INFLUENCING THE INFLUENCERS

May 7, 2021

As the business of being an influencer has grown into an industry, early experts have emerged to explain and educate – the influencers and the influenced. Experimentation and experience in the evolving world of influencer commerce can be used to inform the potential and future for the next generation of influence.
Maybe no one else understands the power of social media quite like Brittany Hennessy. She has been ahead of the curve, and at the forefront of all of the social media trends, since before the platforms we use today existed. Brittany wrote the best-selling book called Influence, and is now working on her second on the topic. She has worked at major magazines and publishing houses, consulted and brand-built for major influencers, and even built her own following @MrsBrittanyHennessy. And, Brittany and her husband (and business partner), Alexander, recently moved with their 6-year old son, also Alexander, to New Canaan – and Brittany is due in August with their second boy.

Brittany made her entrée to the influencer realm with a blog, back in 2007: Chi Chi 212. As a Public Relations intern and assistant at Abrams Artist Agency (now A3 – and morphed into an influencer agency), Brittany was hob-knobbing with the who’s-who of New York City, and attending all of the best events and parties. “Most of my job was focused on attracting and retaining talent. The blog was this fun thing that I really started doing on the side. Being at all of these fun things, and working with celebrities and models, I knew what was going on in the NYC social scene. I’d write gossip-esque blog posts… and it really took off quickly. I had tons of readers, big publications like New York Magazine would pick up my posts, and Page Six was constantly stealing my content. I once even planted a fake story about ‘The Situation’ from The Jersey Shore not being able to get into a club to prove it!” Brittany laughs.

After a few years at Abrams, Brittney spent some time working in hospitality; mostly nightclubs and restaurants in the Meatpacking area, and again, mostly focused on popularizing a location by attracting talent and fame. But as the blog continued to gain regular readers and loyal followers, new opportunities arose. Brittany reminisced, “In 2011, I got invited by Nivea to come to Germany for a promotional trip. It was a ton of fun. I was hanging out with Rihanna! Although most of us on the trip were focused on blogging, they asked us to tweet while we were there. Twitter had been around for a bit, but still hadn’t really taken off, and not a ton of people were on it yet. But that was what really introduced me to the world of app-based social media.”

One opportunity led to the next,

and Brittany’s tenacity, forward thinking, and networking landed her a job at a new PR agency, called Horizon. An old blogging friend was handling the brand clients, and Brittany was asked to come on and handle the people. “That was the first influencer job I had. It was in 2014. I was probably one of the only people to have this kind of job at the time. We were working on mostly television and consumer products and goods, and my job was to get influencers to participate with those campaigns. It was pretty soup to nuts, but I quickly grew to love the casting part. Picking the right people with followings on YouTube, or a blog, or Instagram, that fit the brand image, and could quite literally influence their loyal followings to purchase the goods we were promoting.”

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What became frustrating to Brittany was the deck-making, pitching, and analytics required to ‘sell’ influencer campaigns to brands. Although lots of companies were dipping their toes into the world of influencer marketing, not everyone had fully embraced it yet.
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“I didn’t want to have to convince people of why this works – it does!” Brittany says, “So I went looking for influencer casting jobs at companies that were already over that hump.
I applied for this job at Hearst that I just had to have. I got rejected, but found a friend who I’d met on the Nivea Germany trip that worked there, actually managing the position I wanted, and went around the system… and landed the job! It was a perfect fit. I was completely focused on selecting influencer brands that fit with a campaign or story, and working with that influencer to build a relationship and create relevant content.”

After a few years at Abrams, Brittney spent some time working in hospitality; mostly nightclubs and restaurants in the Meatpacking area, and again, mostly focused on popularizing a location by attracting talent and fame. But as the blog continued to gain regular readers and loyal followers, new opportunities arose. Brittany reminisced, “In 2011, I got invited by Nivea to come to Germany for a promotional trip. It was a ton of fun. I was hanging out with Rihanna! Although most of us on the trip were focused on blogging, they asked us to tweet while we were there. Twitter had been around for a bit, but still hadn’t really taken off, and not a ton of people were on it yet. But that was what really introduced me to the world of app-based social media.”

One opportunity led to the next, and Brittany’s tenacity, forward thinking, and networking landed her a job at a new PR agency, called Horizon. An old blogging friend was handling the brand clients, and Brittany was asked to come on and handle the people. “That was the first influencer job I had. It was in 2014. I was probably one of the only people to have this kind of job at the time. We were working on mostly television and consumer products and goods, and my job was to get influencers to participate with those campaigns. It was pretty soup to nuts, but I quickly grew to love the casting part. Picking the right people with followings on YouTube, or a blog, or Instagram, that fit the brand image, and could quite literally influence their loyal followings to purchase the goods we were promoting.”

