

2) At what point on an influencer’s journey of becoming more noticeable would you advise that they need management?

LN: I don’t believe there is a particular point.  Management works brilliantly for some talent, but just isn’t right for others; it completely depends on the individual.  Some influencers feel perfectly comfortable pitching themselves and negotiating with brands and are also super organised, meaning they can easily keep on top of their schedules, contracts and invoicing etc. Others like to focus their efforts purely on the creative content side of things and prefer to pass the back end of the business to a management team.  

Talent and brand partnerships can often involve months of relationship building, long email trails negotiating fees, contracts and logistics.  Not to mention the hours spent chasing unpaid invoices.  Many influencers don’t have the skillset or experience to manage all of this themselves.

 

3) As a talent manager, how active a role do you play in your talents’ creative output and building their following? 

LN: We work together with our talent to come up with a short-term strategy each season.  We discuss potential brands they want to collaborate with and the type of content they would like to create.  We also analyse insights from past projects to understand what content and brands perform best and what more they can offer their audience in terms of knowledge and expertise.

As well as this we look at a more long-term strategy and identify opportunities for the talent to expand and take their brand further than just their Instagram account.  We push them to utilise other skills and secure them work involving styling, panel talks and hosting events etc. We advise on each individual project, from both an ‘audience’ and wider strategy point of view, to make suggestions of how best to deliver a particular campaign making sure that it suits their style, appeals to their audience and fulfils the brand’s needs. Once a brief is agreed and a shoot team are in place, the influencer then has full creative control over the content that is produced.

 

4) Have you experienced examples of someone you manage going solo, or thinking that they may no longer need management? 

LN: Yes, but this doesn’t happen often.  As I mentioned previously, some influencers are much more confident than others when it comes to their own pitching, negotiating, admin and accounts and often like to keep control of all of these elements themselves.  When an influencer wants to control all of this and work with a manager, things can become strained.  Over the past 3 years I have discovered that personalities play a big part in a successful talent/ manager relationship. If you get along well, have good channels of communication and respect each-other, the partnership works like a dream.

 

5) Do you see it as the management’s responsibility to educate their influencer’s on compliance and restrictions within their advertising space – and take the fall if they breach guidelines? 

MH: Yes. If the agent is confident that this has happened and the client has acknowledged this advice but STILL fails to comply… that then puts the agent in a difficult position and a discussion should take place around reworking practices between the two.

 

6) As we look to the future, what do you think is currently not being offered to talent, but is something you’re considering implementing?

MH: I think TV commissioners and production companies should look to social platforms – like IGTV, TikTok, Facebook Video – as way of piloting ideas. It would be the quickest, most cost-effective way to provide the best audience insights into what worked and what didn’t. I think it would also engage fans who would feel part of that particular format’s creation, and if it did eventually make it to a TV broadcast, you would be armed with a pre-existing audience build in.

LN: I think everyone would welcome some clearer ASA guidelines around how to declare affiliate links, product gifting, longer term partnerships etc., so I would welcome any opportunities to work more closely with the ASA to find an efficient way of communicating changes to influencers and managers, to ensure transparency is at the forefront of all content.

There is still a lot of change sitting on the horizon, which can seem daunting – especially when the jury is still out on whether or not management is necessary for all influencers. Our two cents is that if you are an influencer or content creator who already has an agent, or perhaps you are considering one, the below list is where we see value in their cut:

  • Contract negotiation, to boost campaign affluence.
  • Help to maintain or build long-term relationships – although, if the brand is working with the right influencer marketing agency, that shouldn’t be necessary for management to handle.
  • ASA guidance compliancy, as spend increases and crackdowns are inevitable.
  • Negotiating usage rights, to give you ownership of your own content

If you’re on the lookout for an agency who can liaise will all sides of the influencer marketing triangle, to secure authentic partnerships focused on human relationships, data analysis and boosting performance, drop us a line at info@seenconnects.com! And if you’re talent looking for effective, useful management, we highly recommend you contact Laura at laura@lauraronnie.com or Meryl at Meryl.Hoffman@curtisbrown.co.uk.