Over the last several years, we have witnessed the stratospheric growth of social media. platforms like Facebook, Instagram, You Tube and Snapchat. They have taken the advertising world by a storm. Companies are scrambling to understand the dynamics of promoting their businesses through social media and have turned to newly-minted specialist agencies to guide them through the maze of choices, platforms and solutions.
Also new in the mix are the social media so-called "influencers" and stars that have popped up out of nowhere. These home-grown talents have made it through their own efforts and clever collaborations, shooting their own videos and photos and telling their stories directly to their fans and followers. Historically, the mega agencies, studios and moguls of the entertainment world could decide who had a chance to "make it" and who didn't. Those times have now changed and no one can deny the power of an influencer that can directly tell their story or promote a product directly to millions of people.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Barrett Wissman, the powerful Chairman of IMG Artists and principal in Two Pillar Management. IMG Artists, a leading global arts and entertainment representation firm, was purchased by Wissman from IMG, the global entertainment monolith that recently merged with leading Hollywood agency WME. IMG/WME continue to own a stake in IMG Artists. More recently, Wissman partnered with Robert Earl to develop Two Pillar Management in the influencer marketing and representation business.
Two Pillar has now become a major player in the social media game, which Wissman characterizes as an extension of the his career advising live-attraction performers and other content creators seeking to establish aspirational lifestyle brands. Their list is impressive, representing talent with more than 100 million followers. It includes lifestyle adventurist Jay Alvarrez, actress Bella Thorne, lifestyle guru Sazan Hendrix, actor and social media wiz Jace Norman and Instagram star and You Tube vlogger Chance Sutton to name a few on the roster.
Recently, Entrepreneur magazine explored this new brave world in its coverage about Two Pillar and Wissman: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/304656.
Barrett Wissman told me up until this point in time, influencers have been largely seen as the new pitchmen for companies, products and services. His feeling however is that unlike most traditional celebrities, they have a far greater opportunity in the role of entrepreneur. Many traditional celebrities are seen by their fans as untouchable icons; social media stars are their followers' friends, cohorts and contemporaries. Wissman said: "this is an untapped market and it is our responsibility to open this world up to our clients. We are here to advise them on how to build their overall brands as celebrities, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. We are only at the beginning stages of this next evolution."
Two Pillar and Wissman may be on to something as several of the influencers I spoke with bemoaned the fact that their representation treats them as a traditional agent would, mostly seeking out transactional opportunities for them. Most of these opportunities would have happened anyway, according to the talent. According to Jay Alvarrez, one of the most respected of the current generation of social media stars, Wissman "has done wonders for his career and business bringing opportunities that offer partnerships, ventures and major brands to the table."
Jay Alvarrez is not only a celebrity on social media, but he is also a producer and filmmaker making videos that portray his aesthetic vision of the world. Through his relationship with Two Pillar Management, he has recently done work for a wide-ranging client base including Coca Cola, Hyundai, the Express stores, Armani, and NBC Universal. Alvarrez' work can be seen on his production website, www.savageisle.com/videos.
Another arrow in Wissman's quiver is his investment in the Global Philanthropy Group. Run by Trevor Neilson and Maggie Neilson, GPG advises celebrities, philanthropists and companies on their philanthropic strategies. GPG has advised Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, John Legend and companies like Gucci, Clinique and Kiehls. Wissman intends to collaborate with GPG to build its social media stars' philanthropic profiles, something that has so far been largely missing from the world of the millennial social media star.
Also important to Wissman is having brands think and act differently in their race to come up with creative ways to approach social media. Two Pillar is currently working on branded short segment shows for its clients, feature length content starring digital stars and advertising content that bridges the gap between the digital and broadcasting worlds. Recently, Wissman and Hyundai worked together to create an unorthodox campaign that ran both on traditional media as well as on Instagram, You Tube and Facebook.
"Social media stars must become entrepreneurs as well to maintain their position as innovators and tastemakers as well", according to Wissman. There are a few successful examples of this so far including Michelle Phan and Ipsy, her monthly subscription service featuring cosmetic and beauty products, and Bless Box, the successful subscription box introduced by fashion blogger Sazan Hendrix.
The real challenge is finding the right advisors and partners to help them launch these endeavors. For Wissman, this is one of the key elements required in order to represent these clients properly in this brave new world. For most agents or managers, its just not in their DNA to do this as they are primarily focused on the quick transaction. Two Pillar is focusing on building brands and businesses for its clients that have developed a following. Sazan Hendrix has already launched her successful subscription box Bless Box and Alexis Ren has launched her activewear line, Ren Active. Helping these very young clients to navigate these unchartered paths is Wissman's primary objective, as they are the opinion leaders and tastemakers of the future.
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