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What it takes to run a Successful Influencer Marketing Agency – Interview with Nick White

Influencer Marketing Agency - Interview with Nick White

It’s hard getting the attention of your target audience, what with the number of competing products and ever growing mediums of communication these days. Your audiences have too many options to choose from, they have ads barging in at them from all sides and they don’t really choose products any more based on just the ads they see. Ads are no longer as effective as they used to once be and moreover, the trust of a consumer is not easily earned via ads. This is where something like influencer marketing can help. Getting influential opinion leaders in your line of work to talk about your product or service, directly or indirectly, can really go a long way in helping you reach out to the right audience in a much more effective way than traditional ads.

Given the importance of this space, there have been a few agencies who have chosen to specialize in this field. We decided to interview Nick White, the co-founder of Silkworm social, who runs one such agency that specializes in influencer marketing. He had some interesting things to stay about what his agency does, how they go about it, how influencer marketing really works and he also shared some success stories that can be great take-aways for you.

A brief intro

I’m Nick White. I’m the Co-Founder of Silkworm Social and Proprietor and GM of Ivy Worldwide. We are an influencer talent agency connecting influential content creators with brands to deliver custom paid-content solutions that are creative, authentic and engaging.

Our raison d’etre is to link influential, prominent, persuasive content creators with the brands they love. The result is customized paid content that engages consumers while meeting our clients’ business objectives.

We have been doing this for the last 10 years. We work with various industries but have primarily been catering to technology customers.

The beginning: Helping AMD gain traction with influencers and growing from there

We started the company along with my partner back in 2007. That was the time I was in Microsoft. We were working on the Windows Vista Launch and AMD did not have the budget anywhere near to what Intel was putting for their partner marketing with Microsoft, so they essentially had to take the Guerilla Marketing approach, which was rather than spending a lot on advertising they went on directly to influential bloggers. This was very new at that time, even Twitter was just picking up. So we helped pick people who were willing to review their product and answer the questions their customers had with the devices and promote their product and brand. We worked with them on this and after having had a positive impact, Microsoft came on a full ride with them.

Since having a positive interaction with them, they came back and said, companies like, Sony, Philips and Samsung want to go on a similar path. But we were like, we only work with Intel & AMD and so it won’t be possible. But, they almost hatched this idea for us saying, ‘Look you could do this for any company out there and it doesn’t even have to be a technology company’. In fact, this was a real opportunity.

So, we left our day jobs, started the firm. But, unfortunately, the macro-economic situation did not co-operate in 2008. We weathered that period, it was an unorthodox start, but since then we have have worked with multiple clients and learnt our lesson, good and bad. At this stage, we’ve really honed in our expertise, we now know how to find the right people, connect them to the brand and generate the content that is going to make people visit our clients’ websites.

Working with 31 influencers over 31 days to drive 84%  more sales

When we started, we had Hewlett Packard sign up as our first client. When you are promoting a new product, you have a lot of PR and advertisement that goes along with it. But as new products come in, the older products lose their focus from the PR and Advertising teams. HP was specifically looking for a solution to promote the PC’s that were already on the shelf for quite some time. Some products do well but some don’t, but they were all good products and were created for a reason to satisfy customers and had to be sold before the product expires and all they needed was just a push to the right customers. And this where it all started for us.

So we worked with 31 influencers over the course of 31 days. They each got a  $5000 laptop to review and give away and they gave it away successfully over the course of the 31 days. This created a cascading effect on the product, a product which was already on the shelf for 9 months, that was actually a really great product. It just had lost a lot of attention. So we managed to drive 84% more sales to those products and also got a 14% increase in traffic to the overall hp.com e-commerce site.

Doing this, not only we got HP’s attention but also of their competitors like Dell, Lenovo who started  looking at us. Soon opportunities started flooding in. Everyone had a similar issue and we started working with them all with right strategy and it was working for all.

Client successes and their referrals have been the #1 source of new and recurring business

We get most business from existing clients and it primarily works for two reasons:

  1. they who ask us to replicate our previous successes that we did last month, last year for other new projects and product lines they have in the market right now.
  2. We’re in a pretty fluid environment these days, where people shift their jobs and go on from one company to another. So since they have a comfortable working relationship with us and because of our previous successes, we come highly recommended to these newer clients.

Webinars have led to clients, as they enquire looking to solve a specific problem talked about in the webinar

The other thing we do is, that while we don’t generate a lot of content on ourselves or don’t talk about our brand much, but whatever content we develop we make sure our brand is on it. So we put on webinars to talk about what we do and how we do it. We’re not the center of the webinar, though. That webinar is about other influencers talking about the problems they had, the agency they hired and how they boosted their traffic. So essentially we get them to talk about what worked and what didn’t and while they don’t necessarily talk about us directly but by implication of the talking about what worked, people get that it was us behind it. So we get a lot of requests from these webinars where people say “We saw your webinar, we have a similar problem…”

So those make it easy conversation starters and help us establish a rapport with them. The biggest problem about business development isn’t only about identifying the lead, it’s something to talk about. We’re not bursting in and saying “buy from me”, we should have some basis for a conversation, have a problem to talk about. So the webinar or the particular problem we wrote about, gives them a demonstration of our competency and it gets further established through the conversations we have.

