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Runway Influence Takes Flight Under Founder Ernest Sturm


Runway Influence Takes Flight Under Founder Ernest Sturm

Los Angeles-based influencer marketing agency Runway Influence has rapidly expanded since serial entrepreneur Ernest Sturm launched the company in 2017. Leveraging Sturm’s experience with a parallel private event staffing business also under his helm, Runway Influence now connects brands with targeted audiences unbounded by geography.

Runway Influence concentrates its talent roster specifically on high fashion models turned social media influencers. As the agency’s fashion-focused name suggests, Runway curates and represents models and influencers with the high end editorial and runway aesthetics. While some talent it signs maintains active modeling and traditional print and campaign work, the firm focuses on models evolving into digital creators to leverage their aspirational imagery for brand building online. 

This specialization differs from influencer agencies casting a wider net. By narrowing its niche, Runway builds authority in activating elegant influencers native to glossy magazines and catwalks to translate that aesthetic into the influencer space. The discerning taste and insider industry connections shape its exclusive talent pool suited to prestige and luxury brands seeking enhancement from classically beautiful people and the audiences they attract.

Runway Influence Takes Flight Under Founder Ernest Sturm

Founder and CEO Ernest Sturm has charted an enterprising course from his early years in Russia to now heading an influencer firm in Los Angeles. Sturm first immigrated to California’s Ventura County from Russia as a teenager.

In his early 20s, Sturm founded his debut business called Runway Waiters – a nationwide luxury events staffing outfit still operating today in cities like Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

After over a decade growing Runway Waiters, Sturm launched Runway Influence around 8 years ago as models on his roster began shifting into social media influence.

Seeing the market shifts, Sturm decided to evolve by booking influencer models for campaigns. “We already had the clients. We already had the models. Some of them became influencers,” he said. “So it was a natural transition.”

Runway Influence Takes Flight Under Founder Ernest Sturm

Early Campaign Wins

Given its high profile talent, the agency caught an early break with Bytedance, the now ubiquitous Chinese technology giant during its launch of Tik Tok in the United States. “Tik Tok reached out to us before Tik Tok was Tik Tok. Nobody knew of Tik Tok at the time,” Sturm recalled. At the time, it was a little-known Chinese startup aiming to compete with Instagram.

Though skeptical such a newcomer could challenge Instagram’s foothold, Sturm took on the campaign. His agency hired 100 micro-influencer models – beautiful, agency-signed girls with 20,000 to 150,000 Instagram followers.

In this launch campaign, influencers posted dancing videos set to music on its still-new platform. The models then reposted those same videos with the TikTok logo back to Instagram, funneling their existing audiences to jumpstart TikTok’s.

That campaign proved pivotal for the company and product, cementing its position as a top competitor enjoying even higher engagement than Instagram today.

Around that same time, Runway Influence ran major campaigns with Los Angeles fashion brand Wildfox, booking top Instagram talent for events like Coachella. Looking back, Sturm demonstrated an early knack for tapping budding online video and influencer marketing trends.

One highlight influencer campaign for Runway Influence and Wildfox centered around a star-studded Coachella activation.

Sturm brought on board some of the top Instagram influencers including Rachel Cook and Jena Frumes, to generate content for the Los Angeles fashion brand.

His team went all-out, booking a mansion for the hand-picked talent and securing them VIP tickets to the music festival. Sturm also tapped one of the best creative directors and photographers in the area to produce Wildfox content on-site.

The influencers delivered under Runway Influence’s direction, capturing incredible imagery while decked out in Wildfox’s colorful ’90s-inspired clothing.

“It was one of our first main things that we did, and it was very successful,” Sturm said, cementing his knack for coordinating major influencer campaigns.

The luxury Coachella activation proved both memorable and impactful for raising Wildfox’s profile through key social media personalities.

Building on Success

Never one to think small, Sturm set his sights on collaborating with coveted supermodels to raise Runway Influence’s profile. He saw an opportunity to bring elite fashion talent into the influencer space.

