Star power has long greased the wheels of commerce. But the business of celebrity endorsements and business ventures has changed dramatically in the digital era when boldface names can flex their muscle through social media and direct-to-consumer platforms.
UTA Ventures chief Sam Wick has a mission to spot innovative and lucrative opportunities for the talent agency’s many clients, as Wick discusses on the latest episode of Variety podcast “Strictly Business.” The explosion of TikTok and other platforms has dovetailed with the scrutiny among consumers of corporate behavior and practices.
“Younger consumers are increasingly looking for brands that have a founder-led story and where they can understand (the company’s) mission,” Wick says. “It’s getting harder and harder for brands to tell their stories through traditional media. But if you look at the platforms that are growing — social content — talent is controlling marketing messages in a way that is much more powerful. Brands are increasingly recognizing that.”
The key is helping to connect the right talent with the right brands in a mutually beneficial relationship. “Each of these platforms creates their own set of stars and influencers,” he said. “That leads to a series of businesses that they can build.” He points to the Chamberlain Coffee brand that UTA recently helped launch for YouTube influencer Emma Chamberlain, whose love of java is well-established with her fans.
“When you’re speaking directly to your audience, they understand who you are and you have a greater ability to influence,” Wick said.
Wick joined UTA in 2016 after working in management roles at MySpace, MP3.com and Maker Studios. As he saw the profound impact of social media on consumer marketing, he realized that talent agencies have a huge advantage because of their direct ties to talent.
For Wick it was clear that “this trend of creators being able to build businesses was only going to accelerate. That attracted me to UTA,” he said.
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.