What do Danielle Bernstein, Bryan Yambao and Julie Sariñana have in common? Behind their groundbreaking influence (Bernstein and Sariñana boast millions of Instagram followers) and six-figure brand deals is top agent Jennifer Powell.
Known as “the influencer’s influencer,” Powell is a licensed model agent turned brand strategist, powering today’s most prominent online personalities. After twelve and a half years at NEXT Management, she pioneered blogging and digital influence as the next major marketing revolution.
In 2008, blogger Rumi Neely approached Powell after realizing the clothes she wore in her pictures always seemed to sell out online. “We knew this could be worth money, so I applied model rates to her editorials,” said Powell. “I didn’t really understand what this job was, we sort of made it up as we went along.”
International bloggers such as Chiara Ferragni and Kristina Bazan began seeking out Powell’s expertise to break into the US landscape, and she spent five years exclusively handling influencer talent. Last April, the LA-based agent started her own namesake business, and today she manages seven talents and consults with companies interested in engaging talent for marketing.
Powell tells Forbes about common misconceptions in brand deals, the mechanics of monetization, the saturated influencer ecosystem and the future of digital marketing.
What are the different types of brand deals that influencers engage in, and what is your role in them?
Often, influencers will shoot imagery for social media campaigns, both for their own channels and for brands’ use. They will also hold meet and greets, attend events, and enter licensing deals for capsule collections. More robust partnerships and long-term campaigns will have multiple engagements: there’s a social media aspect, but they also might be the face of a campaign video, appear at an event, design a capsule collection and so on.
As an agent, I help the talent negotiate joint ventures, consulting contracts, and assign a financial value to everything they do and paper it with attorneys.
Influencers are increasingly finding new ways to monetize, such as launching their own product lines. How does this affect their standing relationships with brands?
We’ve been careful not to name the influencer-owned brands the same name as the platform so that the brands have a life of their own. For example, Danielle Bernstein’s Second Skin Overalls doesn’t put her in conflict with other denim brands because its not named “We Wore What”. While it’s important to still engage with brands, it’s also about how much the influencer chooses to push their own brands, which is a choice depending on their goals and how involved they want to be.
While you represent a diverse variety of influencers, is there anything that they all have in common?
The ones who are rising to the top have real quality content, but are also lovely people that others want to engage with. They are professional, grateful and great business people. They have to be all these things in order to succeed.
Instagram has become the most ubiquitous and lucrative social media platform. How should influencers approach other channels?
Instagram is no doubt the biggest platform for a fashion influencer, but diversifying on other platforms is important. Someone was recently hacked and lost their Instagram for 3 days—which was pure panic—but it was a learning experience in that influencers need to remain relevant across other platforms.
Video is also a crucial medium; at the start people didn’t think it would be for fashion, but now we know Instagram stories, YouTube channels and other forms of video are effective for influencers in the fashion space.
How much money can influencers make from brand deals?
The only perspective I have of influencer brand deals is at a certain level, since the talent I work with are fairly established names. Overall, the talent I manage is making millions. Their contracts tend to be more robust and contain several responsibilities within a larger agreement. When they show up at an event, for example, there needs to be more engagement than just being there, so usually that will be accompanied by a meet and greet.
What are the biggest reasons brands approach your influencers?
My first question to brands is which of two things they want from an influencer engagement: brand awareness or sales conversion.
Some influencers are great as the face of a campaign but don’t convert well, others sell things but aren’t suited to being the face of a campaign. There are very few who can do both, and that was truly a realization I had over the last ten years. Just because someone has millions of followers doesn’t mean someone with a smaller following can’t be converting better.
Describe the working relationships you develop with the influencers you manage.
We make goals for their businesses, identify target brands we want to work with, discuss partnerships, work on pitches and so on. Often, these influencers are accidental businesswomen and men who didn’t start off thinking that they could create a livelihood from their work, so I’m not only an agent, but someone akin to their mother, friend or therapist — I’m enmeshed in their personal lives since I am in contact with them and their teams every day.
What, from your experience, is the key to a successful influencer-brand campaign?
The identification of the correct partner. It’s not a numbers game; it needs to be someone who represents the lifestyle and the image of the brand, and the collaboration also has to make sense in terms of the influencer’s brand. Brands cannot be afraid of investing in a meaningful partnership with an influencer, and developing a robust symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties.
What are some common misconceptions of influencer marketing?
People think influencers are snapping pictures on their iPhones as they go about their day, and throwing them up online whenever they feel like it. The talent I handle agonizes over the content they create. There’s moodboarding, days of careful planning and a huge responsibility in assuming the many roles of creative director, producer, stylist and model. There are so many moving parts for them; it’s not just taking a picture and then collecting money.
There’s also a misconception about how much money they are making. People may think it is a frivolous amount, but when you look at all the roles they are assuming to make the campaign happen, it makes sense. They wear a lot of hats in their work, and that is something they should be financially compensated for.
Given how saturated the influencer market has become, where do you think the future of the marketing landscape is headed?
I think we’ve only scratched the surface of the potential of influencers.Quality content creators will continue to grow, and more of them will keep rising to the top. People say it’s a saturated market, but so is acting and music or any other kind of art form, and somehow there’s always room for more. For my 11 year-old son and his friends, the celebrities they follow are Youtubers and athletes. It’s only getting bigger and more relevant, and companies have to get on the bandwagon.
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