One early coup was a campaign for a tequila brand with Brazilian supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio as the face. “That was one of our first supermodel campaigns,” Sturm states. “Obviously we’ve done other campaigns prior to this one, but this was one of the major ones that I definitely am proud of.”

On the heels of that success, a popular Chinese shoe brand Vivaia? tapped Runway Influence to book Candice Swanepoel and Emily DiDonato. The content resonated strongly with Revival’s audience and offered months’ worth of social media fodder.

Landing elite supermodels to promote brands – whether spirit labels or fashion companies – lent Runway Influence and its clients an air of prestige and credibility that resonated with target consumers. And it cemented Sturm’s knack for recruiting modeling talent to translate online, raising the bar for influencer campaigns.

Evolution over the years
What began as an influencer marketing agency has grown into a full-service branding firm under Sturm’s vision.

“We’ve transitioned from just being an influencer marketing agency, to a branding agency,” he explained. Runway Influence now offers a spectrum of services beyond just influencer campaign management.

That includes content production, website design, logo creation, SEO optimization, public relations, and social media growth services. This enables a comprehensive approach to brand building compared to influencer marketing alone.

On the PR front, Sturm leverages connections with top editors at major magazines like Vogue, GQ and Elle to secure profiles for clients not just in the US but internationally.

When it comes to growth, the company uses technology to scale brands’ followings by 8,000 to 10,000 new followers per month on average, sometimes up to 20,000-30,000. These are targeted, engaged followersIntended to drive conversions – not just vanity metrics.

As Sturm notes, while influencer marketing builds awareness and associations, a multifaceted strategy is required to fully build a brand nowadays. “When it comes to marketing, you want to utilize different routes and different ways of getting to customers. And influencer marketing is just part of the puzzle.”

Standing out amidst a sea of options

According to Sturm, Runway Influence has two main points of differentiation.

First is the company’s niche focus on high-fashion and model influencers specifically. As Sturm noted, models tend to attract followers with outsized influence – celebrities, industry leaders and taste-makers. “You’re not only gaining credibility, but you’re getting important exposure to some of the biggest people in the world.”

Second is Runway Influence’s expensive suite of services surrounding influencer marketing. That includes social media growth across platforms like TikTok and YouTube to spike engagement and visibility. As well as capabilities like website design, SEO optimization and more to drive actual conversions.

“We provide unique services to go along with influencer marketing that again assures their sales are going up, their credibility is strong, and the branding and their image is on point,” Sturm said. “It’s a whole package.”

Sturm Foresees Booming Growth For Influencer Marketing

 “I think influencer marketing is going to continue growing, because people trust people over commercials and ads,” says Strum.

Per Sturm, an established model touting a new product carries more weight than a Super Bowl spot these days. He points to TikTok enabling creators to sell merchandise directly from their own channels as well. “You’re seeing a commercial during Superbowl and even during this Super Bowl, a lot of brands pulled out,” Sturm said, explaining the pivot away from interruptive ads.

He believes authenticity now rules marketing. As Sturm put it: “It’s actually influencers that have tried the product themselves, have liked the product themselves. And now they’re recommending more than selling and they’re recommending it to their followers.”

Sturm foresees creators evolving further into genuine advisors who only endorse products they actually use and enjoy. “There are a lot of authentic influencers out there that won’t even take on a product or brand that they themselves don’t approve of,” he highlights.

In his view, “it’s just becoming much more authentic” as influencers transform into trusted authorities within their niches. Strengthening connections with audiences will fuel ongoing influencer marketing growth per Sturm’s projections.

Nii A. Ahene

Nii A. Ahene is the founder and managing director of Net Influencer, a website dedicated to offering insights into the influencer marketing industry. Together with its newsletter, Influencer Weekly, Net Influencer provides news, commentary, and analysis of the events shaping the creator and influencer marketing space. Through interviews with startups, influencers, brands, and platforms, Nii and his team explore how influencer marketing is being effectively used to benefit businesses and personal brands alike.

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