The very fact that I’m writing what it’s like having talent management for our blog signifies, at the very least, progress.
‘A lot of very good progress’, my therapist would probably say, encouragingly. You see, until a while ago, even mentioning the fact that we had management for our blog would inevitably wake the sleeping beast: my Imposter Syndrome. Like its very own kryptonite, my Imposter Syndrome would cringe and recoil each time the topic of talent management came up; forcing my body temperature to rocket and my powers of communication to desert me. I’d end up describing our (deep breath) ‘manager’ as someone who ‘sort of, takes care of us’.
More than one person thought I was referring to my own mother.
In hindsight, it all felt a little embarrassing – a tiny bit fraudulent. I felt like David Brent declaring a country-wide tour, when in reality I was performing at a pub in Swindon. Who were we to have talent management?
However, as the blogosphere has filled with ‘professional influencers’ and the structure surrounding them ever professionalised, so talent agencies have turned their attention towards bloggers. It’s now common, accepted – even anticipated – that a blogger might have a manager or (and a word that truly makes my insecurities stand on end) an ‘agent’. Of course, in the ever shifting Wild West of social media, it’s perhaps to be expected that at some point the sheriffs would step in: bonafide agencies making genuine attempts to protect both bloggers and brands from cowboys and heists.
Over the last two years, Claire and I have been ‘signed’ to two talent agencies. Our first experience, whilst far from negative, definitely gave us a clearer idea not only of what representation meant, but how we wanted to be represented. After all, your manager will become your mouthpiece; the face of your brand when it comes to meetings and events.
Our second agency, and the one we are still with – Whalar Stars – understood this vision immediately; and appreciated how we wanted to work and interact with clients.
Having spoken to many bloggers, I realise it’s not widely discussed what having talent management for your blog is like, or – more to the point – what it even means. When we were approached, I too was filled with questions and (predictably) anxieties. What would the agency want from us? Would we have to hand over our email contacts, our money – our souls? Would we have to start flogging haemorrhoid creams or laxative teas? Even worse, what if we let them down?
A few months down the line and we now feel genuinely comfortable and happy being ‘talent managed’ (Imposter Syndrome piping up only occasionally). As such, I thought it might be useful to jot down a few points on what having talent management for your blog actually means: how it happens, how it can benefit you, and what you might need to adjust to.
We hope it’s helpful.
Before we begin, a quick introduction as to why a talent agency might wish to sign, or work, with bloggers. In its crudest form, the answer is (of course) financial gain. Social media – a gold rush industry – is now a lucrative field. Indeed, some have valued it at over $1 billion. As such, there are deals to be had, exclusives to be obtained and stories to sell. Strike as the iron is hot, as they say.
Agencies have therefore moved into this sector in order to sign ‘talent’ (bloggers), for whom they will not only secure work, but take commission from. On the face of it, this might seem a little self-defeating for the blogger. If the person is already finding plenty of work on their own, why would they then hand a portion of this work (and fee) over to a third party?
However, and on the whole, the blogger benefits as much as the talent agency. If working with the right agency (and I stress the term ‘right’ here), the team supporting you will be experienced and professional; having spent years working within the field of talent management. As such, they’ll not only possess an established network of brands and clients (for you to work with), but are likely to have a better appreciation of what fees you might realistically set. Indeed, all too often bloggers are vastly underselling their services – something a manager can remedy.
As a result, a blogger will likely earn more when signed with a talent agency, despite the commission.
Yet, agencies play more than simply a money-grabbing role. They also have an important part to play in policing and safeguarding the blogging industry. Over the last two years, we have been regularly saved from dubious contracts and exploitative small print, thanks to our manager. Commercially experienced, these agencies will ensure that contracts are legally and morally sound; ensuring that influencer marketing remains a fair and level playing field.
Likewise – and just as importantly – the agent also has a duty to honour and protect the brand working with the blogger; ensuring content is created to the agreed standard and within the stipulated time frame.
As such, agencies and managers are a little like referees, ensuring that both teams play fairly and adhere to the rules. For want of any better form of professional standards (aside from that provided by the ASA), talent and management agencies are perhaps the nearest things that the blogging industry has to mediators.
Let’s start at the beginning: how a blogger and a talent agent come to meet.
This is a question we’ve been asked a few times by friends and fellow bloggers, and is perhaps a question with no single answer.
