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Inside An “Anti-Agency” Founder’s Mission To Uplift Creators

James Harrison, founder of Los Angeles-based talent management and marketing agency iamsocial, took an unconventional path into the creator economy. The former corporate consultant and Army veteran launched his firm after his daughter Symonne’s success as an influencer.

Inside An “Anti-Agency” Founder’s Mission To Uplift Creators

“My daughter wanted to get into acting, but she had to move to LA,” he says. “Covid hit. She got into social media like the rest of the world.” Her success on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, amassing over 6.5 million followers, opened James’s eyes to the opportunities and challenges in the influencer marketing space. When other parents began asking for his guidance, he started his own agency in July 2021.

“Fast forward a few years. She was with a big group of kids that left another group. Their parents [were] like, ‘You’re Symonne’s dad. We trust you. Would you rep our kids?’ And then my agency was basically born overnight,” James recalls.

The self-described “anti-agency” prides itself on its creator-first approach and personalized service. “We truly do care about our creators. We get to know them. We communicate a ton almost every [day]…It’s really not a transactional business,” James states.

Inside An “Anti-Agency” Founder’s Mission To Uplift Creators

Creators Come First 

Unlike some larger influencer marketing agencies, iamsocial takes a flexible, creator-centric approach to brokering brand deals. “We take every single deal, good or bad, to the client, even if we think it’s a six-figure deal [where] there’s no way in the world they’re going to say no,” James explains. “The creator always gets to say yes or no.”

He acknowledges there may be situational reasons why a creator accepts a lower rate, even if it’s below their typical asking price. “You don’t know that creator might…be trying to surprise a partner or maybe [they] have a baby, and that couple extra thousand dollars, while not market rate, may be really important.”

The agency aims to partner with both brands and creators, negotiating fair terms but not overplaying its hand. “We’re not trying to kill the brand. We want repeat business,” James states. “But we want to be seen as a partner agency.”

iamsocial’s Tech Solutions

Technology also plays a key role at iamsocial. The firm utilizes its platform to manage its roster and brand deals, giving creators transparency through a mobile app, OnScale.

“Our creators, for every deal they get, they [can] download the app, they sync their socials, we get verified data,” James explains. “Every time we close a deal, they can see it in the app…what deals are there, what status, how much we owe them when they’re expected to get paid. The briefs [and] talking points are in there.”

According to the CEO, this digital solution helps keep creators informed on active campaigns – even if they are traveling – while providing iamsocial with credible performance data to share with brand partners.

Prioritizing Unique Creator Personalities

When evaluating potential creator partnerships, iamsocial prioritizes individuals who offer a distinct persona and content style. “If you look at our roster, we have a couple of creators who are similar. But that’s about it,” James notes. We look for uniqueness.”

Standing out is key for brands and creators in influencer marketing. James believes differentiators could relate to diversity, creative approach, storytelling abilities, or other factors that make an individual’s profile and output compelling.

“If I can present to you a unique creator that comes from a different angle…brands are looking for every opportunity [to ask] how can I stand out?” he explains. “I stand out by having unique creators.”

According to him, consistency, professionalism, and authenticity are also must-haves. “Are you treating your content like you’re a brand? If you don’t treat your content like you’re a brand, I’m not your guy,” the entrepreneur states frankly.

The agency regularly evaluates its roster to ensure creators are reliable partners staying true to their personal brands. “If the second you start [being inauthentic], we’ll reevaluate our roster,” James says. “If we care more about your business than you do, I’m not your guy.”

Protecting authenticity is critical from both a brand safety and monetization perspective. “I don’t want creators who take everything; that cheapens them,” James notes. You can’t have a $10,000 rate and produce subpar content.”

How Client Success Stories Showcase Impact

To illustrate iamsocial’s client-centric approach, James highlights several creator partners whose careers and brands have flourished under his guidance.

One example is Kayla Sullivan, known as “Kayla Reporting” on social media. When iamsocial began working with the news reporter-turned-influencer, she had a few hundred thousand followers but had never monetized her online presence through brand deals.

