Do Influencers Need Agents to Get Brand Deals?, Nano-Influencers, & Influencer Courses - Ep. 59

James Nord
May 17, 2023
Updated Feb 09, 2024

Welcome to Negronis with Nord. In this episode, James discusses the pros and cons of influencers working with agents or managers. He also covers how micro/nano-influencers can strategize when looking for brand collaborations, and whether influencer courses are educational or scams.

Below is an edited transcript of the full episode for your reading pleasure. Make sure to subscribe to the Fohr YouTube channel to get notified of new episodes.

James, Founder, CEO, and busy bee

James: Okay, welcome to episode 59 of Negronis With Nord. It's been a busy month for me. We took a little break. I was out in Napa at a big advertising conference. I also had my birthday, during which I spent 14 hours violently and aggressively vomiting. I was unable to leave my bed, which was a terrible way to turn 39, especially when most of my family was in town to celebrate. So that was a big bummer.

We had our big black-tie event, which was fantastic, and a lot of fun with clients and influencers. Thank you for attending. If you want to come next year, the easiest way to ensure that you get to come is to give us money and become a client. Then you can come to Black Tie. It's been a busy month. I'm actually going to Cuba on Friday, and then that's it. I'm done. I don't want to travel anymore. I don't have any plans until my wedding in September. I'm sure that will change, but I'm also looking forward to having a few months with nothing to do except plan and execute a wedding. Let's jump into some questions because we are also waiting to get some AC installed in this office, and it's like a hundred degrees right now, and I'm in a suit and ******* dying, which is why I'm drinking this Lacroix.

Do influencers need a manager to get brand deals?

You know, they've been working with an agent for a while. They're currently on their own, trying to figure out if they should search for new representation or continue representing themselves. We have talked about this question for as long as we've done this show. I have always had pretty strong opinions about representation and influencers. Ultimately, I think it's a really personal decision.

Managers will be happy to take you on, especially if you're making more than a hundred thousand dollars a year. They will take 20-25% of your commission to negotiate deals, send out invoices, and answer some of your emails.

Part of the calculation for you is whether you want to give up that 20-25% of your income. Most agents and managers in the influencer space are not doing much to bring you additional business. This is something I have discussed with influencers, and it is rare to hear that they are bringing in a significant amount of additional business. I think that's something that a lot of them promise, but it very rarely happens. So they are mostly going to be taking your inbound interest and trying to upsell it.

Part of the calculation is whether you think they can make you 20% more money than you would have made on your own. That's a question you'll want to ask them. How do you plan on growing my business? Certainly, you want them out there pitching you. So ask for examples of business that they've brought in. I would absolutely ask for references and interview and talk to their current clients to see how that is going.

Another thing to think about is their representation style. We have had to stop working with influencers because their managers were unprofessional and we had a hard time working with their management. That's also a concern. Again, something to think about, which is why you would want to get references both from influencers and potentially from brands as well, if possible. This person is going to be your mouthpiece. They are going to be the person that brands interact with more frequently than you. As a representative of your brand, you want to make sure that they communicate in a way that makes sense for you.

"This person is going to be your mouthpiece. They are going to be the person that brands interact with more frequently than you. As a representative of your brand, you want to make sure that they communicate in a way that makes sense for you." - James Nord, ep. 59

Obviously, if you onboard them, you're going to go through how you want them to talk, respond, and the tone of voice you want them to use. But it's good to see how they generally converse and talk.

Another thing to consider is how much it's worth to you to not do that work. For some influencers, they really hate the business side of things. They don't like managing their inbox, negotiating, dealing with contracts and invoices, and following up for payment. Giving away 20% of their earnings for someone to do that feels like a lot. Most influencers could use virtual assistants and other organization tools to take care of that and keep that money. Especially as brand budgets get tighter and there's more supply of influencers, there's less money to go around. Giving away 20-25% of your earnings is a lot, especially for bigger influencers who are making two, three, or five hundred thousand dollars a year. That's like a real business that has employees. If it were me, I would hire full-time and not pay someone a percentage, but pay them a salary and get 40 hours a week out of them and use them for a number of things other than just managing my inbox and my brand relationship.

I know there are a lot of great agents out there, and there are a lot of agents that we work with who are fantastic. For some people, it's the right choice, but as an influencer, you want to look into that and figure out if it makes sense for you.

Kelsey: In your Tumblr days, did you ever have a manager?

James: I mean, during my Tumblr days, there was no money, so there was no management to be had because nobody made any money. The idea that we could make money off of what we were doing was inconceivable. So, nobody had managers. But I feel like in 2014 and 2015, it became a big goal for people to get a manager. It felt like it was tied up in the idea of getting an agent, being an actor, photographer, or model, and getting an agent, which gave legitimacy. Traditionally, agencies can drive a lot of business for you. For example, if you signed with Next Models, you would get access to opportunities that you wouldn't otherwise.

However, if these people are just taking your inbound and negotiating for you, it's not a super compelling reason to give away 20% of your business, which is not insubstantial.

Are brands still considering nano influencers for their marketing budgets?

Yes and no. Nano, micro, and macro - you know - celebrity, blah. Is there anything smaller than nano? I don't know. I think brands use these as tools. Different types of influencers make sense for different kinds of programs, products, and campaigns.

As a micro or nano influencer, I will say that as the brand gets bigger, it gets harder and harder for that to make sense. If we are working on a campaign with one influencer who has 10,000 followers and another with 500,000 followers, it takes the same amount of time to execute and create a sponsored post for the person with 10,000 followers as it does for the person with 500,000 followers.

