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This Attorney’s Company Brings Legal Muscle To Negotiations Within The Creator Economy

Jake Williams is a 33-year-old attorney and partner at the creator economy company Rakugo Media based in Los Angeles. Aiming to bring legal expertise and standardized practices to the often Wild West creator economy space, Jake and his agency are taking a different approach.

After college, where he played hockey, Jake spent six years selling medical devices before attending law school at Loyola Law School. There, he met his now-partner Douglas Pinsky, who had already begun managing tech creator CarterPCs. Jake notes he’s “the biggest creator in the tech space that isn’t a YouTuber…the biggest on TikTok.”

Jake says he kept tabs on Douglas’ work with Carter through law school. After graduating and a brief stint at a large talent agency, he joined forces with Douglas around Christmas 2022.

This Attorney’s Company Brings Legal Muscle To Negotiations Within The Creator Economy

“At that point, I’d known Doug for a few years and knew I needed a change, so I called him and said, ‘Hey, we’re working together.’ I didn’t really give him much of an option,” Jake laughs. “I went to Loyola to be a hockey agent and ultimately knew that I was going to build a career representing talent. I am doing that in a different space, and it’s been amazing.” Jake established the name “Rakugo Media” while studying for the California Bar, inspired by the Japanese form of storytelling where one performer plays all characters. “That is exactly what our clients [do],” the attorney says.

Rather than focusing on marketing, he says Rakugo’s “skill set is dealmaking” – leveraging an influencer’s growth and cultural cachet to maximize monetization opportunities through skilled contract negotiations.

A key issue Jake has identified is misaligned expectations and a lack of legal oversight when brands engage influencers. According to him, this leads to situations where “the brand passed” on a creator after deal terms were already negotiated with an agency. To solve this, Rakugo wants to offer consulting services that teach brands and agencies the legal nuances of the influencer marketing space so that “everyone’s speaking the same language.”

The firm takes an entrepreneurial tack with creators, letting them drive their own creative vision while leveraging his burgeoning growth and cultural bridging abilities to “maximize their earnings” through Rakugo’s skilled dealmaking prowess.

Bringing Professionalism and Dealmaking Expertise to the Digital Space

At Rakugo Media, Jake and Douglas aim to “bring a level, a certain level of professionalism to the space and mix in a more traditional style of talent representation” to the dynamic creator economy.

He notes that many creators can “grow parabolically” unexpectedly at a young age, necessitating experienced representation to guide their careers properly. “We kind of want to bring this, this level of dealmaking acumen to a space that is a little bit wild right now.”

A key differentiator for Rakugo is that Jake and Douglas are attorneys. “Our skill set is dealmaking. It’s not so much marketing. We understand what levers to pull, when to pull them, and how to get the best possible price per activation for our creators,” Jake says.

The firm takes an entrepreneurial approach, helping creators monetize at scale and build businesses around their brands. “Our primary function is maximizing our clients’ deals, building meaningful relationships with their brand partners, and ensuring win-win with every partnership. Our secondary function, once there at scale, is building businesses behind them,” according to Jake. “It’s about finding out who’s watching them and creating the products, services, and experiences that their audiences will value.”

Aligning Goals and Respecting Creator Authenticity

One of the biggest pitfalls Jake sees brands make when working with influencers is a lack of alignment on goals and creative freedom up front.

“The number of times that we’ve heard a brand or agency team discuss how organic or authentic they want the content to be, and then turn around and say, ‘Hey, but you have to recite these 4 or 5 talking points within a 40 to 60-second video’…it really harms both parties” he laments. 

Jake suggests brands provide a broader strategic overview rather than constrictive guidelines in a vacuum. “We’d like to understand the bigger picture. It might help our clients feel better about where they fit into the campaign and why they’re being asked to frame a product in such narrow terms.”

Williams would also like to see a progressive approach to agency outreach, especially when agencies negotiate influencer deals without proper authority from the brand to accept agreed-upon terms. “We’ve had situations where an agency will come to us with an offer, we negotiate the offer, agree on a price, and the agency returns to tell us the brand passed.’ It’s really frustrating for the creator.”

His advice is for agencies to align with the brand internally on which creators they want to work with before even reaching out. “I understand not being able to align on rate, but leveraging creators against each other internally is a race to the bottom where no one wins.”

Letting Creators Drive Organic Growth While Maximizing Monetization

When it comes to fueling a creator’s growth on social platforms, Jake admits that is largely out of Rakugo’s control. “Growth is mostly out of our hands. The creators are largely driving their vision,” he says.

He uses the example of creator Ian Bellinger (@Tussalty), whom Rakugo started working with in early 2022 when he had around 300,000 followers. “Watching him grow has been such a privilege. I mean, he’s becoming this force of culture, and we know he’s just getting started.”

Jake praises Ian’s ability to bridge different cultural spaces. “He does tech, but he also has a really dialed sense of culture. He plays basketball, he’s six foot eight, and he’s into fashion. He touches on a lot of cultural points in the American lifestyle.”

Rather than direct Bellinger’s creative vision, Jake sees Rakugo’s role as maximizing his monetization opportunities. “Where would he be monetarily without us versus with us with the same trajectory and in content growth? I’d like to think that we have a profound impact there,” Jake states.

He expresses fulfillment in directly improving an individual creator’s life through revenue growth. “To be able to change one individual’s life so clearly, it’s very rewarding.”

Establishing a Legal Framework for Brand Partnerships

While Rakugo Media will continue pushing for individual creators’ success, Jake sees an opportunity to lend the firm’s legal and dealmaking expertise to brands and agencies as well.

“We do want to help brands and agencies kind of standardize the language and approach to partnerships. It often feels like we’re talking past each other and hiding the ball, which is not conducive to effective partnerships.”

The law veteran has encountered sizable agencies without in-house legal support when negotiating complex influencer marketing deals. “When we’re trying to discuss discrete deal points, and there’s good money at stake, there’s rarely somebody on the other side to talk to.”

To remedy this, Rakugo offers consulting services to educate brands and agencies on the legal nuances of the creator economy. “We would like the opportunity to consult and give them kind of a mini rundown of this very narrow piece of law and teach them how to approach representation like us.”

The goal is to establish common legal frameworks and processes so that “everyone’s speaking the same language” when structuring influencer marketing campaigns and partnerships. Jake believes this standardization could prevent misaligned expectations and avoid situations where “a brand passes” on a creator after already negotiating terms.

“I’d advise the brand side to not approach a creator unless you fully intend to work with them,” he urges brands. “That is the biggest aspect of these deals that must be changed.”

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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