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Creating unique content brings audiences to online creators, but it’s sponsorship deals and advertising that allow creators to create content full-time. And there are entire teams of people behind the scenes powering the revenue streams for the internet’s most popular celebrities.
Viral Nation is an influencer-focused marketing and talent agency founded in 2014. Nick Reisch – the vice president of talent, who oversees more than 30 agents and 500 developers – came from brands and advertising. He also previously worked as a talent agent at CESD Talent Agency and Wilhelmina, both managing models and other celebrities. He noted that the agency model was not designed to serve creators and joined Viral Nation in 2020.
Viral Nation represents creators like Brody Wellmaker (21.7 million followers on TikTok), Jason coffee (21.6 million, TikTok), Drew Afualo (7.8 million, TikTok) and Steven Er (5.8 million, YouTube). The company offers production services to influencers like athletes who have a huge appetite for content but it’s not necessarily their priority. It also offers content strategists that give creators data insights related to the most effective ways to use their platforms. The Observer’s Rachel Jones recently spoke to Reisch:
How did you start in this industry?
I started my career in commercial branding and celebrity level advertising. We’ve had clients come up to us and say, ‘We’ve heard about these people called ‘influencers.’ Do you represent any of them?” At the time I said, “No. But let me get out there and see what’s up.” Buyers were interested in making big deals with YouTube talent, and people working in the influencer space wanted to dip their toes into the world of celebrity.
Why is it so important for content creators to have a talent manager?
It is very difficult to do everything alone. As well as you may know your platforms, we know brands and offer scaling.
How does an agent acquire customers?
Because we have so many customers, we are very visible. Our customers tell their friends about us. And we have many customer recommendations. We also have an open submission model. But I think one of the most important things about being an agent is having taste and really seeing what’s coming. I expect [Viral Nation’s agents] also go out, have their own taste and win customers over.
What does a day in the life of your job look like?
You wake up early and look at email — it’s not that different from most other people’s jobs. And the layout of the day is to find ways that we can make money for our clients. It’s about closing deals, attracting customers, and talking to customers about what else they want to do. We want them to focus on the part they enjoy, creating content.
Agent work is very packed. You have to be a seller. You have to be a customer success person, both for the brand and for the talent. You have to be mom, dad, best friend, de facto lawyer. In some cases, we negotiate and revise contracts for clients who do not work with an outside legal team. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve looked at thousands of contracts in my life. And then therapist – you do a lot of therapy with clients and talk to them about things that are going on in their lives.
What is Viral Nation’s business model?
It is a commission-based business model. It keeps us hungry. So we only make money when the customer makes money. It’s not like a publicist model where you pay your publicist an advance every month, or a lawyer where it’s an hourly fee.
What are your customers’ favorite revenue streams?
Brand offers, of course, right? I look at brands the way I look at commercials using the old-school agency model where you’re a struggling actor, but if you’ve had a successful commercial career you didn’t have to work as a waiter. Content monetization is number two and ad-supported models. Merch is huge for many customers.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an agent?
Don’t be greedy. I see many greedy people. But I’ve built this team around me so that we’re not greedy for each other. We are not greedy for customers. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. This world is too big for a single person to face alone.
The other thing is to think about the markets. Be strategic about how you attract and sign talent. As an agent, keeping an eye is one of your most important and valuable things.
This interview was originally published in The Creators, a newsletter about the people who power the creator economy. Get it in your inbox before it’s online.