Talent agencies are establishing ties with a new generation of start-ups that specialize in managing celebrities’ footprint across social media.
CAA, UTA and WME have all struck varying types of these alliances because of the increasing importance and complexity of image maintenance on the growing number of platforms, from Twitter to Facebook, where clients engage in a two-way conversation with millions of fans on a daily basis.
“Large agencies like ours sit in a very unique position,” says Brent Weinstein, head of digital media at UTA. “We see the needs and interests of artists on one hand, and on the other we see and are involved with a high volume of interesting new technologies and services. We take what we know about the latter and marry it to the former.”
For UTA, that amounted to signing new venture Fantapper as a client in June. CAA went one step further and incubated a company of its own called WhoSay, in which the agency still maintains a minority stake. WME also has a stake in the Audience, which hasn’t even officially launched yet.
Each of these companies goes about the business of handling the cyber-presence of celebrities in a different way. But at the simplest level, they all give the agencies a go-to option for clients whose representatives know all to well that no actor or musician can afford not to have an oar in the vast sea that is the Internet, even for a moment.
CAA first approached Steve Ellis, CEO of WhoSay, a few years ago about helping the agency come up with a solution for their clients. “They were frustrated because other people were taking their clients’ content and driving business from them,” he says.
Now WhoSay has funding from CAA, Amazon and venture-capital firms that keep the company servicing more than 700 celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez, Katie Couric and Tom Hanks. WhoSay does everything from providing an automated copyright on every image or video that comes from its customers to a mobile app that alerts their respective publicists when so much as a tweet gets distributed.
While such firms as WhoSay make their offerings available to CAA-repped talent, more clients come from outside the agency. None of the agency-affiliated firms are confined to exclusive arrangements.
In addition to overseeing social media for such celebs as Nick Cannon, Peter Facinelli and Ashlee Simpson, Fantapper has an innovative feature capable of transforming stars’ Internet photos into a hub for related content they can control.
“It’s about establishing direct relationships with the stars,” says Ryan Steelberg, CEO of Fantapper. “If that can be facilitated by having relationships with UTA and management groups directly, you need to be everywhere.”
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