Ever thought about the “middle man” between brands and creators? What about where companies are going to aim their creator strategies next? Or the key to finding what works for your audience? If so, then this is the episode of Earned for you! Conor sits down with Natasha Vaquer, the SVP of Talent Partnerships and Influencer Strategy at VICE Media. The media company was recently cited as the largest independent youth media company in the world, and boasts 35 unique offices.
We start the episode by diving into the ever-evolving relationship between publishers and creators, and Natasha reveals where she thinks it’s heading next. With a decade of experience in the industry, Natasha sheds light on how editors have now become the talent in their own right, and why she believes these subject-matter experts may become the new focal point in companies’ creator strategies. Switching gears, Natasha, who previously ran the talent partnerships division at Refinery29, recounts the experience of being acquired by VICE, and adapting to the publication’s different audience. We discuss VICE’s relationship to different social platforms, and Natasha emphasizes how the “key” is to be nimble with finding what works for your audience. Next, Natasha reveals the mistakes brands often make with talent partnerships, and reiterates the importance of giving creators the autonomy to make content that’s suited to their audience. To close the show, we touch on the current state of affairs with the SAG-AFTRA strike, and unpack how social media creators are being affected.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“Creators have always leaned on publishers for validity and being able to tell their stories in a bigger, better way”: Natasha Vaquer on The Relationship Between Publishers and Creators
Conor Begley: The relationship between publishers and creators has always been an interesting topic for me, because I think when it was first happening, it was almost seen as a [competitive relationship] to me. Obviously that's evolved, and you've had a front-row seat to that evolution when you were on the talent agent side, and obviously at Refinery29 and VICE. How have you seen that relationship evolve between influencers, talent, and the publishers?
Natasha Vaquer: I've been working at a publisher for probably nine years now, and so there's definitely been an evolution of what the publishers need and what the creators need. The relationship in some ways has stayed the same, in the sense that creators and influencers, as they've grown and wanted to create awareness, have always leaned on publishers for some sort of validity, and being able to help tell their stories in a bigger, better way. Being behind a camera, taking photos, and writing blog posts didn't allow people to see their full picture. Publishers allowed them to do an interview and showcase themselves in a different way, elevating their influencer status to more of a celebrity status.
That has not changed, and I still think it's critical to the business. So if you want validity, you go to a publisher to have that feature. You might not be on the front of a magazine, but doing a feature, having an essay, reaching an audience that might not watch you or consume you on a social media platform is validation for creators. I think that relationship has always been really interesting, and continues to be important.
In addition, I think 10 years ago, we had a small pool of creators we worked with that were friends of the brand, and that was how we got into the space. We realized that we needed talent that could help amplify the message that Refinery29 was putting out. We use them to leverage our voice and help gain traction. So that's always been interesting, to leverage them that way.
And then there came a point where there were too many creators for us to have a “friends and family” thing, and now it's kind of a hybrid. I think now editors have become creators and influencers in their own right. So people who worked internally and had an authoritative voice became the influencer themselves. We started managing brand deals for influencers in house and built that whole business, and a lot of them have gone on to be successful in their own right.
But the relationship has morphed, because internal voices then became creators and influencers on the outside as well, and that has been really interesting. It's no longer just someone posting a product, but now it's really an expert world. I think editors are a big piece of that. So publishers that lean into editors, like Refinery29 and a lot of our verticals, [recognize that editors] have become the next talent.
“I think the good creators out there need to have a little bit of autonomy to help create the best content for their audience”: Why Brands Need to Give Creators The Freedom to Do What They Do Best
Conor Begley: Where have you seen talent partnerships go wrong? Say a brand comes in and wants to partner with you, where have you seen that go awry? When do they get it wrong?
Natasha Vaquer: There are a million reasons why it can go wrong, but I think one is having a set idea of who makes sense for their brand without having any information on the person or their audience. Just throwing out a name and being like, “Oh, we like this person and want to work with them.” Well, let's make sure it makes sense. Let's make sure their audience makes sense. Make sure their audience is even in the U.S. if it's an American company. A lot of times those numbers don't even add up.
While people might know this, it doesn't necessarily translate. We work with a lot of celebrity talent. Brands will come and want to work with X or Y celebrity, but it really doesn't make sense for the dollar amount they want to spend, or for the trouble it's worth. That's where a lot of people go wrong.
Also having too prescriptive of a brief, [like giving a creator] 20 pages of a creative deck that you expect them to deduce and come up with an Instagram story, but not parsing it down to make it simple and relevant and comprehensible. I think it's over-complicating something that doesn't need to be so complicated. I think the good creators out there need to have a little bit of autonomy to help create the best content for their audience.
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