Claire and I have been approached by five agencies since taking our blog full-time in 2016. Each time, an email has landed in our inbox with an agent or team introducing themselves. How these agencies have ‘discovered’ us is a bit of a mixed bag: whilst some have seen us at awards or events, others have been recommended us by mutual clients e.g. an airline or particular brand. The agency have then scoped out our work independently, and made a decision as to whether they want two anxious twins on their books.
Among the five agencies that have approached us, it’s important to note that there was a definite range in both quality and experience; something that bloggers must take into consideration if in a similar situation.
Given the boom in social media marketing and the profits to be had, many agencies have been created solely for the purpose of profiting from influencers. At best, these agencies might be described as opportunists, and at worst, snake charmers. Indeed, whilst many are genuinely fantastic, some are certainly worth avoiding.
As such, we’d highly recommend that you take the time to research any prospective agencies and meet with them face to face. Don’t be afraid to go armed with questions. Request examples of the other clients they represent, ask what sort of brands they have collaborated with in the past, and insist on seeing a dummy contract.
We’d also recommend that you insist on a trial period – 3 months or so – to see if the relationship works for you both. Be sure to also include a break out clause at the end of this period.
Although we have been approached by agencies in the past (rather than vice versa), it is also fairly typical for bloggers to proactively submit themselves to managers. Whilst some agencies have online application forms, others may be worth simply emailing. However, do remember that just as you would undertake your own background check on an agency, so they will evaluate you, too.
It’s all a little like online dating, albeit slightly less soul destroying.
You’ve met with an agency and decided that you’re the perfect fit for one another. You’re ready for the next step: the small print.
If established and reputable, the agency should be able to send you a cohesive and watertight contract, aimed at protecting the rights of both the blogger and the agency.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that when a contract lands in our inbox, I freeze. My mind disengages and I stare off towards the window, unable to muster the energy to even glance at it. Thankfully, Claire is a lot more discerning and as our Dad is a solicitor, he is always on hand to read through these sorts of things.
I’d therefore advise that you take your time when reading through these contracts, and don’t be afraid to request amends or additions. Remember: the contract is a two-way street and should be mutually beneficial.
The contract is signed and your new relationship is flourishing. Hurray! But, what happens now? Will you receive a daily phone call from a woman who sounds a lot like Estelle, Joey’s agent? Is a photoshoot with ‘Hello’ magazine just around the corner? Is this your surefire route to fame and fortune?
Well, yes and no.
As we quickly learned, signing with a talent management agency does not automatically mean that a tsunami of work will magically appear. Indeed, and as regretful as it is, it’s unlikely you’re about to be catapulted into immediate stardom.
However, and speaking from experience, a talent management agency can – and will – help to advance and expand your blogging career; albeit in a slow and steady sort of way. More tortoise, less hare, perhaps.
Dependent on the size of the talent agency you join, your pretty little face will quickly join a pool of other bloggers. Perhaps like a slightly less photogenic modelling agency, you’re now on the agency’s books – part of their official ‘roster’.
Our agency regularly meet with new and existing clients (brands), to discuss future campaigns and to introduce them to suitable ‘talent’ (Whalar Stars’ own influencers and bloggers).
Thanks to this weekly pitching on Whalar’s part, we’ve secured some fantastic work with clients we’re not sure we’d have been ‘exposed’ to without a talent agent on hand. As such, our workload has definitely increased and with it, our income.
Although not all agencies might be as proactive as Whalar Stars (e.g. going out to get you work), most should be seeking out opportunities for you. Alarm bells should start ringing if an agent insists on working with only your existing client base, rather than securing external opportunities.
One fantastic thing about Whalar Stars is that they are part of the original Whalar Platform; an influencer marketing platform that has been pairing bloggers and brands since 2016. As such, Whalar Stars have a ready made pool of clients to work with; bringing around opportunities much faster than we could have done alone.
Alongside introducing you to external clients, a talent agency will also pick up on organic opportunities that land in your inbox.
Initially, this might feel a little uncomfortable; particularly if your agent requests access to your inbox. After all, that inbox encapsulates your entire business and you might (understandably) feel a little exposed.
To work around this, we set up a separate Whalar Stars email address that is advertised via our ‘contact details’ (on our Instagram profile). Jess, our manager, can also see this inbox. However, we still have complete control over our own [email protected] email, and simply forward things to Jess if and when it feels appropriate.
