Behind the Brand Deal: How Portal A Creates Compelling Branded Content With High-Profile Influencers

By 05/11/2018
Behind the Brand Deal: How Portal A Creates Compelling Branded Content With High-Profile Influencers

Influencer marketing is no longer in its infancy. Creators with influence are regularly commanding, five, six, and seven figure-fees to help popularize products in across way more consumer product verticals than you’d think. With all that in mind, we’re giving influencer marketing some dedicated attention. In Behind The Brand Deal, Chris Landa talks to the individuals who orchestrate the deals and make the content that contribute to this multi-billion dollar industry. 

You can check out all the installments of Behind The Brand Deal right here.

While only 36% of marketers may find influencer marketing effective, it’s not slowing down the continued growth of the industry, as recently evidenced by Fullscreen buying influencer marketing platform Reelio for an undisclosed sum of money. Does anyone remember when Fullscreen was just a simple Multi-Channel Network? Alas, like the influencer marketing industry as a whole companies have evolved to stay relevant and profitable.


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Speaking of one such company, while best known for cramming close to 300 creators into the yearly YouTube Rewind music video, Portal A has also been teaming up with brands to perform high quality influencer marketing campaigns for the past several years. However, unlike most influencer marketing companies that rely on the influencer to create all content, Portal A often produces the content and then seeds it onto the creator’s YouTube and other social channels.

To get more insight into how they team up with brands and influencers to create this content, I spoke with Brittani Kagan, Portal A’s Head of Talent. In a quick moving sector of our industry, we talk through changes and Portal A’s unique style of influencer marketing below.

Tubefilter: Since joining Portal A three years ago, how has the influencer marketing landscape changed for the company?

Brittani Kagan: When I joined Portal A, the landscape around working with creators was far less mature. Deal memos were informal, creators often didn’t have representation, and fees were lower and less standardized. On the casting side, the data that drove creator selection was limited to a creator’s number of subscribers.

Today, subscriber count is just one of a long list of influence metrics, and the industry as a whole has professionalized in dramatic ways. For creators, the opportunities to grow and diversify their careers are greater than ever. They have teams that mirror those of traditional talent. Brands expect much more sophistication when working with this new generation of talent. They want elevated, premium entertainment that can break through the noise and live on any platform, but content that still feels authentic on a given creator’s channel.

Even as our company has grown and evolved alongside the space, and our work with creators has become more far-reaching and our deals more complex, our approach has remained the same. We focus on making breakthrough work with a new generation of stars, and fostering collaborations between creators and brands that brings out the best on both sides.

Tubefilter: What do you miss about three years ago compared to today?

BK: In some ways, I miss the simplicity of those earlier times, which had both positive and negative elements. On the positive side, there were far fewer gatekeepers and creators were more willing to come on board to a project purely based on an inspiring idea or a brand that they loved.

At the same time, the rules and shared language around these deals had not yet been established, so each conversation felt like it was starting from scratch. Creators were more skeptical of how their audience might react to branded content. Many didn’t yet have professional management, so there was a lot more chasing creators down via text, WhatsApp, and DMs. Thankfully, now they have managers to do that!

TF: Unlike a lot of other companies that offer influencer marketing services, Portal A produces high quality content that is then placed on the creator’s channel. What unique challenges do you have to navigate when producing this content?

BK: We appreciate you recognizing that!

A brand’s priority will always be to safeguard how their brand and product are being represented in a space where there aren’t as many controls as there are with traditional advertising. The creator will always be very particular about the nature of the content that is going on their channel, and focused on being true to their voice and their fans. That dynamic will never change, and that is precisely where our expertise comes in — translating that conversation, bridging that gap, and bringing those two priorities together with ideas that will delight C-suites and creator audiences alike.

Creators have a strong sense for what their audience will love, but it’s often hard for them to articulate or visualize what a more polished video will look like on their channel. Brands have a strong sense for their brand priorities, but it’s often hard for them to articulate or visualize what creator content will look like. The good news is, we’re fluent in both sides of that conversation, and collaborate with both brands and creators like creative and producing partners, not simply as advertisers on one hand, or just as on-screen talent or a distribution channel on the other.

The best collaborations come when a brand can bring new resources or opportunities for creators, and creators can bring a new perspective and fresh voice for a brand.

TF: How do you develop trust with the creator to the point they’re comfortable posting the content?

