For several years, Kevin Herrera worked as an agent at The Gersh Agency, one of the largest talent agencies in the United States.
“I focused on emerging platforms. So like the Vimeos, the Facebooks, the YouTubes of the world and working with creators, at the time called talent or influencers. I had identified that was a space I was passionate about. I’d produced for creators when I was in business law school before becoming an agent.”
He watched the rise of YouTube and its growing role in influencer marketing.
“When YouTube came out in 2006, I was like ‘This is the future entertainment, independent television and this is how it’s going to go’ and I was really excited about it. So I have been in this space since it launched.”
After working with the agency for a while, Kevin noticed a growing gap in the influencer marketing space.
“It was seeing talent not having a professional that had their back. There was a lot of fraud happening in the space. People being taken advantage of. There wasn’t really a professionally trained representative in the game. Creator representatives were people that came specifically from the digital side of the business or were family members or friends of the talent. Which is fine, comfortable and safe but without having knowledge of the business side of the entertainment industry, you’re susceptible to being taken advantage of.”
He left the agency to start a management firm focused on influencers and digital showrunners.
“I wanted to get out into the trenches and be directly helpful to the talent as opposed to sitting at a 20,000-foot view like an agent does.”
Kevin would later connect with Ronald Erickson II a co-founder of Maker Studios, an MCN that exited to Disney for hundreds of millions of dollars. Ronald had taken time off and was looking for the next thing.
“We connected and realized that our outlook on where the industry was headed was the same. And so we came together and made TheMachine which is focused on the creator economy before it was called the creator economy.”
Kevin has been working on TheMachine since 2016.
“TheMachine is a management and production company if you wanted to put it super simply. But it’s more than that. It’s an ecosystem of operators and creators that allow for campaigns to scale exponentially. And we facilitate all this by first and foremost protecting and empowering creators.”
He understood the plight of the creator and wanted to make sure nothing went wrong because the creator didn’t know any better.
“And so we’ve designed this model where we do non-exclusive brand integration management for creators. There’s no crazy scary agreement to sign. You don’t have to put your entire business with TheMachine. If you want to have a deal covered, we’ll represent you on that deal, and make sure our legal team does negotiating right for you, everything is redlined properly and you get paid on time. Just handling all the business side of things for a specific deal for a specific creator.”
When a creator works alone, Kevin believes they are effectively doing a job that would otherwise be performed by seven different companies in traditional marketing. TheMachine seeks to change that.
“So we are in the trenches with creators handling the business side of things for them so they can focus on creating. Sometimes ad agencies will call us to pair us with a creator they are working with that doesn’t have a representative. Because we understand the game, we know how it works, we helped originate it in certain instances. By working with us, a creator is able to skip the puddles they would step on. If we are working with them directly, we protect them from getting taken advantage of.”
The business also has a network of what it refers to as ‘Operators Together’ that has a shared roster that hits hundreds of millions of views per month, Kevin says.
“We don’t sell it as a shared roster. Everyone has their own talent that they work with. But we have access to this large swathe of talent and they are constantly looking like we are for new and great creators. It’s an entry point for new creators that have business interest, to get a professional in their life, train them up so they understand the business better and then get them with the right operator partner that can help them scale exponentially.”
The network brings together tried and test experts.
“There are operators that do representation, there are people that do editing, there are people that are production companies, there are cultural anthropologists. Like every facet of a campaign in the traditional marketing and advertising campaign and entertainment world you could possibly need, we have experts in network that have done that over and over again and are the best at doing it.”
TheMachine benefits creators, brand clients and agencies, Kevin says.
For brands and agencies, TheMachine delivers speed.
“We are the fastest in the game. If you need to source creators at speed, like if you have a campaign ready to go now, within 48 hours we have a custom list of submitted talent that are ready to go. That are ready to work, that have available inventory, that are verified professionals, that are going to hit the audience you are looking to hit. The more specific you get, the better results will be. hence the machine name.”
For creators, it’s competent representation.
