In today’s episode of Earned, we sit down with Evan Horowitz, co-founder and CEO of Movers+Shakers, the #1 fastest-growing creative agency according to AdWeek, and learn how the agency “connects brands to culture.”
We start by diving into Evan’s background, and learn how he went from earning an engineering degree from Stanford to pursuing an MBA at Harvard. Evan shares why he decided to pivot into the marketing field, and what eventually inspired him to become an entrepreneur and launch Movers+Shakers in 2016 with his husband Geoffrey Goldberg. We discuss the creative agency’s standout success—achieving 250 BILLION views across its TikTok campaigns—and unpack the philosophies and strategies behind this boom. Evan reveals how the agency helps its clients stay on the cutting edge of culture, and why intuition is a key ingredient to its secret sauce.
Next, we hear how Movers+Shakers integrates creators into its campaigns, and what Evan’s ambitions are for the agency’s future. Evan also shares how the idea for Movers+Shakers was originally conceived after Geoffrey, a Broadway performer and director, posted a dance video online that went viral overnight. To close the show, we get Evan’s thoughts on how TikTok has evolved over the years, and where he anticipates it going next.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“A lot of our secret sauce is just reading the tea leaves”: How Movers+Shakers Keeps its Clients Culturally Relevant
Conor Begley: So Movers+Shakers, I think the big launch point was the E.L.F. initiative that you did, which is, at least at the time, the most successful branded initiative that's ever happened on TikTok. You guys have become known as the TikTok guys. What is it that's working so well? What really clicked for you guys as an agency?
Evan Horowitz: Well, we're all about connecting brands to culture. So how do we make a brand more culturally relevant, more buzzy, more cool, especially with Gen Z and millennials? That's our North Star. That's why we got on TikTok originally. Movers+Shakers predates TikTok. We've always been an agency that works across social and had this question of, how do we make brands more culturally relevant? So when TikTok started in 2019, we went there because we saw that culture was being made there. Same reason E.L.F. went there, and we decided to team up together.
So that's what keeps us fresh and relevant as an agency, and I think why we'll always stay on that cutting edge, because culture keeps moving and our job as an agency is to help our clients stay on that cutting edge of culture. What we do is we follow those waves and we put our clients on top of those waves. So everybody's talking about this and how do we get the client on that, or everybody's using this app and how do we get the brand onto that? That's what inspires us, and that's why our work is so strong and impactful for our clients.
Conor Begley: That seems like one of the biggest challenges. Those [cultural] waves happen really quickly and they die really quickly. So how do you get there in time? I think it's hard enough when you're in-house at a brand where you have a little bit more leeway to just move on something, but as an agency, now you've got a whole other party. You have to get approval and make sure everybody feels good about it. How do you operate in an environment that moves that quickly? How are you responsive to those waves?
Evan Horowitz: You have to set that up in advance, so it's certainly not an accident that you are able to respond quickly. Both for us and then also for the brand team. We've organized our whole agency that way. We have a culture squad at the center of our agency. This is a group of people whose job is to monitor culture day to day. What are people talking about? What's trending on TikTok? What's trending on Twitter and Reddit? What's happening on Hypebeast in pop culture? This album drop is happening, this celebrity had a snafu that everybody's honing in on, whatever those things are. This culture squad feeds all those insights to all of our different client teams so that we can find the ones that are relevant for that brand. So we're ready to react to those, whether that's just getting some cool social content in an organic post or actually building a whole campaign moment around it. Same thing for our clients. We have to train them on how to be ready for that.
That is a training process for some of them. Some of them are there, others are really trying to reinvent their whole organizations. But we work with some huge Fortune 500 CPG companies, and I'm really impressed with how, with some elbow grease on their internal teams, they're able to align things so that they can move quickly. I've been really surprised at even some of our relatively regulated clients. We do trainings for their legal team and we help explain to them what's going to happen, and we get as many roadmap dos and don'ts documented in advance, so when those moments come, we can take advantage of them. Different brands can achieve that to different levels, but I'm constantly inspired by our clients and what they're able to do.
Conor Begley: On the culture squad, that sounds like a pretty cool job to have. What do they use outside of the standard apps? Are they using any tools to stay up to date?
Evan Horowitz: It's a combination of quantitative and then also qualitative or intuition. We do have some of the traditional tools. We're also always partnering with new tools or working with new platforms.
But I do think a lot of our secret sauce is more on the qualitative side and just reading the tea leaves. Overall, we're not really a data-focused agency. Certainly we want all of our stuff to work and have measurable impact, but we're really more focused on reading the tea leaves of culture, and our clients that have the most success also aren't waiting for the data to jump on something. It's more about that intuition and that feel. This feels like it's picking up, and what our culture squad is amazing at is reading those tea leaves, connecting the dots for how this conversation about this collab or this trending audio creates an opportunity for a skincare brand or a healthcare brand or whatever it is. That connectivity—connecting those dots all the way through to a campaign or content and doing that quickly—that's really the secret sauce.
“There’s no one size fits all”: Movers+Shakers’ Approach to Working With Creators
Conor Begley: How do you think about integrating creators into the creative process? Obviously you guys are inherently a big part of the creative process as well. How do you partner with creators, how do you collaborate with them, how often are they integrated into your initiatives? How does that work?
Evan Horowitz: It's a great question and it's really hard, actually. Last year, we defined a proprietary model for how to integrate creators into the creative process that looks at different levels of integration, because what we realized is there's no one size fits all. On one end of the spectrum, you have creative that's really led by the creators one hundred percent. Maybe you send them product, they make something, they post it, and you don't really give them any direction. On the other end of the spectrum is fully scripted content where we actually hire the creators as actors and we tell them what to say. It’s a spectrum.
So we've created different groupings within this spectrum so that we can all get on the same page about what we are doing and how we are using the creators. I would say there's no one right way to do it. I do think that brands tend to overscript creators. Scripted content can be great. We have a campaign running right now for Neutrogena that's killing it with scripted content using creators. But a really important first step is just [determining] what lane we are in and to what extent we are trying to script it versus bringing the creator's creativity. So we built this model that allows us to get really clear with that internally within our team, and with the client team. Again, I don't think there's a right way to do it, but you want to know what you're doing and then how to optimize it for that lane that you're in.
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