The new marketing and brand building power plays are no longer led by Madison Avenue advertising agencies or PR shops. The new dealmakers with the longest and juiciest contact list live on their mobiles and trade in social media influence, not prime time media buys. The new kids on the block are Influencer Agencies, and they’re popping up everywhere. 

In Days of Old

Companies used to buy ads in hit shows, magazines and prime billboard locations if they wanted to get our attention and sell us a product.  Now, they hire young YouTubers with monster social reach and a 24/7 work ethic. The industry was nervous 10 years ago when their digital agencies built Facebook pages and opened up comment streams. Now they’re relying on teens and millennials to pitch their Fortune 500 brands. Such Interesting times…..


photo courtesy: zefr

Brands need eyeballs if they’re going to sell their products. Historically, advertising agencies bought youth eyeballs on television networks by producing slickly animated commercials that appeared after school and on Saturday morning (Nickelodeon, YTV, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Teletoon, etc). Tween and teen eyeballs were a sure bet on stations like MTV and Much Music and on reality TV and teen dramas. 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard the television network and advertising market is on shaky ground, as young viewers – children, teens and millennials - move en masse to digital and mobile platforms. In this uber-fragmented media universe, companies selling products must now invest in a wide range of content options to reach their young audiences. To fish where the fish are means advertisers are buying brand messages in video games, web-series, Buzzfeed, apps, Search platforms, websites and more.

Of course, the slam-dunk draw for youth and millennial eyeballs are social and content sharing platforms.  YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat and Vine and the digital influencers who call these platforms home (aka YouTubers, Viners) are the new, killer commercial inventory.

So if advertisers bought shows or billboards to influence young consumers, now they’re buying someone’s video-producing kid or more likely a collection of kids who together can deliver more impressions (read: eyeballs) than an ad placed in The Family Guy or The Vampire Diaries.

Brands are relying less on TV and more on Social Media Stars

Translation? It would appear youth are the new powerbrokers in the advertising world as they sell their following and fans to eyeball-hungry brands. This is increasingly evident in the way “programs” are being pitched to advertisers. In TV land, the annual preview of the new fall shows on the big networks is called the UpFronts.  In the digital world, the entertainment industry’s launch of the new season is called the NewFronts.  At this year’s Madison Avenue party, the big advertising opportunities were the YouTubers and Instagrammers with ginormous social followings, not the traditional television shows.  

The new Middlemen 

Not long after the launch of the iPhone, entertainment visionaries were forecasting the potential of mobile video as teens discovered the new celebrities of YouTube. Management “networks” sprung up offering to help emerging YouTube content creators produce better quality videos and grow and monetize “their brand”. Suddenly, basement dwelling video hobbyists were being taken seriously and advertisers took note.

 Fast-forward to 2016, and YouTube visionaries and dealmakers have changed the entertainment and marketing landscape.  These digital talent hunters and marketing brokers appear to fall into three camps: Multi Channel Networks, Influencer Marketplaces and Influencer Marketing Agencies. Where one starts and the other ends is a bit of a grey area but we’ll do our best to make sense of it all.

Multi Channel Networks (MCN’s) are the big guns.

Multi Channel Networks are companies that aggregate YouTube channels (aka young creators and vloggers) - although it could also be other platforms like Snapchat and Instagram -  and sell them to advertisers as “bulk units”.  MCN packages include the display advertising that runs on a YouTube channel and the in-content product placements.  

Before they can “package” the talent (young creators with high value channels), MCN’s need to find and sign that talent to a contract, and according to Jonathan Davids, CEO at Toronto’s Influencer marketplace Influicity, it’s not unusual for MCN’s to chase after young creators and social media users who are developing a fast following.

MCN’s tend to focus on specific verticals or content areas and collect young talent according to their channel focus and area of interest… makeup, music, gaming, lifestyle, etc.

MCN’s also provide “talent development” like production facilities for improved video and courses in shooting, editing and business management. The real benefit of an MCN for an emerging content creator, however, is identifying brand partners and sponsorships. MCN’s work with brands and advertising agencies to match brands with channels. For brands, MCN’s take the guesswork out of identifying top YouTubers; they help with “brand fit” so matching a technology loving YouTuber with a technology brand - and also facilitate branded content opportunities.

Beyond that, they also provide “merch” design and distribution, cross-platform representation, licensing, legal counsel, a shoulder to cry on, handholding, and so much more. YouTubers are often kids; the best of these new “agents” double as business manager and parent surrogate.

Influencer Marketplace Exchanges

Influencer marketplace exchanges like Toronto’s Influicity use a finely tuned algorithm mixed with human curation to help identify top performing social media influencers and content creators. 

The vetting process on influicity is very technology driven. We have an algorithm that can measure how often do you post content, what’s the sentiment of the comments that’s posted about that comment, how many comments on a video are on subject, the hashtags that are related to it, so there’s a lot of stuff you can collect programmatically in terms of data and then make decisions based on that and then there’s the human factor – and that involves star ratings given by advertiser to the influencer pre and post the campaign, ratings that we provide to the influence”.

See our full interview on Influencer marketing with Influicity CEO Jonathan Davids here.

Influencer Marketing Agencies

These companies promise brand sales representation on smaller, mobile platforms such as Instagram, Vine and Snapchat.  They recruit and partner influential digital creators with leading global brands. They also generally play a role in the creative development process.



What all these Influencer organizations look for in an Influencer?

  • Raw talent 
  • Creativity
  • Social influence: likes, favourites, shares from content
  • Channel depth/inventory
  • Posting regularity and velocity (how often/how fast)
  • Cross platform management skills
  • Brand friendly (don’t swear, don’t do anything racy)
  • A following that’s growing: subscribers vs views
  • Proof of audience engagement: comments
  • Authentic delivery
  • Fit with brand
  • Price competitiveness
  • Management smarts (is the Influencer business savvy, do they have a talent agent or are they going to have to babysit you).