Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Feb 14, 2019

Influencer matchmaker backed by John Hegarty wades into Asia

Matt Sutton has joined Whalar as CEO in Asia.

Matt Sutton
Matt Sutton

London-based Whalar, positioning itself as a "full-service content and creative solution driven by influencer marketing", officially launched in APAC this week with its first office in Singapore and a skeletal team of five.

Matt Sutton (pictured above), most recently the CEO of Axiata's digital venture, ADA, has joined Whalar’s global leadership team and will be building operations across the region as Asia CEO.

Listing Sir John Hegarty as its chairman, Whalar sees itself on a mission to "liberate the creative voice" by matchmaking influential, digital-native creators with large premium brands.

Launched in 2016, the business has grown from 10 to 70 people in 2.5 years, connecting over 200 clients with nearly 5,000 creators around the globe through teams in London, New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Amsterdam, and now Singapore. Approximately a tenth in Whalar's pool are Asia-based influencers.

Last year, according to Whalar, its pool of influencers delivered over 10,000 pieces of content for clients like Unilever, HP, Samsung, Diageo, Apple, and Dior.

Whalar’s value, Sutton told Campaign Asia-Pacific, comes from a hybrid operating model that uses a combination of technology and people to source the right creators for each campaign. A key differentiator is how the content is always commissioned and curated—never crowdsourced.

"We will scour the web for influencers that match the brand's brief, from anything like his or her colour palette, tone, voice, content type, and follower profile," said Sutton. "We are very agile. We can replace a creative agency. We can be the augmentation of a creative agency. We can plug directly into a brand's content studio. Or we can provide a self-serve format."

Whalar's main remuneration method is to charge clients a fixed percentage of their project budgets, eliminating billable hours and master service agreements.

The challenge with the service-fee model—one that most agencies adopt—is its dependence on the number of staffers in the agency and the lack of cost efficiency and agility, Sutton said. "The more scale a client needs, the more people you have to hire to manage the influencers."

Agencies are one side of the spectrum, offering similar influencer-marketing solutions. The other extreme is marketplaces, mainly technology-based platforms where a big pool of creators will bid for work from a brand, but without guarantee of quality in their voluminous output, added Sutton.

"We are not like that; we are a power tool for brands to establish workflow and build communities," he said.

Whalar's access to Facebook and Instagram’s graph APIs enables influencer analytics, such as total reach, impressions, sentiment, engagements, average engagement rate benchmarked at 3.5%, cost per engagement, and credibility scoring, he said. A year of digital usage rights is built into every campaign, with all creator communications and client approvals conducted on the same portal.

"I can see content marketing accounting for 15%-25% of all digital marketing budgets in 2019. Our focus, for now, is squarely on satisfying customer demands [in Asia] for authenticity and creativity, rather than specific revenue numbers," he stated.

More office openings are to follow across the region in 2019, said Sutton, though China is where he is the least confident of entering in the short term, due to its different social-media environment and insufficient client demands at the moment.

The technology plus service model sets Whalar apart in the market and has helped to drive creative output, Akash Mehta, a client from LVMH’s Dior Parfums, said in a media release.

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