MISCONCEPTIONS WITH TALENT MANAGEMENT
The majority of One Roof Social articles are written in third person, mainly because the team has now grown and I’m not so involved in the content anymore. However, when the subject of talent management came up (and the need for us to write about it), I decided I wanted to tackle the subject alone. As someone who continues to work on both sides of the fence, I thought it only right that I use my experience to offer my ten cents on the subject.
So, What’s The Problem?
If we take a generic glance at the UK market, influencer management isn’t handled very well here and I’m starting to understand why. In my mind, it’s down to two reasons: the first being that there is a general misconception that a talent agent is brought on board to develop and grow the success of the individual; the second is that talent agents themselves don’t have a clear enough grasp of digital marketing to be able to negotiate, price and execute a campaign to the standard a brand requires.
To date "talent" has been something that falls under the bracket of "celebrity" or "artist" and speaking frankly; influencers are rarely either. Instead they own digital property with some value and have developed a relationship with their following which also needs to be considered. Their ability to "create" is entirely home grown, therefore it could be argued a professional could help them get into shape for the professional market.
However, if you want to get a sense of quite how bad the state of play is, just ask any marketing manager if they enjoy working with agents. It’ll undoubtedly get an onslaught of negative responses (groans, eye rolls and cries for help are common). In the UK we seem to have two talent options; an array of large talent agencies who have expanded their celebrity or model management offering (using the same philosophies) and ex-PRs who have set up their companies thinking their brand rolodex and communication skills will secure them everything they need.
Poor talent management offerings in the UK was one of the main drivers to setting up One Roof Social, and I very nearly took the business in that direction, instead of the agency model, but decided I didn’t want to be “responsible” for securing people work; I would rather be free to select particular influencers as and when we needed them for campaigns. Otherwise, you do end up “square peg, round holing” the situation as (understandably) when a brand offers an agency a project, you want to make the campaign work and secure the revenue for your business with your existing talent.
What are the Friction Factors?
As a blogger/influencer, I’ve been represented twice. Both times were… not great. I could give you some stories: my personal favourite was when I worked out an agent had used contacts I’d given them to get work for other people. They then didn’t reply to emails for weeks and suddenly appeared to ask me for help to source a venue for their Christmas party. I ended up spending more time keeping an eye on what my agent was up to, rather than actually working on developing my blog and the entire reason I looked for representation was because I couldn’t handle the workload on my own.
What the continuing frustration seems to be is a deep lack of understanding of the intricacies of influencer marketing. Those working in the space cannot be considered as “talent” in the same way as a traditional celebrity. They are not wanted for their fame (in most instances); instead, they are wanted for the commercial value of their digital property. This requires a completely different set of skills and experience from a traditional talent agent. They need to understand marketing statistics, social media analytics, brand development measurements – the list goes on. Brands often get frustrated that they cannot talk to the influencer themselves, leading to disparity between the campaign and the work the influencer produces. Contracts which are often created by the agent have unnecessary terms and conditions – purely because they’ve been created for a celebrity rather than someone with a digital media property with whom the brand would like to work.
I see no point in beating around the bush with this; if you are reading this and are a talent manager – do your homework before setting up. I spoke to one former PR, who called for advice, whose first comment was, “Well, it can’t be that hard!” Needless to say, that didn’t set them in good stead when it came to me offering a helping hand. We’ve had instances where an agent’s pricing has been so wildly off the market we have blacklisted ever working with them, regardless of who they have on their books. Luckily for us, the UK market is so full of options no campaign will fall apart by not using a particular person – so if an influencer is represented by someone we don’t “like,” we just move on to the next. I’d be surprised if we were alone in doing this, in fact I know we aren’t.
What can a Manager do for you?
As for the second issue, let’s have a stab at sorting out the frequent misunderstanding an influencer has with what a talent agent should do for them. We frequently get emails mistaking us for a talent manager, where influencers say things like “I’m looking to take the next step” or “I’m looking for someone to help me grow.” Quite frankly (and I’m talking for 99% of the market), you shouldn’t really be using a manager to do that – do it yourself. Talent management comes in when you cannot control the workload consistently and need advice and help with what campaigns to take. They’re also very useful if you aren’t a natural negotiator, providing they come in with a reasonable (for the brands) pricing suggestion.
I had a really interesting chat with a couple of the bigger agencies who both said the exact same thing. Their strengths as agents are more towards developing an influencer’s presence into other media sectors – TV, book deals and personal appearances. What they admitted was that when it came to pricing digital campaigns, they really had very little idea of how to go about it and often led costs by what budget the brand had available. In fairness to them, why would they know any different? This way of working has allowed them to develop the talents of many a celebrity! In fact, both companies said that unless they could see potential to develop the influencer into the markets they specialise in, they probably wouldn’t look to represent them in the first place.
What a talent manager rarely has time to do is actively develop and create campaigns for you – sadly they often have a too big a rolodex to allow them to do so. All too frequently we’ve heard the story of “I got a manager, and they brought me no to little work”; in their defence that’s not entirely their fault, unless they’ve promised otherwise, as you should be in big demand and they should be focussing on streamlining your projects and career in the direction you have told them you want to go. They’re not there to bring you more work; they’re there to better organise the work already coming in.
Some Other Options
So, if talent management isn’t currently an option, what do you do if you are genuinely needing some direction or simply cannot manage the inbox and all the paid work that comes in? More and more we’re seeing influencers take on assistants. Often these people are part-time and come from a digital marketing background. These people are the ones who know, relish and understand campaign management. They know their GA from their GBP and can converse effectively with the decision makers.
As a Final Point
Admittedly this post is written with a negative view on the market so I want to make one thing very clear: we’d love to be able to steer influencers in the direction of an effective talent agent who can handle the intricacies of the market and we do have a few freelance recommendations, but suspect they are fully booked.
What I hope becomes clearer for you as an influencer is understanding that much like the sensationalised concept of “going full-time”, talent management isn’t something you require to be taken seriously in the market. In fact, from speaking to the majority of our clients and from our own experience as an agency, we’d rather just talk to you.