How These Founders Turned Their Social Media Startup Into A Top Influencer Marketing Agency
By 2020, influencer marketing is projected to become a $10 billion global industry.
In 2016, 86% of marketers used an influencer strategy to reach consumers, earning an estimated $6.50 for every $1 invested, with 71% of consumers making purchasing decisions based social media references.
Digital ad spending hit $72 billion in 2017, accounting for over 37% of total spending, with 11.7% of U.S. marketing budgets dedicated to social media. After years of pouring big budgets into ineffective pre-roll, rich media banners and homepage takeovers, brands have transitioned to a smarter strategy of connecting with consumers through empowering the influential people who lead them.
Founded in 2016, Get Engaged is a full-service influencer marketing agency that connects leading consumer product brands with prominent celebrities, tastemakers and social media stars. Leveraging a rolodex of deep-rooted relationships with a growing network of top talent, the startup looks to commercialize access to brands and influential figures online through eliminating the tedious process of searching the net for agents, managers and email addresses. Instead of filtering through waves of representatives, Get Engaged works to consolidate the steps by deploying a team of cross-disciplinary specialists who operate across a wide range of content and brand marketing areas.
Beyond offering these core capabilities, the company also serves as a business development partner, helping brands and influencers alike leverage their global imprint to design products, launch e-commerce platforms and produce experiential activations. Get Engaged collaborates with a vast pool of global talent, boasting a collective social reach of over 5.8 billion. The startup carries a diverse client roster of over 350 celebs and influencers, brokering deals with the likes of Haley Baldwin, Blake Lively, T.I. and Cardi B.
Aside from working directly with notable names, the company has collaborated with several prominent brands such as Facebook, Lyft, MLS, Rolling Loud, Kendra Scott, Sony Pictures and Spotify. Get Engaged recently brought in David “Dave O” Osokow to expand their capabilities, tapping into his extensive experience and contact list to spearhead influencer initiatives.
I spoke with co-founders Cameron Fordham, Ben Hiott and Alex Dermer about the vision behind their company, the changing dynamic between brands and creators and their secrets to staying ahead in an evolving global industry.
What was the specific void or opportunity you saw that inspired the idea to launch Get Engaged?
Ben: We’ve all been friends for over ten years. Cameron and I launched the company, with Alex joining at a pivotal point. We started out curating monetized content and distributing it through celebrity social media channels, whether that be video or editorial content. When Alex came into the fold, after leaving a tech company that developed software and eventually sold to Amazon, our vision evolved. He stepped in and advised that we develop this into an agency, because we had so many relationships with celebrities and influencers. He believed there was a bigger opportunity for the three of us to partner and utilize our relationships, resources and expertise in the marketing field to build something huge.
Alex: Having access to distribute content directly to a large audience from the start enabled us to creatively partner with the right brands and efficiently drive messaging around products, goods and services across the internet. If a brand approaches us and wants to distribute their product to a female demographic of 18-24 year-olds, we can come back to them and say these are the 10 influencers for you to effectively accomplish that goal at scale. Growing the celebrity and influencer base as broadly as possible has allowed us to identify and engage the right influencers across gender and age for specific projects within a segmented market. If you’re a brand looking to target an audience around specific interests, we have the exact influencers or celebrities within our network to directly reach that demographic.
Cam: The diversity of our backgrounds was also a key to creating what we’ve built and a huge reason for our success today. Everyone has a unique skill set and years of experience that worked perfectly when we decided to come together and build our company. The most important aspect of this amalgamation is the passion for excellence and always improving. We embrace evolving, taking risks and seeing different openings in the market as opportunities to win.
Seeing the influencer marketing space grow so quickly with more companies claiming to be experts in the space — How would you describe the work that you do and what separates it from other agencies?
Alex: We work from an understanding of a personal relationship with the influencer. We understand their lifestyle, what their interests are and what they dislike. Grasping that allows us to pair the right influencer with the right company, and ultimately create the right content. A lot of companies will run a campaign and bring celebrities to the table solely based on numbers, assets or a limited network. We take an inverse approach, wherein we go out and pitch specific celebrities or influencers and identify who is actually interested in the particular campaign or company. In turn, that provides better and more impactful content, in addition to feeling more organic instead of appearing forced.
