Years ago, celebrity ambassadors were joined by the first wave of beauty influencers on social media. Now, the next wave of influencers in beauty is upon us.
For some of the most unique talents to recently emerge in the beauty world — TikTok star Addison Rae, poet laureate Amanda Gorman, YouTuber-turned-comedian Lilly Singh and TikTok star Chase Hudson — their talent agency WME has been a big part of their rise.
To learn more about this evolution, Glossy spoke to Carolyn Moneta, a partner at WME. She formed the agency’s Digicomm group six years ago when it was becoming clear that social influencers were the next big celebrities. Also called the digital and brand crossover group, the seven-person Digicomm team is split between New York, Los Angeles and London, and works to grow digitally native talent into mainstream celebrities. Thus far this year, Digicomm has secured over 900 lucrative brand deals for talent. With IMG, which is also part of WME’s parent company Endeavor, the two talent agencies represent many of those figures and have been instrumental in catapulting them to fame.
Some examples of its successful beauty deals over the past year-and-a-half have been the launch of Addison Rae’s Item Beauty, Lilly Singh’s Olay Super Bowl ad and Chase Hudson’s nail collab with Glamnetic.
Below, Moneta shares the history of the Digicomm group, her thoughts on the influencer and celebrity landscape, and the platforms the agency uses to scope out the next big star.
When was your group created?
“About seven or eight years ago, I had identified that there were these real personalities coming out of YouTube and that the brand business could play that important role much earlier on in their careers than a traditional actor or musician. I came up through that traditional celebrity brand partnerships division and began signing talent with my digital colleagues in the brand business, which then became a core revenue driver for those clients and that digital group. Five or six years back, I pitched the vision of creating this duality between being able to work across departments, and it got traction.”
How many people are represented by the Digicomm group?
“We represent, of course, digital creator talent. We also represent celebrity talent who have a significant social presence. We also represent media platforms and non-traditional clients. It’s about 150 clients. But, we really service our entire client roster based on the brand relationships that we have.”
How have you seen the industry change around the kind of talent that companies are looking for?
“Brands, in particular, have always really hired talent for who they are, and not just for their measurability or the distribution channel that they stand on. That’s an important element. We look at signing talent through that lens, as well. There’s just a lot more talent discovery now, based on social platforms that have come up.”
What are the main social platforms you’re looking at?
“YouTube, of course, TikTok, Twitch — we have a pretty significant gaming business — and Instagram. I would say TikTok’s algorithm and interface allows for discovery in a more amplified way, just given the For You Page.”
What is the process for making a digital celebrity a mainstream celebrity? ”
“Just in the brand partnerships group in general, we surrounded and supported digital creators from the beginning, not just once they gained recognition outside of digital. That is what sets us apart and what served as the impetus for growing out the Digicomm group.
We don’t look at talent as just defined by a platform that they just happen to be discovered on. We really sign clients who we think we can take across WME, which cuts across multiple business areas.
We look at talent more strategically, even through the brand lens first, and we don’t just do one-off transactional social deals. Of course, that’s a part of it. But we’re really thinking about, ‘Is this partnership strategic, and does it fit with the overall ecosystem and talent’s career? Is it going to elevate them in some sort of way?'”
How big are beauty and beauty brand partnerships, as part of your overall business?
“It’s a core element. Over the last 18 months, even just in the Digicomm group, we’ve closed over 40 deals for creators and talent in the beauty category — whether that’s building brands from the ground up, consumer products, collaboration, or equity-based deals, and then of course, endorsements.”
What are beauty brands looking for, and how is that changing? Are they looking for new types of influencers?”
“They’re looking for clients that have a real point of view and are experts in their relative fields.
As talents own and control their distribution channels, they’re looking to be more upstream in how they work with brands. The Addison Rae business, with her Item Beauty brand and, recently, the Addison Rae fragrance is a great example. That’s a credit to my colleague, Alex Devlin, and the Digicomm group .”
How did the Lilly Singh and Olay partnership come about?
“It was a multi-year, seven-figure deal for her to be the global face of the brand, and it culminated in her starring in their last Super Bowl commercial. That was precedent-setting because she was the first digital-native talent to have a leading role in a Super Bowl spot. The interesting thing on this one is Lilly is not a core beauty expert by any means, nor does she pretend to be. Olay actually flew her out to their headquarters to sit in the labs with the scientists to talk about the product and get really into the weeds on it.”
Tell us about the male talent that you have signed, now that there are collabs like Chase Hudson and Glamnetic, as well as TikTok influencer Benito Skinner and MAC Cosmetics. Are beauty brands increasingly looking for male influencers?
“[The trend] is coming from both the advocates for beauty brands and also our clients, who really just challenge gender and social constructs. They’re able to amplify that challenge by structuring these kinds of partnerships.”
What are you seeing with Twitch talent? When did you sign your first Twitch streamer?
“We’ve got a pretty robust roster of both casual gamers and streamers, both on YouTube and Twitch. We’re certainly closing deals for them with endemic gaming brands, but also non-gaming brands.”
What are the next big digital platforms you’re eyeing?
“There’s a lot going on in the audio space, in terms of what some of those social platforms are coming out with. Platforms like Discord are really interesting to us. And then you start to get into the metaverse and the different versions of that. There’s going to be a lot more for us to do with our clients in the metaverse.”
How impactful are digital creators in being a megaphone for brand messaging, compared to a traditional celebrity?
“Years ago, just for the purposes of education, we would often take a movie star that just had a box office hit and a digital client, and show [brand clients] that, despite this movie’s [success], their tweets had significantly less engagement than the digital talent’s tweets. We do a lot less of that because there’s an understanding of the impact of digital talent now.”
Do you have more talent that will be debuting their own beauty brands in the future?
“The short answer is yes. I don’t know that we can share anything that hasn’t been publicly announced yet. But I would definitely stay tuned.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for length.