BK: Transparency is the key. From our first creative brainstorm to the content launch, we’re working hand-in-hand with creators at every milestone to ensure the campaign feels authentic to fans.

When creators are central to the development process, it builds trust and helps ensure they are genuinely excited for their fans to see the content we are creating. When we arrive on set, the spirit of collaboration that we established in the creative process is carried on by a director and producing team that understands what makes the creator special, and why this idea can break through. By the time we arrive in post production, we’re already on the same page and pushing the vision of the project forward together, so there are rarely any surprises.

TF: When working with new creators, what is your identification and vetting process?

BK: One key part of how we discover creators is old-fashioned….we watch all their content, and we cast based on talent. This part is subjective, but it’s also what makes us good at our jobs.

Beyond that, and without giving up too much of the secret sauce, we’ve developed a set of extremely detailed criteria to drive casting decisions: on the quantitative side, we focus on metrics like channel viewership trends, social engagement across platforms, average video watch time, performance of previous branded content, audience demographics, and much more. On the qualitative side, we look at fit and affinity with the brand, an enthusiasm for collaborating closely, creative potential to make something breakthrough, and much more.

We’re also always game to take a risk on creators we really admire (but who may be more under the radar more broadly), knowing that our team is especially adept at taking on big challenges, tapping into new talent, and bringing new voices to the world of brands and branded content. Each successful campaign with a new creator establishes trust and gives us runway to push the envelope a bit further next time around.

TF: In your Brita campaign with King Bach and Stephen Curry, you were more creative than most when disclosing  the video was sponsored. When working with creators, how do you address FTC Guidelines in a way that is creative and isn’t a turnoff for the audience?

BK: It’s actually pretty simple — don’t make it weird.

If a creator tries to hide or downplay the fact that they are working with a brand, that is precisely what turns fans off. We flip that on its head, and look for fun, clever ways to disclose the partnership that complements the overall tone and creative of the video. Another favorite of mine is how we started off Meredith Foster’s video for Moto Z called “SCARIEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE! (HAUNTED HIGH SCHOOL)”.

TF: What campaign was your favorite of 2017?

BK: We built a competition featuring two creators — Inanna Sarkis from the US and Jake Mitchell from the UK — to promote the new Kingsman film with the awesome team at 20th Century Fox.

The stars aligned on this one — we had a badass movie guiding the tone of the work, the runway to weave in references to the film in a smart and subtle way, and the creative flexibility to be ambitious with the format of the campaign.

With Inanna, our priorities lined up perfectly with hers. She wanted to pursue more acting, more stunt work, and more content that felt like a short film. We worked closely with Inanna on the script, the design of the wardrobe and the set, the development of the stunts, and we edited the video side-by-side. The results speak for themselves – the action short film now has over 3 million views across platforms, and the final product represents so many of the best practices we strive to achieve every day.

TF: For someone new to influencer marketing, what advice would you give them?

BK: Be bold. Take risks. Don’t blend in and don’t be purely transactional about the work. Push the limits of what brands, creators, and audiences expect, and dream big.

It will help our industry grow, it will lead to better work, and it will attract more dynamic opportunities down the road.

TF: When speaking about a willingness to collaborate as an important factor, how do you evaluate that with talent you haven’t worked with before?

BK: The type of creators we want to be working with are genuinely excited about participating as a creative partner in the production process, and are committed to working together to create something special and elevated. When considering creators, we are clear about the type of process that will lead to breakthrough work. In turn, we like to hear from creators about their priorities for the partnership, and what they are dreaming of making.  It’s a match for us when we find a creator who is enthusiastic, excited for a big challenge, and is ready to raise the bar in the world of branded content.

TF: What are the most common challenges you face?

BK: We like to take big swings and we take the time to develop the creative and campaign strategy alongside the brand and the creator, which can push both brands and creators outside of their typical lanes and comfort zone. The challenge is always to balance the objectives of the brand, the authentic voice of the creators, and make sure we are making something awesome all at the same time.

After overseeing the talent and talent integration departments at Machinima, Chris Landa most recently served as the Sr. Director of Content & Partnerships at YouNow, where he worked with top talent and brands to maximize their presence on the platform. With a wide range of expertise around brand integrations and original content featuring creators, Chris recently launched Transparent Influence, a company focused on accountability and transparency in Influencer Marketing.

You can check out all the installments of Chris’ Behind The Brand Deal right here.

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