In his Oct. 16 guest column for Variety, “It’s Time to Fix Social Influencers’ ‘Bad Neighbor’ Problem,” Kin Community CEO Michael Wayne raised a question about representation in the digital age and invited others to join in on the debate. Kevin Herrera, digital agent at the Gersh Agency, has picked up the gauntlet in the column below.
Michael Wayne’s article last week discussing the “Bad Neighbor” phenomenon in the digital side of entertainment was much needed and well said; firms and executives misrepresenting their ability to secure digital stars aka “influencers” drive down prices for all and put the trust between advertiser, agency, and influencer at risk. Moving forward, we must build on top of a solid foundation; Wayne argues that anointing a single sales representative for influencers is the way to accomplish this goal.
Based on my firsthand experience (navigating the waters of managers, digital managers, multichannel networks (MCNs), ad agencies and brands on behalf of talent) having a single sales representative for a digital star could be a good short-term start toward the solution to the “bad neighbor” problem but would not be a satisfactory long-term solution. To build this industry forward in a positive direction, a sales representative cannot be one that sells advertising/content across an entire network and at the same time, individually, on behalf of an influencer.
“Could you imagine if ABC went into the marketplace and started representing NBC’s shows to brands?” Wayne asked in his column. Of course not. But comparing the sales teams of MCNs to broadcast networks isn’t quite correct. ABC and NBC bankroll the shows that they produce and also provide (control) the platform by which the content is distributed and consumed. ABC would be selling advertising slots on owned and operated channels, programmed with content for which they own the rights.
Most MCNs in the space have their O&O’s (with varying levels of success) but the majority of their revenue comes from the advertising they oversee across the channels they have in their networks–channels they do not own and operate. The MCNs don’t own the content where they sell ad space (for the most part), they don’t own where the ad plays (if we are talking YouTube, Facebook, etc.) and as such, shouldn’t be the sole representative of a digital star’s branded business but instead, play a vital part of a larger plan.
Keep in mind that we’re only talking about branded representation for talent, which is only a portion of what should be covered by the representation that a talent has, given other areas are bridging the gap into traditional, originals, etc.
Before Big Hollywood came in and invested in the major MCNs, the muddy waters weren’t just filled with “bad neighbors”; they consisted of double- and sometimes triple-dipping, self-guided and sometimes self-dealing practices. For the most part, these unethical business practices have been reigned in and an equilibrium is finding footing. Building off of this equilibrium and away from monopolistic business practices is the key to the growth that Wayne spoke of in his column.
In my vision of the perfect industry, MCNs (and other advertising agencies with sales teams) would be able to sell across their massive network of exclusive channels. Individual brand deals would be negotiated directly between the advertising brand’s ad agency (or the brand itself) and the talent’s representation…unless the MCN/advertising agency owns the channel outright (like an NBC/ABC) or executes the majority of the work to complete the deliverables for the deal.
Everything about our side of the industry is inherently the opposite of cookie-cutter and as such, the teams that represent this talent should be as well.
Kevin Herrera is a digital media agent at the Gersh Agency.