Identifying influencers and working with them

We have a large influencer base we’ve worked with already and many are just one or two degree of separation. It is very easy for us to find somebody who we haven’t worked in the past but knows somebody that we do and they can help get the introduction we need.

The other approach is, we do as much research as we can. If we have targeted somebody and we don’t have a referral to put us at their door, then our research speaks. We approach and demonstrate them that we know who they are and let them know that they have a place and a program through which they are going to benefit in a certain way. That is the real key. The world doesn’t work on favours, the world works on mutual benefit and compensation. So, we figure out what motivates them and consequently find what currency they trade in and how to structure a pitch that says ‘This is what we have perceived for you and we are going to give more of it, do you want to work with us?’ Generally, we have a very fluid conversation after that, because we have demonstrated competency and we have also demonstrated that this is not our agenda or the client’s agenda that comes first, it is their agenda and everything stands from that.

“Ego” more than money may be the key to getting influencers to really work for you

Almost everybody is motivated by money, but that is not always the primary motivator or the one that can short circuit the path quickly.

What I have seen is ‘Ego’. Everyone has one and if you can appeal to it, you can get further faster than if you weigh all of the things. This is an interesting sort of dynamic. It doesn’t matter, who you are, what gender, what part of the country or what product it is that you are talking about that motivates you or your audience. If I can find a way and tell them that they can come out ahead of their peer group, then almost everybody is going to say ‘Yeah! I want to be part of that.’ Then we can talk about compensation after that. 

Driving 13,000 unique inbound visitors through 50 influencers

As far as a success story is concerned, I can’t mention the brand but they are a multi-national corporation and they’re a PC maker. We structured a program wherein we had 50 different influencers across 5 different categories. So we had creative types, people who were photographers, videographers, we had entrepreneurs, millennials and many others. We segmented them out and gave each of them a package like some laptops along with other accessories, which included in some cases monitors, docking station etc. We prepared them with a detailed document which clearly said what they were getting, what they had to do and what is expected out in return. They were getting $5000 worth of product and we were looking for 2 posts over a period of 60 days that included at least 3 brand mentions, uses of the hashtags and use of the buy now url. We put that all in one detailed document, and they never had to refer anything else than that. If they had any question, we simply said, look at the document and if your questions are not answered then probably you need to take another look at the document.

With those 50 influencers, we generated around 200 pieces of content. And, when I’m talking about content, I’m not talking about Tweets or Facebook status posts. I’m talking about various 5/6/7 minutes videos, 1000 words blog articles, essays and reviews about the product. I’m talking about various photo montages in Instagram and Pinterest. There were about 3 dozens of high quality photos.

So, with all this, we generated a lot of content that improved the search engine result profiles for these products and drove over 13,000 unique inbound visits. This was at that point when we handed it off to the client. The client was very pleased with that traffic. And actually what it did was it forced the client to take a good hard look at their conversion process for their e-commerce store. They did have many inbound leads and some of them didn’t convert and they wanted us to go in depth to understand why? What we did is, we went back to analyze their funnels and helped them fine tune their e-commerce sales funnel process, so there would be lost / abandoned carts and we helped optimize those for more conversions. This is still a work in progress, we haven’t seen the full results of that yet but it is phenomenal so far.

So overall what we did for the client is, not just improve their lead generation but also their conversions. And what it did for us was, it brought in more business because we were successful the first time around.

Clarifying the end goal with your influencer is key, it needs to be a win-win situation for both

For one instance where things didn’t turn out so well: what we had to do was to find a way to place ads on certain influencers sites because our client was not willing to pay for content at that time, they have since come around and changed its stand. But at that time they were willing to place ads on those influencers sites but that didn’t mean the same thing. They got their content which wasn’t paid but earned but they were also made to put some money in influencers pocket via ads and the influencers came out ahead. So it turned out to be a win-lose situation, the client didn’t really benefit.

So we quickly discovered that ads were not going to be as effective as content and we came back to the influencers and said, look we are having a hard time getting to generate the content we need for our products. They, themselves, decided then to change their model and so it’s no longer earned content but it’s paid content now. It’s been working with all and so it’s got to work for our clients also. The next time we meet, we will have it understood that this is going to be a paid engagement including custom content otherwise it can’t happen. So the solution we arrived at was, we’ll buy several thousand dollars worth of ads on an influencer’s site with preferential placements and client will also get the content that they are looking for. This way everybody can come away as a winner.