What became frustrating to Brittany was the deck-making, pitching, and analytics required to ‘sell’ influencer campaigns to brands. Although lots of companies were dipping their toes into the world of influencer marketing, not everyone had fully embraced it yet. “I didn’t want to have to convince people of why this works – it does!” Brittany says, “So I went looking for influencer casting jobs at companies that were already over that hump. I applied for this job at Hearst that I just had to have. I got rejected, but found a friend who I’d met on the Nivea Germany trip that worked there, actually managing the position I wanted, and went around the system… and landed the job! It was a perfect fit. I was completely focused on selecting influencer brands that fit with a campaign or story, and working with that influencer to build a relationship and create relevant content.”

After a few years of working at Hearst, pioneering the influencer industry, Brittany had quite a few stories to tell – both about what made certain influencers successful, and cautionary tales about others. “There was this one campaign where I had a $10,000 budget to work with an influencer. We told her what we wanted and asked her to put together a proposal. She asked for $2,500. And she even wrote an entire email to justify that amount. From my perspective it meant I had extra budget to allocate elsewhere, but I wanted to shake her and tell her she was worth more and should be asking for more. A lot of these people just didn’t know what their value was at the time…” Brittany explained. That’s when her husband suggested, ‘why don’t you write a book?!’.

Influencer became a sort of guide for the industry. How to build an audience, how to pitch brands, how to have a cohesive strategy. “I figured there would be people who wanted to read it, but I was shocked by the reception. After the release of the book, people were tagging me in their stories every day, telling me about what an impact it had,” Brittany says with the sense that she was truly surprised by the success of her book.

Following the release of Influencer, Brittany and her husband started Carbon August, which specializes in building and optimizing influencer brands; coaching, helping with contracts, connecting with brand contacts, streamlining a workload, and building the necessary backend that an influencer needs to run their business.

“We’ve helped so many people leave jobs to do this full time!” Brittany said.

Carbon August also helps brands centralize their corporate strategy for influencer engagement. They’ll work with a beauty company to help make the transition from drugstore to luxury, or be part of a new product launch for a luxury brand. The name, Carbon August, is derived from… Carbon, which is the connector atom, and influencers are the master connector…and August, which has been woven into the Hennessey family name, as it’s the month of their anniversary, the month young Alexander was born and his middle name, and the month their next son is due. As Brittany says, “We’ve adopted the name and kind of go by the August Hennessys.

Brittany has her finger on the influencer pulse and understanding how trends will impact what’s to come. She thinks that the future of influencing is in direct product development and sale. “All of these people with massive followings have spent the past 5-7 years promoting products for brands and companies. They often get paid lots of money or get great perks to do that, but they don’t really get a piece of the action. So, we think the trend will move more towards influencers creating their own products to go along with their image and brand. We’ve seen it happen already. Years ago, only people like the Kardashians were able to do this, but we’ve been working with some of our clients to move into this space, and we see that it’s working.”

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As for the future of the platforms themselves, Brittany thinks Instagram will always have a place, but pointed out the evolving shift in content focus from longer form posts to images to video clips. She loves seeing the talent that is emerging on TikTok, and the outlet that it’s created, especially for a younger generation. “When we were kids, you could be good at school or good at sports. But I think it’s really cool that now, some kids have this other thing. They can create content and have millions of followers to justify other interests,” Brittany says.
She mentioned how many people complain about things like their kids spending too much time playing video games, and instead proposed social media as a positive outlet for that type of hobby, “If you’re going to do something that’s not traditionally valued, get on social media and do something positive with that…. Get on twitch and make a ton of money! Kids can have multi-million dollar brands these days!”
Brittany pointed out that Covid had a particularly large impact on the influencer industry. “There was less money being spent by brands, a lot got put on hold or postponed. That was paired with the biggest social justice campaign ever, which took place on social media. And with cancel-culture alive and well, brands and influencers were being particularly careful to try to avoid being labeled as out of touch or trying to hock products. The word ‘influencer’ sometimes gets this negative connotation… people think that because there are some ‘bad’ influencers that all influencers or the idea of influencing is bad. But there are bad everythings! Bad models and chefs and teachers; and those industries as a whole and all of their professionals aren’t labeled as bad. The beauty of this industry is that it brings real people into the process. It democratizes brand power, and actually gives more of a voice to consumers and regular people. But, during Covid, it really forced a lot of people who were doing this full time to assess how to be nimble and stay afloat when those sponsorships dry up.”

Brittany’s next book, Founder, set to publish in ________, focuses on how to start a business in the age of personal brands. “Influencer was about how to position yourself to capitalize on a brand deal, or how to make money on the backs of established businesses through building a following. Now that we see followers actually buying the things that influencers suggest to buy…it seems obvious influencers should start selling things of their own. Founder gives influencers the tools required for running the business itself, especially in a niche industry,” Brittany explained.

About being a leading authority on all things ‘influencer’, Brittany muses, “I’m an expert in a field that didn’t even exist when I had to pick a major. I tell people all the time: if you don’t know what you want to do yet, don’t worry…the thing probably hasn’t even been invented yet!”

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