Cam: We are quite fond of our team and culture, but most importantly, the need not to meet, but exceed the expectations of our clients. It’s part of our DNA. Frankly, we will not accept mediocracy. As partners, we push to get the very best out of each other and hold ourselves accountable for excellence. Also, the relationships and trust we have built with our clients sets us apart. We always have their best interests in mind, because at the end of the day, that is the best formula for the long-term. We also never stop working. The clock is always punched at Get Engaged.
Ben: I read a recent article that explained how cash is now a commodity. Traditional venture capitalists must find out how to differentiate themselves now because social influence has replaced cash as the new investment.Social influence has evolved so much. When social media was becoming so expansive, celebrities and influencers didn’t know it would end up being a way to sell products, promote brands or land endorsements. That was always traditionally done on a TV or print format. This space is very fresh, new and rapidly evolving — so we’re always thinking ahead of the curve and looking for what’s next so that we can evolve with the times. One thing we’ve done to strengthen ourselves is not only specialize in pairing influencers with brands, but we’ve further helped celebrities and influencers step into the e-commerce space and build out marketing arms through teaching them about social media and Google ads. That way, when we partner with a brand or company, we can take you to the influencer, help curate multimedia content, develop the channels and also help you advertise the content across platforms.
As we continue seeing the shift into social entertainment, influencers are becoming the new advertisers and commercial actors — How do you see the space evolving and what trends should brands be aware of?
Ben: TV has become social now. With platforms like YouTube On-Demand, people are now recording TV shows and fast-forwarding through commercials. If you’ve ever watched a football game with your friends or sat in a room with millennials watching live television, take a look around the room and see what everyone is doing — Everybody is on their phones. So, are you really advertising to people on TV? You would be more effective taking that money and repurposing it to advertise through mobile because people aren’t even paying attention to commercials anymore.
Cam: If you look back at primetime commercials in the past two years, the average spot costs a brand around $250,000 for 30 seconds. If your primetime show is reaching 10 million viewers, that pool likely varies in terms of demographic, interests, income and purchasing habits. When you talk about an influencer who has 15 million followers and averages 4-6 million views on Instagram stories, the power that those 4-6 million views has is exponentially more targeted and granular in terms of what you can deliver content wise. More so, the return is much higher as it relates to money spent, engagement and how audiences respond to calls to action. That social reach is so much more powerful than anything you can get on TV, and as advertisers invest more into that process, then we’re going to see a far greater spend in the influencer marketing space. As influencers further realize their true value, they will start demanding way more money as well.
Alex: The power is going to significantly shift in the influencer’s favor on their channels. Soon enough, their channels are going to start running a traditional television model. It’s already happening, but it’s becoming more industrialized. Instagram is a great example. It’s only a matter of time before Instagram starts giving influencers the ability to run commercials on their channels. More so, Instagram will begin to automate the process of bringing brands and influencers together. Right now, it’s a very manual process. As an agency, from a technology standpoint, we always look at how to make things more efficient and essentially scale. Taking this approach, paired with our relationships and understanding the types of content an influencer can create, we position ourselves to be at the forefront of this shift when it happens.
Considering the evident convergence of media, marketing and technology — Describe the different iterations or pivots you’ve made as a company?
Alex: As time has passed, influencers have become more educated and aware of their power. In 2015, it was a completely different space than it stands today. As an agency, it’s about adapting to understand that from a creative standpoint, influencers want to have more involvement and control because they’ve built the brand that they have and want to ensure that any content or campaign that comes out aligns with that. Before, influencers were more like contract workers for the brands, but now they’re collaborators. That’s the way we’ve had to pivot, really working to tailor campaigns and initiatives to fit the influencer’s online presence just as much as the brand’s presence.
Ben: We’re evolving into a space where there’s going to be a lot more white-labeling of products with an influencer’s name and likeness on it. Look at what Kylie Jenner has done with her cosmetic line. She could have easily went out and got a massive endorsement deal with a cosmetic company, but she chose to launch her own brand and now she’s setting trends and breaking records. I think there’s going to be a lot more of that to follow. I think there will still be this traditional format of brands making a monetary exchange for a celebrity endorsement, but I believe we’re going to see more celebrities using their voice and reach online to launch their own products and initiatives.
