The Internet can be a weird and wacky place. That’s because digital culture is not dictated by a small group of influential media properties or brands. The landscape has been completely democratized, allowing personalities to gain massive influence by creating compelling content across social platforms like SnapChat, Vine and Instagram.
What’s more, per a Vanity Fair survey, digital influencers occupy eight in 10 spots on a list of the most recognizable celebrities among U.S. teens. These content creators are both artists and business people in the very same way film stars and recording artists are – and brands have begun to pay attention.
We spoke with Victoria Bachan, a digital talent agent who represents Doug the Pug, among other social media celebrities, to find out what it’s like to manage some of the biggest personal brands (human and canine!) on the Internet.
Crowdtap: How did this all start? How does one become a talent agent to the digital stars?
VB: I met Doug’s “human,” Leslie (Mosier), back when were both working in the music industry, She was at a record label and I was working for a production company. When I left that role, I joined a premiere Hollywood talent agency, and while I was there I noticed an opportunity to do something a little different. Being a Millennial myself and in the demo of “creator culture,” I decided to take a more innovative path, which is how I came to manage digital talent, including Doug.
My speciality is managing personalities that have a strong and distinctive brand story across social platforms. Take Doug for example: In all of his content, he is personified as a human. He wears human clothes and partakes in human activities. He is also a joyful brand – it’s amazing how much happiness Doug brings to people around the world, especially when you think about the darker side of the Internet and social media.
Crowdtap: How would you describe your job to friends outside the industry?
VB: My job is to manage the day-to-day affairs of digital creators. For movie stars, their medium is film. For recording artists, it’s music. When we talk about digital talent, their medium is the digital space, and they are widely known across the web. This presents an interesting model, because not only are these people personalities in their own right, but they are also powerful marketing channels because they have earned the trust of large audiences around specific topics.
Crowdtap: What are the core things you look for when vetting opportunities for brand partnerships?
VB: Doug receives hundreds of brand and PR pitches a week. It’s really tough – sometimes we have people who email us multiple times to break through. For people we have not worked with before, the best way to stand out is to ensure your email has a clearly defined ask. Sometimes people say things like, “We can’t say which brand it is yet” – which we completely understand – but it does help to have all of the specifics of the proposed partnership in that first piece of outreach.
We really like it when people craft succinct emails that state their objectives, why they think Doug is a fit, and which platforms they would like to focus their efforts on, and what their goals are, etc. It’s difficult to vet requests if they are vague and only state a general desire to work together.
Crowdtap: What’s the No. 1 factor that would incite you to work with a brand again?
VB: For us, even beyond compensation, it’s the ability to approach the project with our own editorial lens. We are cognizant of things like FTC guidelines and the need to use hashtags that ladder up to broader marketing programs. Where we are less flexible is when it comes to the editorial direction of the content. We know Doug’s audience better than anyone, so we appreciate when brands trust us to take the lead from a creative standpoint.
That said, we do see these partnerships as collaborations. We’re always open to hearing suggestions or thought-starters from the brand, bearing in mind that Doug has a unique voice and style to which we always adhere.
Crowdtap: What are some of Doug’s more successful brand experiences?
VB: We recently worked with Cinnamon Toast Crunch on a campaign in which they wanted to promote a “selfie spoon.” This was absolutely perfect for Doug as it combined food – though Doug does not eat “human” food; he strictly eats organic dog food – and pop culture. The brand gave us free reign to approach the project as we liked.
Another great partnership was with Flonase. We worked with them last fall to help promote a pet photo contest. Their goal was to use celebrity pets to help encourage their fans to share their own user-generated content centered on all of the fun things pets can do when their humans aren’t suffering from seasonal allergies, like jumping in the leaves and playing outdoors.
We created a couple of posts for this effort, and Doug was a perfect fit given his personality and his human’s own challenges with seasonal allergies. The content we shared help inspire people to enter the contest and think more creatively about their pet photos, and the brand was then able to repurpose the content across their larger advertising spend.
Crowdtap: How important is video to Doug’s overall content strategy?
VB: Video was central to Doug’s strategy from Day 1. His videos often tie into pop culture themes, so they are relatable to the audience. Other times, Doug’s content introduces people to pop culture. My grandma saw Doug’s “Hotline Bling” parody video before she even knew about the Drake song.
On Facebook in particular, short-form video content outperforms all other kinds of content, so that has been our focus beyond some of the still images you might see on Instagram. Of course, since Doug is an animal, these videos take time. A fifteen-second video can take up to two days to shoot, because want to make sure he is comfortable and not overworked. Doug is always in the driver’s seat.
Crowdtap: What’s next for you and Doug?
VB: We have some things in the works that we can’t talk about quite yet, including some partnerships with high-profile events. Beyond that, Doug’s coffee table book will be out before end of year (you can pre-order now). We’re also working on another calendar – Doug is currently among the best-sellers on Amazon.
In terms of where influencer marketing is headed, I think we’ll continue to see maturation in this space. Digital creators are beginning to feel the pressure of balancing their creative pursuits with running a business, and that’s where people like me come in for support. For high-profile digital celebrities, having a talent agent and manager is critical to ensuring the best possible experience for both the creator and the brands with which they partner.
Learn more about winning creator partnerships in our report, “The State of Influencer Marketing.”