For more brands to put money toward video deals with digital celebrities, or influencers, it needs to become easier for the brands to pick out which influencers to work with. "It's much harder for brand owners to keep up with the velocity of celebrity and influence than it was before," said Rob Norman, global chief digital officer at WPP's media-buying arm GroupM. That's a problem for companies that operate networks of influencers, but it can also be a selling point, one that digital video network Fullscreen has parlayed into a multiyear deal with GroupM.
Fullscreen and GroupM have created an influencer marketing program called Playa that will coordinate exclusive deals between the agency's clients and Fullscreen's global roster of more than 75,000 digital celebrities.
An agency signing a deal with a company that operates a network of digital celebrities, or influencers, isn't necessarily newsworthy. GroupM already works with Twitter's influencer marketing firm Niche, and Omnicom signed an eight-figure deal with Disney's Maker Studios in 2014. And the fact that GroupM's parent company WPP is an investor in Fullscreen makes the deal less of a surprise. But what really helped the deal come together, according to Mr. Norman, is that GroupM gains access to Fullscreen's tool that helps brands identify and assess the company's influencers and their audiences as well as Fullscreen employees that have experience in mediating deals between brands and influencers.
For advertisers, dealing with digital celebrities isn't the same as traditional stars. For starters, digital celebrities have a higher bar for which brands they're willing to promote, recognizing that their own reputations are at stake when they back a brand. And large as digital celebrities' fan bases can be, they can also be pretty niche. A digital star may have millions of subscribers on YouTube and thousands of fans mobbing her at an event like VidCon, the annual Comic-Con-like confab of digital video stars and their fans, then walk into a Starbucks a few blocks away and go unnoticed.
"This really started at VidCon for me," Mr. Norman said. "Obviously I knew what the scale of the YouTube ecosystem was. But what I didn't really know was how mandolin-sliced that celebrity has become."
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That niche-at-scale dynamic can make it hard for brands to pick out which digital celebrities they want to work with, especially as more of these so-called influencers crop up across YouTube, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and elsewhere. But Fullscreen has built tools that catalog these creators and measure the paid and organic reach of the creators' own videos and the ones they made for brands, with WPP's Millward Brown and Tubular Labs on board for third-party measurement verification. Now it is opening up those tools to GroupM "so that they on their buying desks can actually look at people and creators in the same way they would look at other media channels," said Fullscreen CEO George Strompolos.
"It's systematizing what was previously unsystematizable," Mr. Norman said. He added, "What they've got is an influencer management system that allows you to identify who's trending up and who's trending down, what their interests are, what their audiences look like, what the intersection of their channel viewers are with other channel viewers and also about the kinds of work they do with brands."
Digital video analytics companies like Outrigger Media and ZEFR offer similar tools that examine digital celebrities' audiences for advertisers and present that information in a dashboard. But thanks to its network of influencers, Fullscreen is able to take things a step further by connecting advertisers with those celebrities and helping to put together the deals.
In the case of Fullscreen's deal with GroupM, Fullscreen will be setting up a dedicated team of employees that specialize in influencer marketing campaigns to work exclusively with GroupM's clients. Those employees will spend their time "managing everything from the creative ideation to the contracts to dealing with the personalities involved -- whether those are agents, managers, lawyers, parents -- to the nuances of maybe a certain creator recently worked with a competitive advertiser or maybe a brand has shown a tendency to reject ad integrations and also respecting and honoring the creative vision that the talent has," Mr. Strompolos said.
Those employees will be headquartered in New York and also located in London and Los Angeles. They will work primarily out of Fullscreen's offices but also spend time at GroupM's digs. That shared-space strategy will be especially easy in Los Angeles where Fullscreen and GroupM have offices in the same building in Playa Vista, the emerging epicenter of the L.A. tech-and-media scene that also inspired the Playa program's name. In addition to the team of specialists, Fullscreen will offer up its in-house production team to work with the influencers and GroupM's clients.
The deal may sound as simple as GroupM gets to pick stars from Fullscreen's stable to appear in one-off videos, but it can go the other way as well. Mr. Strompolos said GroupM's clients will get first dibs on sponsorship opportunities in one-off videos and original shows that Fullscreen's creators initially come up with that could include one or more brands.
As part of the deal, GroupM's clients will receive some exclusive deals on campaign pricing, Mr. Strompolos said, declining to get into specifics about the deal's financial terms. Mr. Norman said there is "no hard commitment" in how much money from GroupM's clients that the media-buying group needs to funnel Fullscreen's way. But if GroupM isn't able to spark enough deals between its clients and Fullscreen, then some exclusive aspects of the deal will be made available to other agencies and advertisers.
And that's the looming question: whether Fullscreen's expertise and the ease of its technology will be able to entice GroupM's clients, who may be more comfortable spending their money on traditional channels, to see Fullscreen's creators as the next generation of those channels. Mr. Norman said clients want to do more of these influencer deals, but "if I was Walt Disney Corporation or NBC, I wouldn't be quaking in my boots." At least not yet.