Agency model: how influencer agencies are evolving in the competitive space

In 2014, with influencer marketing still in its infancy, brands were just beginning to tentatively dip their toes into the space and work with social media stars on YouTube and Instagram. Few of those early adopters could have predicted just how much the space would blow up. But blow up it did.

Now, the business around social content creators is estimated to be worth somewhere between $5bn and $10bn. Unsurprisingly then, this has been accompanied by a boom in the number of companies popping up to service the industry. In 2015, there were 190 influencer platforms and agencies according to research from the Influencer Marketing Hub. The following year there were 335. The next, 420. By 2018 there were 740 and last year a further 320 influencer marketing-focused agencies entered the fray.

As you can imagine, this has made for an increasingly competitive environment. But as the sector continues to mature, so too do the agencies looking to advise the brands and influencers in it, leading to the birth of new – niche – operations to cater for all corners of the influencer marketing sphere.

“Yes, this space has become more competitive,” admits Seen Connects’ Sedge Beswick, “but since more and more brands are now using influencers to market their products, the need for agencies has also increased – especially those that can not only execute your campaigns but provide a strategic approach to doing so, advising on best practice.”

The original

Sedge Beswick is the managing director at Seen Connects, which opened at the beginning of the boom. Amid the rise of badly executed promotions, Seen Connects positioned itself as an agency that would work to properly match brands and social media personalities.

“Success comes from partnering brands with the right influencers, not just those with the greatest reach. So we take a long-term view of influencer relationships,” Beswick explains. “Once meaningful connections have been made, we commit to ensuring that every campaign we create is data-driven and measurable.”

Beswick adds that business has also been booming since UK advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) cautioned hundreds of social media influencers last January for their lack of transparency around content paid for by brands.

This crackdown came on the back of Unilever’s then-chief marketer, Keith Weed, openly voicing concerns about the prevalence of fraud and how easy it was to inadvertently work with influencers who had bought fake followers – both problems that continue to lack robust solutions despite the spotlight put on them.

“Advice, as experts, is increasingly important,” says Beswick.

The one with new talent

There has also been a steady rise in the number of agencies offering fewer, but more bespoke services. Take Vamp, for example. Set up in 2016 by Ruby Aryiku, Christina Okorocha and Rumbi Mupindu (pictured), it is dedicated to supporting and promoting black women and women of color.

“One side of our business is providing new and culture-led marketing services to brands,” says Aryiku, co-founder and head of PR. “The other side of our business is influencer management.”

Vamp works exclusively with five influencers – Mariam Musa, Nella Rose, Yelena, Nissy Tee and Esther Falana – all of whom are women of color and whom, between them, boast a combined following of over 2 million people. For this quintet, Vamp is “constantly” introducing and pitching to brands for collaborations across Instagram, YouTube and other social platforms.

The agency also has an influencer network – a collective of over 50 content creators it has built relationships with over the past three years and for whom it is trying to improve visibility.

“When speaking with black influencers and other influencers of color, we found that their main struggle is often around meeting brands and gaining new opportunities, despite having great content and engagement,” continues Aryiku. “Therefore, to tackle this issue, we work to be the bridge between brands and influencers, to help them gain the opportunities they are most passionate about and to work with brands their audiences would be interested in.

“Our close relationships with influencers means that we don’t rely on a database to match them with brands and campaigns, and we work hard to make sure that a brand’s target audience matches the audience of the influencer we put forward for a project.”

Vamp’s previous campaigns include work around 2018 films Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, and for fashion brands such as Chinese fast fashion retailer Urban Revivo.

The channel-specific one

Given the vast and ever-changing array of platforms on which influencers can now be found, there’s also been a rise in channel-specific agencies.

Digital Voices is a YouTube-specialist influencer marketing agency in the UK. Unlike other agencies, it doesn’t manage any talent and instead uses data to source the best creators for a brand – then it negotiates with the individual to make sure their videos perform exceptionally well on YouTube alone.

“We balance creativity and data to guarantee results,” says co-founder and chief executive Jenny Quigley-Jones. “For brand awareness campaigns, we guarantee organic YouTube views that are minimum 30 seconds long. If we don’t hit that number of views within 30 days, we return our agency fee or spend it commissioning additional content.”

The Royal Air Force, Universal Music, Booking.com and the Post Office are among its previous clients.

“The influencer marketing space has become much more competitive in the last five years. However, that’s a good thing for us. As the space gets more competitive, it forces agencies and platforms to professionalize their offerings. The industry was very much a wild west, but now brands and agencies have higher expectations,” continues Jones.

“Our performance marketing approach and guaranteed results model suits a more professional industry, and I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve had such strong growth.”

The big network one

The emergence of the social media influencer quickly gave life to many new indie agencies, but the global advertising networks have since also jumped on the bandwagon. WPP, Publicis, Omnicom and others will all soon offer influencer marketing services with, or as a side to, their main media operations. Havas is the latest to set up a dedicated unit to tap into the space.

Jump, Havas Media’s content and partnerships hub, launched an influencer offering late last year to take advantage of the crack between media and PR that influencer marketing often falls into, aiming to offer the same level of measurement to an Instagram campaign as a brand manager might expect for other media.

“Jump isn’t set up to deliver influencer campaigns,” explains the agency’s client partner Terri Squibb. “What we do is make content solutions more influential.

“Measurement has shown a clear benefit to brands when influencers are strategically aligned and truly integrated into the wider media mix.

“We look to the wider business objectives to assess how best to measure a campaign, working with third party agencies such as Nielsen to track uplifts in brand metrics or using ROI and sales tracking to deliver more tangible and quantified results. This more robust measurement and setting clear channel KPIs allows for real-time learning, which ultimately leads to business gains over time.”

Havas says that since its soft launch in late 2019, it has already had “extensive” interest from a broad church of clients and that it is expecting to see double, if not triple, year-on-year growth across 2020.



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