Root of Influence is a brand-new media property developed by Ackerman McQueen. Its aim will be to cover the intersection between independent content creators, the brands that fund them and the audiences that follow them. To learn more, we sat down with AM’s Henry Martin.
AM: How has AM’s strategy changed since you started at the company?
HENRY: Not one bit, really. What’s changed is the world around us. Ten years ago when Angus would say, “Every brand is going to have to become a programmer,” most people outside our walls really had no idea what that meant. Today, they get it. We don’t have to do a lot of explaining. If you want to get people you care about to spend time thinking about your brand, you’d better be in the business of telling stories they care to watch. The fact that this means expanding beyond traditional advertising avenues is largely self-evident.
AM: What exactly is Root of Influence?
HENRY: Part of the reason why the marketplace has shifted so much is because of what individual influencers have done to get brands to understand how easy it can be to own your own message. Just 10 or 15 years ago, if you wanted to be a star in the media world, you had to work through the pipelines that owned the audience: TV, radio, news, maybe a really powerful blog.
But now, if you’re compelling enough (and are willing to devote your life to social media gimmicks), you can build an audience yourself. The brands look at what 25-year-old YouTube stars have been able to achieve and figure, well, we can do that.
This is nothing short of a revolution in media. It means that the game is truly open to whoever tells the best stories.
Root of Influence is a media arm we’re launching out of Ackerman McQueen with the aim of covering these influencers for what they really are: media institutions in their own right.
AM: How does ROI fit in with AM’s larger brand strategy?
HENRY: We believe storytelling is the root of all influence.
Apparently, no one in the influencer space agrees.
Because whether you talk to the brands that fund them, the social platforms that house them or the influencers themselves, the prevailing idea is that influencers can be easily evaluated through a sterile, numerical analysis.
For one thing, we’re not so sure influence is directly measurable. But if it is, it surely isn’t by metrics like followers, video views and the like. You can have 10 million followers and zero influence. You can have 50 followers and zero influence, too.
Frankly, creating content doesn’t make you influential at all.
If influence is about storytelling, then why does no one talk about the stories influencers tell?
That’s the heart of ROI.
We want to help brands and influencers develop a better sense of how influence is actually built, maintained and grown.
AM: What do you hope ROI becomes and why is it necessary?
HENRY: If it becomes a way to connect our clients and other brands with gifted storytellers, then I think that would be a success. But I see no reason why ROI can’t become a truly influential voice of its own—and we should want it to, for the reasons outlined above.
If the entire economy around influencers is based upon a false premise (that influence is a simple matter of analytics), then it is only a matter of time before the bubble bursts. At the least, we want to help our partners avoid getting dragged down in that mess. At best, let’s shift the whole conversation and keep that bubble from popping in the first place.
AM: Why is no one else doing this, since it fills such a great need?
HENRY: I’ve come across some outlets doing good and useful coverage of this space from different angles. Julie Zerbo’s The Fashion Law comes to mind. But no one is doing quite what we want to do with ROI. Like any good bubble, I think most of the people involved are mainly interested in its perpetuation.
AM: What are any major takeaways from these brand influencers you’ve learned so far?
HENRY: There’s a real hunger from the influencers themselves for this type of thinking. They’re starting to realize that the world that’s allowed them to flourish and grow needs to do some growing itself. Also, they’re really discouraged and underwhelmed by the way brand partnerships typically work. One influencer spelled it out to me in a really fascinating way. She said that people like her have in many ways replaced traditional agencies. Brands come straight to her, with no middleman.
But unlike in an agency relationship, where there’s a real sense of partnership and the two sides work together to create something great, these are extremely transactional. As a result, the brands often end up with a sub-par product because they weren’t willing to invest in a partnership.
AM: What’s your favorite interview you’ve conducted?
HENRY: There’s an upcoming piece with a British photographer named Pablo Strong (previously shared on Insights, as well, so you may have already read it). I think his work is fantastic. He’s an opera singer by day, but he does this really great YouTube series called “Streets of London,” where he stops people on the street and, well, talks to them. “Interview” would be too formal. It’s amazing what they’ll say to him.
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility to me that the next New York Times or Vice will actually be someone like Pablo Strong, who just tells great and important stories for his audience, and then hires more people like him to further populate his channel.
AM: Anything else we should know about ROI?
HENRY: It’s been pretty amazing to see how much access we’ve been able to achieve, even before we even launched the site. There have been plenty of interesting people willing to spend a significant amount of time talking to us.
In the process of starting ROI, a few people have shared favorite influencers of theirs with me. Please continue to do so! If there’s anyone you think is great, no matter their subject matter (or their follower count!), please send a link my way. I’d love to learn more.