“We don’t want any creator to ever have to go into a business deal alone ever again. Our mission is to protect and empower every creator in the game. If you have a business deal on the table and you don’t know what to do, there is no excuse not to have a professional. You can literally assign us that deal to work on. We’ll protect and empower you on that specific deal. The rest of your business is your business to deal with its total fine.”
The Mountain Dew Campaign with Devin Super Tramp
One of Kevin’s biggest influencer marketing projects when he worked at The Gersh Agency was a Mountain Dew (a PepsiCo brand) campaign involving the YouTuber Devin Super Tramp (real name Devin Graham). It occurred before he started TheMachine but was an important influence.
“Devin Super Tramp does and did action that when you watch it, you feel like you can do it. Then you try to do it and either hurt yourself or are like ‘This is so impossible!’. And he makes it so accessible. So Mountain Dew wanted to take that extreme side of things but put it in a digestible ‘I can do this!’ approachable thing. And by sponsoring Devin, they did what a lot of brands have learnt to do now which is ‘Let’s Empower this creator to do something they couldn’t do without our money, without working with us’.”
“The videos were like different varying levels of stunts with the Mountain Dew branding all over it. But it wasn’t like ‘Drink Mountain Dew’. It wasn’t like a commercial. It was an experience and a feeling. We didn’t talk once about how great Mountain Dew tastes or anything like that. Or how big the bottle was. It was just ‘This is the feeling that Mountain Dew gives you. You should probably drink it’. It was the vibe you get from it. It was hilarious and fun.”
It was in the early years of the influencer marketing industry.
“It was so early that Pepsi’s legal department said ‘We do not have a form of agreement for this. We don’t know how to do it. Can you put this together?’ So we worked with the legal team at the agency to put together the template that they might still use portions of today.”
“The videos performed really well. Like millions of views. They are still up today if you want to check them out on Devin Super Trump channel. Mountain Dew exceeded the performance they were looking for. At the time how we had structured it was like a bonus based on how many views that he got. He crushed his thresholds. And they were pretty high thresholds. That’s because he has an eye for his audience. The brand was able to understand that he knew his audience better than anyone else and trusted that process. We were able to guide that process with and on behalf of him.”
In creating the TheMachine, Kevin sought to replicate and scale the success of the Mountain Dew campaign numerous times.
“We’ve taken that and iterated over and over by doing thousands and thousands of deals with big brands to small. Huge campaigns with multiple creators. For example, we booked 40 for one of our agency clients representing a brand client at the beginning of this year. 40 talents over the course of two months. That amount of deliverables should be insurmountable. If each does two deliverables, it’s 80 pieces of content that has to be done on time and delivered. With us we know it so well, we are able to move at speed. So what’s gone from doing six videos for one brand client turns into 80 pieces of content for multiple parties. Making sure deliverables, analytics are on time. And that KPIs set at the beginning of the campaign are hit or exceeded.”
While the campaign was a success, influencer marketing was little understood at the time.
“It’s changed a whole bunch. I have to do less education about what it all is now. Every phone call used to be this is what YouTube is, this is why it matters, this is why views matter and here’s how you can work with influencers or talent online. Now people understand because of Silicon Valley coming in and VCs putting billions of dollars in it, and traditional TV dying, they understand it.”
Kevin Herrera on Looking to the Future
Kevin is looking at getting TheMachine in front of every creator that needs help.
“Also, we would like to find other ‘renegades’ like ourselves that see the industry differently and want to help empower and protect creators. This is a call to anybody that wants to positively affect the creator economy directly through their work. We are looking to work with you and empower you to do more of what you do.”
Kevin Herrera is Co-Founder and Creator Operator at TheMachine, a verified member network of executives and talent working across advertising and entertainment. He previously worked at The Gersh Agency. Since 2006, he has been at the forefront of the digital content revolution ranging from digital packaging and product, to talent representation and career management. He is a graduate of business administration and business law from California State University – Northridge. Kevin lives in Los Angeles, California.