But it takes 50 people with 10,000 followers to reach 500,000 followers, right? As a brand gets bigger, it becomes harder to work with smaller influencers because the scale they need to reach their goals is much larger. On the flip side, as an emerging influencer, it's easier to work with smaller emerging brands. A bigger brand needs more scale because their goals are quite large for what they need out of those partnerships. A smaller brand isn't going to be able to pay the $20,000 that it costs to work with an influencer with half a million followers on a couple of posts. Therefore, they will go to smaller influencers to work with them. There's an opportunity there that doesn't exist for bigger influencers. I mentioned this because I think it's good to understand the realities of where brands are constrained as you think about a strategy of how you're going to pitch brands and how you're going to build your business.

Because they may have a budget, but they might be saying no because they don't have time. On a smaller brand, they may have some budget, but they have to say no to the big influencer because they don't have enough budget. So, you have to consider all of those constraints.

All of those things are real wherever you are and whoever you're following. I would encourage you to pitch brands that are at a similar place. If you're an emerging influencer, pitch emerging brands. If you're an established influencer, pitch established brands. Across a lot of our big clients, we are working with micro and nano influencers. The best example is Sephora Squad, which has people from 5,000 to 5 million followers. Sephora is really focused on getting together a group of influencers into the Sephora squad that have a wide array of followers.

That's something that's really important to them and is part of their values. So, they put in extra time to make sure that they can work with influencers of all sizes. Not every brand is like that. I will say that it continues to be true that smaller influencers, who often have higher engagement rates, have more sway over their audiences. So, from a data standpoint, nano and micro influencers still outperform larger influencers who have a follower-to-follower approach. The problem is the time spent to execute these campaigns, which is a very real cost and often more important than the actual monetary cost to the brands. It's worth knowing this.

Are influencer courses worth it?

I feel like some of them are a scam. This has been ex an explosion over the last couple years generally of people selling courses.

This is seen as a way to make a quick buck. I do this show, right? I have said since episode one of "Drink with James" that you can't hack your way into success. Watching the 300 episodes or whatever we have of this show won't guarantee success even if you follow everything I say. Ultimately, you should use these educational resources to challenge yourself, learn something new, and stay focused on your craft. Remind yourself of things that you probably already know but are good to be reminded of. I think a lot of business and self-help advice is like that. They're things that it's just nice to be told again, and it's nice to hear them in a different way to remind yourself that those basics are still the things that you really need to focus on.

It's why we say over and over again, right? Like, focus on your community, build a community. This is a relationship between you and your followers. That is what you are monetizing, that relationship. We could say that for 300 episodes, and it would still be true. Some of these courses get sold because somebody grew a big following, and they feel like, "Okay, now I'm gonna tell you how to be an influencer." But that has more to do with being in the right place at the right time, creating the right content, and focusing on it to build that following. Going back to Tumblr, I had one of the biggest followings on Tumblr back in the day because I was put on a recommended users list while I understood the platform. Ultimately, getting on that list is what created that following.

And so, for some people, a lot of times the success they have isn't replicable, right? I think these courses are marketed as ways to learn what I know so you will be more successful. If someone is out there selling that to you, it's probably not true. I don't think there are many really successful influencers out there who became successful because of a course they took. If paying $500 and doing an hour a week of a course makes you focus on that thing and puts the work in, it's probably not dissimilar to therapy, right? Most therapists don't tell you what to do with your life. They create a space for you to talk about something, and you usually come to the conclusions yourself.

And then, even though they didn't really do anything, they created this space for you to talk about it, and you figured it out for yourself. You feel like, "Okay, that was worth it, right?" So, I think if you're going to do a course, if you're going to pay for it, ultimately, it's on you to make it worth it. If you go in thinking, "This is going to change my life, this is going to grow my following, and figure out how to do TikTok and become an influencer," you're probably going in with unrealistic expectations. If you think, "I respect this person, and I'd like to hear what they have to say, and I'm willing to pay X amount of dollars to do that," then do it. Anyone that has a kind of get-rich-quick type of messaging, "Do this to become an influencer. Start living your dream," should be approached with caution.

Like, taking this course and quitting your job and doing this full-time? I would steer pretty clear of that. We've been doing this for longer than any of those courses have existed. I always say, you know, ultimately, this is not going to fix you. What you learn from this show, what you learn from me, admittedly probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on this subject, can't help you actually achieve your goals. It may help you achieve those goals, but it is not going to dramatically increase the probability that you will achieve them. Ultimately, that's on you. That's on your ability to build a community, create compelling content, and a lot of that is inherent. Anyone's success is largely due to luck. If they tell you otherwise, they're lying to you.

So ultimately, people don't like to look back on their careers and say, "A lot of this was luck, right?" That's not as fun as saying, "It was all me, and it was all intentional, and I knew exactly what I was doing the entire time, and it was all my hard work, ingenuity, and smarts." That has created the success, not my privilege, my position, luck, timing, or whatever the **** else it is, right? So once someone starts selling courses to increase our luck, maybe then we'll pay for them. But with that, I will thank you for joining. Hopefully, next week we'll have an air conditioning unit, and I'll make it back from Cuba unscathed. I'm mostly worried about the water, as I was just very sick a few weeks ago. I do not want to get sick again. But we'll roll the dice. I'm very excited to get down there, take some photos, hang out with the family, and as always, like, subscribe, share on YouTube, and ask us questions. We'll see you next week.


Cheers, and thanks for watching.

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