The real frustration for brands was not getting a solution but the fact that we brought influencers in to help solve the problem and they ended up with a better solution than we could have hoped for. That transfer of ownership was the key in getting the results that we got there. It is not a huge shift in mind-set but it’s the contradicting to things how it is normally done. It is about taking one step at the side from how things are normally done and I’m not surprised at how difficult it is for some firms and agencies to just take that one step out of their shoes and allow the influencers to collaborate on the decision making process.

Working only with clients who are willing to spend an equal amount of time engaging in the process

As far as working with an agency or a brand, what we like to see the most is, they bring their ideas to the table because that demonstrates that we are not struggling with a blank slate. It used to be in the past, a blank slate was okay but now we have to teach or make them unlearn some of their bad habits. But at least we expect that they come in with an engaged mind-set.

Some firms are like ‘I don’t want to deal with this’ ‘let me throw it over the wall’ or – ‘so to speak if you come back with results’. That is not really the way things work. These are influencers who represent customers who want to have a better understanding of your product and your brand because it matters to them, it matters to their audiences. So keeping them at bay, at arm’s length, is really counterproductive. So we look for brands and agencies who are looking to embrace this situation.

Pricing & revenue model

Generally the way we work is, we put together a program it essentially scales based on scope. So, if we are working with 5 sites who have a moderate reach, it is going to be less expensive than a 10 site programme which has a huge reach. It also has to do with the number of products and the length of time. This is a consulting model, so effectively we have to factor in our labour and we add a margin on top. Other things we have to account for is the world of sponsored content. We work on a project basis as much as necessary but it is not our preference. What we rather like to work on a flat fee retainer basis, because that is where we are able to make more of the contribution as we can then work on a systematic basis. The influencers and consequently their audiences have a more sustained experience, this tends to integrate better than the sort pits and starts associated with a project. It is frustrating for all to run a project then stop, then give it to another influencer to run and then there is no integration or continuity between two. That becomes painful for influencer and audiences and we also see that in terms of results. So our preferred approach is to have a static scope and a static feed so that we can provide more value on sustained basis. We have to work based on labour costs, cost of content ‘soap content’ and then our margin. 

Company’s employee base, working style and choice of tools

We’ve got 10 employees at this point, they are scattered all through US except myself, who happens to be in Europe temporarily. We don’t have an office, we will get together on regular basis both for strategy as well as for the core team building but outside of that, everyone works from their home, keeping our cost lower. Our main cost are website, our email and cell phones. We use tools like Dropbox for collaborations and we use Slack. For our webinars we use, Citrix go-to-meeting and for other tools, we use GroupHigh for influencer identification . It is a great place to identify them. We also always recommend using a flexible benefits platform like the one offered by Avantus Employee Benefits, as it’s a much better way of motivating employees.

Revenue figures and future plans

With a 10 person company, we are comfortably in the millions, not in the tens of millions, but in the millions in terms of annual revenue. We are doing okay there.

At this point we are seeing a lot of competition in influencer marketing in general. There wasn’t a good understanding of it in the past as a phenomena but everyone is much aware of it now. We are now getting new clientele with much more exact questions, which is great. So at this point we are just looking to scale as the market scales and then there may be an inflection point on decisions along the way. We are just looking to build, scale and grow with the opportunities. Since 5 years we have grown geometrically and I expect it is going to continue to do so especially when advertisements get replaced with sponsored content in wild ways. So consequently there are lot of opportunities out there. I don’t want to say the word, we are going to or not going to do any one thing, it is just better for us to roll with the industry and see what opportunists we get.

Nick White is the Co-Founder of Silkworm Social and Proprietor & GM of Ivy Worldwide. He runs and manages an influencer talent agency, connecting influential content creators with Fortune 500 brands.

http://ivyworldwide.com/    ivy-worldwide-facebook    ivy-worldwide-twitter    ivy-worldwide-linkedin

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Bala Ayya

Growth Hacker at Mondovo
Accomplished sales expert and a creative digital marketing strategist with a proven record of success in design and product development/lifecycle, from conception to end-user.


Leave a comment
  • An excellent read. To be frank, I was not aware of the magnitude of influencer marketing and it’s after effects. As mentioned in the article, audiences these days are spoilt for choices. They have plethora of brands/products/services to choose from and with every business trying to capture their attention, only the best ones (businesses) manage to come out unscathed.

    But yes, influencer marketing can surely help in building a strong customer base without burning a hole in the pocket.

  • Pretty interesting article indeed!! One thing I would 100% agree with you is the ego part. Ego is one of the things that holds a company/business back. It doesn’t let it grow but when you appeal to it or you can show your client, how his business can stand apart from the rest with just a few permutations and combinations, I’m quite sure no one would ever say NO.

    Keep more of such articles coming. Cheers..!!

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