Written evidence submitted by Dr Sophie Bishop
Sophie Bishop – Specialist Advisor Written Evidence
There are two tiers of talent management in the UK influencer ecology that I will hereafter distinguish as ‘top tier’ and ‘emerging’. ‘Top tier’ management offer dedicated support to small roster of established and upcoming UK influencer talent. They often maintain contracts and commissions reflecting talent industry standards and norms, and offer appropriate and commensurate support and management services to talent. Secondly, emerging talent management will have much lower barriers to entry, and likely are responsible for a significantly higher volume of influencers and creators. They often have unclear or exploitative fees and commissions, and may offer patchy or inconsistent support to talent.
Top Tier management
Gleam Futures is the flagship example of top tier influencer management. Often described as a “pioneer” digital talent agency, Gleam Futures was founded in 2010, relatively early in the context of UK influencer culture. Gleam Futures continues to manage some of the most notable ‘digital talent’ in the UK, for example cleaning influencer ‘Mrs Hinch’, fitness influencer Grace Beverly and family influencers The Michalaks. Gleam has also expanded into other media and entertainment sectors. For example they offer media production support through ‘Gleam Studios’ and Literary representation through ‘Gleam Titles’. Gleam also offer influencer marketing solutions for brands through their influencer marketing arm ‘Gleam Solutions’, and have worked with brands including BT, Pandora, Kellogg’s, Sky and Honda.
In many ways, Gleam Futures functions akin to a ‘traditional’ creative industries talent management agency. Talent have a dedicated manager who works on their behalf. Gleam are paid via an agreed commission from talent. They are very selective about who they choose to manage. Lucy Loveridge, who is now Managing Director, told The Guardian: “We want to represent the absolute crème de la crème… in the UK, there’s a lot of what I would call ‘influencers’. There’s less talent” (Elmhirst, 2019). This selectiveness has raised concerns related to diversity and inclusion. In oral evidence, Gleams’ Business Director Amy Bryant-Jefferies told the inquiry “quite a strong percentage [of talent] are white. At the moment we have 14% from under-represented communities.”
Other examples of top tier management include M&C Saatchi Social Talent and Margaravine talent. Top tier influencer talent management do specialise in managing the careers of influencers and creators, which makes them of interest to this inquiry. However, they follow standard norms and practices within creative talent management industries, and do not offer any new or urgent concern in this regard.
Emerging Talent Management
On the other hand emerging talent management companies offer cause for concern, particularly related to the quality of the services they offer, and the fees that they charge. These organisations have otherwise been termed as influencer platforms in which talent management is often piecemeal, or even automated. Industry watchdog ‘Influencer Marketing Hub’ define influencer platforms as offering “influencer discovery, influencer marketplaces, ecommerce tools and product/gifting tools”.
Of this list, ‘influencer discovery services’ and ‘influencer marketplaces’ are examples of emerging talent management services (InfluencerMarketingHub, 2022). These talent management services mediate a two-sided market between brands and influencers, claiming fees from both sides. They often offer software which supports brands to identify suitable influencers and to help brands in managing and monitoring influencer campaigns. Influencers may be actively approached by influencer marketplaces, or will sign up to be promoted by the platform of their own accord.
Influencer Marketing Hub estimate that there are 18,900 influencer marketing services companies worldwide in 2021. The sheer volume of these influencer marketing platforms makes monitoring them very difficult. In their 2022 annual report Influencer Marketing Hub stated “we have written 50 reviews at Influencer Marketing Hub by the beginning of 2022 but have only just scraped the surface of the industry” (InfluencerMarketingHub, 2022).
An example of one emerging form of talent management is ‘StyleHaul’ 2011-2019. StyleHaul was shuttered following one Executive pleading guilty to embezzling $22 million dollars from the company to pay his professional poker debts (Justice.gov, 2021). Although StyleHaul no longer exists, it serves as a good example of how emerging talent management works, and some of the issues that they raise.
StyleHaul advertised heavily to encourage beauty and fashion influencers to sign up to the platform, and managed top talent such as Zoella and Joey Graceffa. Talent were able to ‘sign up’ via a form on their website, and were required to commit to the StyleHaul network for a minimum of two years. As part of their contract they were required to give the network direct access to their ‘AdSense’ profile (how YouTube pays out partnership income). StyleHaul charged talent 30% of their Adsense income. In return, talent were promised “strategic brand relationships, exclusive distribution opportunities, live events and speaking engagements” (Stylehaul, 2017). Many influencers have since reported that few of these opportunities materialised, despite StyleHaul taking nearly a third of their income for a significant contracted time (eg" Crocker, 2014; TheSarahSalvini, 2017). Many have also described the difficulty in exiting from their StyleHaul contracts, which were opaque and complex, particularly when they did not have legal help and support.
There are several key concerns related to emerging influencer talent agencies:
- Fees: emerging talent agencies operate outside of industry norms, and fees charged to talent can be high, inconsistent and confusing for new entrants.
- Services offered: emerging talent agencies may not provide talent with the services that they advertise.
- Precarity: as new entrants in the market, emerging talent agencies are vulnerable to shutdowns. One example is ‘Defy Media’, who shut down in 2018, owing approximately $1.7 million to the creators that were signed with them (Jarvey, 2018).
Crocker, L. (2014, August 24). Inside StyleHaul, the Largest Fashion Network on YouTube You’ve Never Heard Of. The Daily Beast. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/24/inside-stylehaul-the-largest-fashion-network-on-youtube-you-ve-never-heard-of.html
Elmhirst, S. (2019, April 5). ‘It’s genuine, you know?’: Why the online influencer industry is going ‘authentic’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/apr/05/its-genuine-you-know-why-the-online-influencer-industry-is-going-authentic
InfluencerMarketingHub. (2022, January 24). The State of Influencer Marketing 2022: Benchmark Report. Influencer Marketing Hub. https://influencermarketinghub.com/influencer-marketing-benchmark-report/
Jarvey, N. (2018, November 19). A Class-Action Lawsuit, Late Creator Payments: Inside Defy Media’s Shutdown. The Hollywood Reporter. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/digital/defy-medias-shutdown-provokes-class-action-lawsuit-complaints-late-creator-payments-1160929/
Justice.gov. (2021, June 9). Former Digital Marketing Executive Sentenced to Over 6½ Years in Federal Prison for Embezzling More Than $22 Million from Employer. https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/pr/former-digital-marketing-executive-sentenced-over-6-years-federal-prison-embezzling
Stylehaul. (2017). Society. https://society.stylehaul.com/apply/youtube
TheSarahSalvini. (2017, February 22). YouTube Partnerships with StyleHaul | TheSarahSalvini. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr7DW7V-g6A
Wigglesworth, A. (2019, July 12). Former executive at influencer marketing firm StyleHaul accused of embezzling millions to play poker. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-dennis-blieden-stylehaul-indicted-20190711-story.html