Why influencer agencies must be more than talent agents

As the industry grapples with how to best deliver influencer content for brand managers, one agency leader argues that PR pros should be essential partners beyond brokering deals.

“Have your people call my people” is a well-worn phrase finding a voice among a new generation of famous faces: influencers. While traditionally seen representing professional actors, writers, musicians, and athletes, talent agents have begun to pivot to woo today’s digital content creators.

This trend seems to be picking up momentum, but the talent rep model isn’t the right idea for clients or influencers. We know because we tried it ourselves, almost ten years ago.

When we first launched Sway Group, we structured it like a talent agency. We were pioneers in seeing a need for bloggers to be paid what they were worth, and have someone negotiating on their behalf.

However, it wasn’t long before we had to adapt to better suit our clients, our creators—and ourselves. The talent agency model simply isn’t ideal for full-scale production of highly successful influencer marketing campaigns.

A full-service relationship

In the talent agent world, agents focus on negotiating the best rate possible for their client. Once a price is agreed upon, the agent typically steps out of the creative process.

This model isn’t ideal for many influencer/client partnerships since the value of working with a full-service influencer marketing agency goes far beyond the process of finding and hiring influencers. While some influencer agencies limit themselves to the recruitment process, others offer services that span research and planning to quality assurance and reporting.

When it comes to content development, many clients benefit from collaborative brainstorming that results in creative angles and detailed post instructions for influencers. A true full-service agency should check the final assets for quality before and after publication, with refinements along the way. Due dates should be ensured, and backup influencers should be at the ready in case of unplanned changes, with real-time measurement and content performance analysis throughout the entire campaign.

In other words, full-service influencer marketing agencies do a lot more than simply represent an influencer. The best agencies work hard to make sure that both creators and clients get the best price for the job.

Exclusivity limits potential

We also discovered early on that demanding an exclusive relationship with our influencers wasn’t good for them, or for our clients.

On the influencer side, there is a lot of work out there, and we want them to be able to get as much of it as they can. Not only is this good news for influencers in terms of honing their craft and allowing them to be successful their own terms, it means neither one of us are locked together for every campaign. If we were charging a percentage for every single piece of sponsored content an influencer creates, he or she could miss out on opportunities due to being priced too high, and we could lose control of the quality of the campaigns we’re associated with.

On the client side, we want to always recommend the very best influencer for a program. If we had exclusive relationships based on commissions, we could be tempted to prioritize influencers with higher fees (or those who haven’t been sent any work in a while) instead of focusing on finding the best organic fit each time.

Helping influencers and brands

In the talent agency world, agents are looking to find work for the client they represent. At our agency, we’re looking out for the needs of both our influencers and brand clients. When a client comes to us with large-scale needs, we want to be able to tap into a substantial community  of influencers who aren’t held to exclusivity demands.

If a brand needs 200 posts from 200 different influencers in a week, or they need incredibly specific targeting (millennial moms who shop at Kroger, who have a child between the ages of 8 and 12 who is struggling with bedwetting;  a real request we were able to serve), we can fulfill those needs because of our highly-engaged, diverse network.

In order to grow beyond functioning as a talent agency, a full-service influencer marketing business should have a commitment to both creators and clients—with a strong focus on content quality and metrics. Today’s influencer marketing industry has evolved beyond simply securing paying gigs for creators: the most successful campaigns are the result of expert creative guidance and in-depth program management from start to finish.

Danielle Wiley is the CEO of the Sway Group.

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