Before signing our contract, we also provided our talent agency with a list of clients and contacts that we still wanted to lead on (relationship wise) – meaning that we didn’t have to simply pass relationships over (particularly those that we’d cultivated over a long period of time).
Having read the above, you might wonder if it’s fair for a talent agency to profit from those organic opportunities that land in your inbox. After all, they’ve come directly to you, rather than via the help of your manager. Shouldn’t that dollar be all yours?
This was a worry that certainly crossed my mind when initially signing to our talent agency – and one that was quickly appeased.
When picking up on campaigns that have come directly to us, our talent agency have ensured that they regularly utilise their experience and expertise to secure fees that we would have never had the courage to ask for. Indeed, our fees are now three times higher than they once were and, perhaps more-so, are being accepted.
We’ve certainly found this an eye opening exercise and most importantly, proof of the extent to which Imposter Syndrome was causing us to undervalue our work.
Furthermore, and as long-suffering people pleasers, transitioning a client relationship from one of pleasant lunches and coffees, to one based around money, was something we found incredibly difficult. However, now that we have talent management for our blog, we are able to simply enjoy the ‘nice’ parts of these friendships, whilst Whalar Stars deal with the more awkward aspects (e.g. the money part).
One huge relief that has come from having talent management concerns administration.
It would be fair to say that Claire and I have absolutely no experience in reviewing and comprehending the legalities of contracts. As such, we regularly found ourselves with our hands tied, or – and even worse – without payment.
Consequently, reviewing contracts fast became something that we both dreaded – intensely.
However, now that we have blog management, we no longer have to worry about those dreaded documents: they are dealt with instead by Whalar Stars. It is incredibly reassuring knowing that somebody is safeguarding our interests and ploughing through each contract with a fine tooth comb, rather than worrying about it entirely on our own. Furthermore, it has also meant that we have more time to simply focus on the business in hand: creating travel related content.
Additionally, Jess and her team offer administrative relief when it comes to collating post-campaign reports (gathering stats on the number if reads and impressions, etc.) and when pitching to brands. They are even able to pick up on planning our travel arrangements, which again provides us with much more time to simply get on with work.
In this respect, having talent management for our blog has been a game changer.
As briefly mentioned above, our talent agency regularly meet with existing and prospective clients; ranging from travel destinations to cosmetics brands. Whilst there, they will share with the client our profile (if we are appropriate for the campaign), with the hope of securing future work.
Ultimately, this means that whilst we are abroad or at home working, someone else is out there ‘hustling’ on our behalf; something that is both a huge relief and (I’d assume) a huge advantage.
However, when signing to our talent agency, Claire and I were adamant that we did not want to pass over complete control when it came to meetings and networking. As the saying goes, ‘people invest in people’, and we absolutely believe that it’s important that clients are able to meet us, before deciding whether we work together.
As such, we still meet with possible clients alone, or invite Jess along for the ride, too.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that ‘invoice chasing’ is the worst thing about self-employment. Indeed, I could probably count on one hand the number of times that a payment has arrived in our account on time.
Before having management for our blog, chasing payments took up a significant amount of our time. In fact, last summer, it took near-legal action and three months just to receive a payment that was nearly five months overdue.
Unsurprisingly, having management significantly alleviates this stress – as in house experts chase payments on our behalf. Furthermore, and infinitely more experienced than we are, Whalar Stars are aware of our rights as clients, and can therefore ensure fees arrive largely on time and with little persuasion from the client.
Self-employment, although often celebrated as an enviable lifestyle, can be incredibly lonely and isolating. It’s something that even Claire and I have experienced, and we run our business together – as identical twins.
Not knowing whether you’re doing a good job, making the right decisions, or even succeeding, can be something of a self-employment curse; worries and anxieties that will fill any head at some point or another. As such, it can be difficult to find the motivation and confidence to keep going; to keep that hustle alive.
Securing talent management for our blog has had an almost transformational impact on how we feel about Twins That Travel; providing us with a newfound confidence that these Negative Nancies were once lacking. Rather than ruminating on whether our Instagram account is a spectacular failure, or worrying about why we’ve not been selected for a particular campaign, we can now look to Jess and her team for objective support and advice.
From little Friday messages of support (‘You girls are smashing it!’), to advice on how to grow our blog and brand, having management has made us feel less alone and vulnerable. Instead, we are much better supported and with it, focused.
In fact, securing talent management for our blog is perhaps one of the best decisions we ever made.
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