Cam: It’s all about adjusting and or pivoting continuously on every project and resourcing accordingly. The industry moves fast & furious and the landscape can be vast. We stay in our lane and partner with those that offer us the single most impact on disciplines that we need to add for maximum results. If you want to remain relevant in this business, you better embrace change. For example: When socials change their algorithms it takes some adjusting to get to know the new procedures . Companies rely heavy on influencer posts so we need to know how to optimize them the best way.
Describe the working dynamic you’ve established with your network of celebs and influencers and how do you see it evolving as creators become even more empowered?
Ben: From the influencer side, we have developed such a close relationship to the point where our conversations have evolved to collaborating on a campaign that was really cool to them wanting to launch a similar campaign on their own. This has evolved to us brokering massive opportunities for influencers to have their own product lines, partnerships and brands — Both in a collaborative way and completely on their own. On the other side, our relationship with the brands evolved to the point where we’re so comfortable on the influencer side that we ask them to share their wish list of top 5 talent and we can literally, without speaking with the influencers, tell them if there’s a conflict of interest or if they desire to work with that type of company. We can make sure their time is used wisely and effectively, while being able to actually get a deal done for them in the end.
Cam: That’s a challenge we embrace that drives us harder each day. In the end, we must reinvent ourselves daily and always be listening to our partners needs and creating the right solutions. If influencers are not interested in a certain facet of our company, we can offer other values.Celebs know the power of their voice and what it can do for themselves. I will give you an example. I call it the ‘Shepherds and the sheep’ model. In the social media era, influencers are the shepherds and they are telling you to consume products or go buy this etc. The consumer is the sheep and they listen because they trust or look up to them. Eventually, this will turn more towards talent creating their own brands because they can take a much bigger equity stake in own brands.
Alex: There are so many nuances and components that go into our business. As a whole, we know how it’s built and how it works. So, when people come to us, we know how to deliver an outcome that produces a win for both sides, while dealing with all of the inner-workings in between. Some brands come to us and simply say here’s who we are, here’s our product and we want to reach a bigger audience. Others come to us and say this is our product, this is our vision and this is exactly what we want to do — can you execute it? It doesn’t matter how you approach us, as long as you have an idea and a target audience. We’ve intentionally built this engine that is turnkey, allowing brands to plug in and get the results they want. No matter how we need to adapt to each brand or influencer, we’ve designed a self-operating system that adapts really well.
What do you see as the next iteration of your company and where are some areas you’re looking to expand going forward?
Alex: One is understanding the power of the distribution we have online. Harnessing this audience and influence, we’re launching our own brands. Now, we’re thinking from the brand side. We have the ideas, we have the power to launch brands, and we have access to the right tools and celebrities to launch brands with. Over the last several months, that’s been a focus of ours. Another area we’re looking to expand is partnering with the right influencers to develop and launch their own brands. As celebrities and influencers continue wanting to get more involved in the business space and launching brands, we’re positioning ourselves as a go-to resource for them to create, market and distribute products. We’re building out our team to accommodate this so that we can be involved in the process from start to finish — from ideation and design, to marketing and advertising across channels.
Ben: Going back to the notion of social influencing replacing physical currency, we already have the operating capital needed to build and launch our own portfolio of brands. I call our new approach the 50/50 approach. By 2020, 50% of our resources and time will be spent on amplifying other companies and brands, while allocating 50% of our time and resources to working our brands. Whether that be us getting equity within existing companies and helping them get over the hump or actually launching a brand from the ground up. I see us evolving and becoming somewhat of a non-televised Shark Tank. Come sit down in front of us, tell us about your company, and let’s see how we can potentially partner. If it’s a situation where we need to be on a retainer or fee model to get something done with you, we can. If there’s a longstanding relationship that allows us to really get involved with the company from an equitable standpoint, we’re open to that also. There are a lot of young people out there creating and launching awesome products or brands, but they may not have the capabilities to actually get to the marketplace the way they want to or as quick as they should. That’s where we can come in and make that happen.
Cam: Driving our own brand is very fluid and symbiotic to our organization and part of our value creation for our organization. With the network that we have and our connections to decision makers in the industry it is a recipe for success. The key has been to really sit back from a birds eye view and learn these processes over the last couple years. We plan to really focus on these initiatives moving forward.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.