“I first saw one of her viral videos and said, ‘This woman is brilliant. I want her on my roster,'” James recalls. The agency helped Kayla integrate sponsors by positioning products as her signature reporting “microphone” prop.

Since this innovative strategy took shape, Sullivan has landed lucrative partnerships with brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and Kroger. Her following has swelled into the millions across Instagram and TikTok.

For beauty influencer Gabriela Soares (Glam Girl Gabi), iamsocial’s mission centered on instilling confidence and ensuring she recognized her full earning potential. Gabi initially undervalued herself, but after raising her rates appropriately, she is now booked solid six months out.

“[She’s] in such high demand, we just turned down five deals last week because you just can’t physically do them,” James says. “Now it’s about creative burnout and trying to manage her workload.”

Outdoor creator Andy Neel, who operates under “Andy Films and Hikes,” also benefited from iamsocial’s career mentorship. The firm helped the plus-size hiking personality better understand his worth, resulting in major brand deals he once thought impossible.

“Now we’re actually talking about, ‘Here’s our feeling on your value…why this deal makes sense and why this one doesn’t,'” says James. “He’s grown tremendously.”

Key Obstacles Creators Face

According to James, several emerging trends and issues are creating headwinds for creators and brands operating in the influencer marketing industry.

One major pain point is the rise of integrated e-commerce and commission-based selling on platforms like TikTok Shop. “It’s ruined an experience that used to be super fun,” the influencer marketing expert laments. “Every third one is like ‘Commission TikTok Shop, TikTok Shop.’ What is done is ruin the model for even brand deals.”

The incessant e-commerce pushes on TikTok and other apps are disrupting what was once an entertaining, discovery-based user experience. James believes it could degrade the quality of content and integration opportunities for creators.

Amid the e-commerce frenzy, he also cites the buzz around AI as a potential distraction that can create confusion. “If I’m a normal creator just trying to make a living, it just feels like a lot of noise,” he says. “Do I even pay attention to this? I don’t know.”

While AI’s impact remains to be seen, James explains that a more immediate challenge for the industry relates to delayed creator payouts from brands. Despite demanding timely content deliverables, many brands are failing to compensate creators on an agreed-upon schedule.

“Brands want creators to post on a certain date [but] rarely are they paying on time,” he says. “The market’s broken…It puts agencies like me in a spot where my creators want money. They want to get paid on time. [But] brand[s] haven’t paid — [they’re] 30, 60, 90 days late.”

This cash flow crunch fuels frustrations and distrust, with more creators and agencies publicly calling out delinquent brands. James believes the simple solution is for brands to pay their creator partners promptly upon completing deliverables.

Roadmap for Strategic Growth and Industry Events

iamsocial plans several key initiatives to expand its service offerings and deepen relationships within its creator community. James has launched a dedicated Culinary/Food Lifestyle division.

“One of my goals is to have the cooking division and food by the end of this year, probably the next three weeks now,” he states. The agency is actively hiring a leader with culinary expertise to oversee this new vertical.

While broadening into additional content categories, James remains focused on fortifying iamsocial’s core verticals: mom/family, outdoor/travel, lifestyle, wellness, beauty, and fitness. The industry veteran sees opportunities to double down in areas where the firm already excels rather than spreading itself too thin.

“If you’re just really good at something, double down,” James says of his approach. “I’d rather expand on something we do really well than continue to [pursue] ‘let me try this and let me try that.'”

A major upcoming event for the agency is an invitation-only “Outdoor Con” gathering from September 20-22 in Bellingham, Washington. The first-of-its-kind retreat will convene iamsocial’s rapidly growing roster of over 20 outdoor and travel creators to collaborate, build community, and discuss potential brand activations.

“It’s really cool because it gives a chance for them to collaborate…and for us collectively as a group to appreciate the diversity,” James explains. “When brands find out we’re going to get 20 really top outdoor creators together, they’re going to be chomping at the bit.”

While declining to provide specifics, he hints that the agency has another major initiative in the works, which will be announced soon via LinkedIn.

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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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