Creator marketing is a staple of modern advertising, but some agencies are taking those partnerships a step further. While still relatively uncommon, forward-thinking firms are turning creators into creatives by hiring social media stars full-time.
In April, the One Club for Creativity partnered with TikTok to launch the One Creator Lab, a 20-week training program that teaches creators how to combine their short-form, quick-turn video expertise with advertising fundamentals. The program targets creators outside of the traditional advertising industry as agencies strive to keep pace with modern marketing, increasingly driven by the creator economy.
Some of the agencies participating in the lab have been hiring creators in various capacities for over a year now.
Day One Agency has an apprenticeship program that lets creators explore their curiosity in agency work. It also runs a TikTok challenge called “creative since day one” that serves as an open casting call for TikTok creators and has occasionally hired creators through word-of-mouth referrals. Seven of its employees have creator experience out of 175 total workers, according to PRWeek’s 2023 Agency Business Report.
Movers + Shakers has brought creators in-house to work on content production, strategy and copywriting. Between 5% and 10% of its workforce has been hired because of their creator backgrounds, while around 20% identify as creators outside of their agency role, according to Geoffrey Goldberg, cofounder and chief creative officer.
And while not as focused on training creators for traditional advertising roles, Edelman has about 70 employees on its “creator bench” that it regularly taps to operate as social content directors for platform-specific work.
The creator appeal
While each agency relies on creator experience for different reasons, many agree that they commonly fail to see ad schools prepare students for a modern industry landscape that tries, and often fails, to keep up with rapidly evolving trends.
“The curriculum is old,” said Kevin Swanepoel, CEO at The One Club. “Agencies are looking for new skills that they can’t find in the traditional pipeline, which is ad schools in general.”
Creators, on the other hand, are deeply in tune with cultural zeitgeists and allow agencies and brands to connect with young audiences while the strategy is still fresh, he added.
Many agencies and brands already know this, as evidenced by how frequently creators feature in campaigns. But hiring creators as full-time employees allows them to speed up the creative process further while bringing some of that social media engagement expertise in-house, said Jamie Falkowski, chief creative officer at Day One.
Having creators in-house also makes it easier to facilitate communications between creators and brands in a way that leaves everyone satisfied, cutting down on misalignments, Falkowski added.
Creators often enter agencies with expertise in social media engagement. And while lack of exposure to industry norms can sometimes be a friction point, it also frees them to move quickly and wear multiple hats.
What’s in it for creators?
It’s not always easy to plant entrepreneurial-minded creators into an agency culture, but many are seeing some benefits to saddling up with agencies as well.
Ariana Jurado, who spent three months as an independent creator on TikTok before transitioning to social content creator at Giant Spoon, feels more financially secure working with an agency than she felt on her own.
The median annual income for micro creators, those that have fewer than 50,000 followers, is just under $28,000, according to an MSL analysis.
“I knew in my gut that I wasn’t ready to be a full-on freelancer,” she said. “I wanted to work in an agency and learn the inner workings of business and clients.”
Working directly with brands also lends itself well to future independent work, said Fritz Bacon, a TikTok creator with almost 375,000 followers and former senior creative at Day One.
@fritzbacon This was easily my most ambitious project @mountaindew #MTNDEWMajorMelon #ad ♬ original sound - Fritz Bacon
Some creators see working at agencies as an opportunity to develop hard skills like the ability to understand a contract, scope projects and negotiate a fair wage.
“I’ve got that inside knowledge,” Bacon said. “People see me on TikTok or Instagram and they see a creator and storyteller and try to get me on board. A lot of them don’t realize I come from an agency background.”
But not every creator is a perfect fit for agency life.
Some are so used to speaking with their own community in a specific way that translating those engagement skills to connect with multiple different brand communities can be tough, said Movers + Shakers’ Goldberg.
“Creators have built their creatorship off of their own voice,” he said. “They have to look at their work from a different vantage point and wear a different hat, and that’s really hard for many people.”
Creators are also used to working on their own, while agencies run on structured departments and don’t provide the level of independence and ownership creators are used to.
According to Goldberg, bogging down creators in approvals, preventing them from doing work outside of their remit and otherwise impeding them with bureaucratic checkpoints complicates the already difficult process of putting an autonomous decision-maker on a team.
“You kill that process and devalue that creator on your team,” he said.
To make the transition to an agency role smoother, creators can prepare by reaching out to brands and agencies themselves to get a feel for what collaborative work is like before signing up full-time, said Jordan Atlas, chief creative officer at Edelman.
For their part, agencies can smooth the transition process by giving creators the right balance of freedom and direction, providing ample feedback, giving them work that feels comparably fulfilling to what they were doing on their own and explaining the importance of agency work, he added.
“Let them know what we really want from them and why we’ve chosen them, but also let them know what we do is really important as well,” Atlas said. “Somewhere in that amalgamation is going to be an extremely successful equation that benefits all of us.”