Note – This interview for The Confessional was originally published on Tubefilter.

My latest interviewee for The Confessional is a senior advertising agency executive who’s worked on the media and strategy side of the business for over a decade. In this extensive interview, we discussed how the ecosystem has evolved, how much advertisers have (and have not) adapted to working with digital influencers, as well as the newfronts and its role in influencing the flow of ad dollars.

Some of the major points we covered were:

  • How the ecosystem has changed over the years
  • The best ways to work with creators
  • The role of Brandcast and the digital newfronts

How has the space changed since you got started nearly a decade ago?
The biggest change is probably the money.

I remember when I first got started it was hard to get clients onboard with the idea of even paying for YouTubers to create content around their brand. Everything was so siloed back then and, more often than, not they thought of YouTubers as PR and PR should be free.

It was really fucking dumb. Brands would pay millions of dollars in production and media for an agency to create content, but wouldn’t spend any money at all on a YouTuber who actually had a massive audience.

Do you feel like the process of working with YouTubers is more defined today?
It’s getting better. It’s certainly a lot more accepted to work with YouTubers, Viners, Instagrammers, etc. That said, I think a lot of the agencies, creatives in particular, real look down upon a lot of the influencers. There’s a certain arrogance that a lot of agencies have when it comes to anything involving creative.

Regarding, how to work with creators – it’s not really defined. Anyone can work with them any number of ways. The media agencies sometimes do buys and sell through branded content done by influencers as part of the package. Creative agencies and PR agencies sometimes carve out this space as being their domain. It’s not uncommon for brands to have direct relationships.

Also, the way to reach creators to work with them is a clusterfuck. You have MCN’s, talent managers, traditional talent agencies, and the creators themselves all negotiating deals. There’s a huge dogpile at times that creates a lot of confusion.

In your experience, what’s the best way to work with creators?
It depends, there are some great mediators out there who really add value – whether that be a talent manager, MCN account manager, or whatever. It really varies person to person.

However, it never hurts to have at least some access to the source – the creator. That allows you to have a better feel for who you’re working with and what they are and are not receptive to.

The NewFronts are coming up this week – as an advertiser, what’s your take on that?
The NewFronts is the ultimate industry circle jerk.

Upfronts was something created from the Mad Men era when there was limited ad inventory and you had to work with people face to face. None of that is relevant today.

I can buy media cheaper by NOT dealing with the publishers than I can by dealing with them directly. It’s insane. There’s more inventory than anyone knows what to deal with. Why are we, as advertisers, paying a premium? That premium goes to pay for salespeople, bloated organizations and events like those held at the NewFronts.

As a vendor, I totally understand why you’d do the NewFronts. However, brands and their media agencies should be smarter, but they’re not. Why should they be? They can go and be wined and dined by potential partners and then spend the brand’s money. There’s no real accountability to work harder and smarter within a lot of these organizations… in fact, if anything a lot of them are so rigid in their processes you’re better off (career wise) to play it safe and not stick your neck out.

What about YouTube’s Brandcast?
Brandcast is really more of the same. I’d say they do a better job than most in putting on a show and providing tangible insights to help convince advertisers to shift more dollars to YouTube, so in that sense it is good.

However, typically, YouTube is trying to dumb down their offerings for their audience. Once again, I’m not blaming them or the publishers. They’re all REALLY smart to continue to do these events. It’s the brands and media agencies that are dragging their feet that make these events necessary.

Want to get more brands to buy on YouTube? Sell it like TV, like they did with Google Preferred. How fucking insane is that? You need to make things more inefficient to help pull these decision makers into the 21st century. Fucking drives me nuts.

What’s your take on all the attention and ad dollars that have gone into promoting the creators over the years?
Once again – it’s taking an old school approach and applying it to this new medium.

Want to get advertisers to invest in branded content with YouTube stars? Put them on a billboard.

That’s kind of crazy when you think about it. The fact that they were reaching 10 million people wasn’t enough? Fuck. Do you not do any research whatsoever about the media habits of your target?

Any parting thoughts?
Everyone follows the money. If brands evolved and really changed their processes and how they chose work with creators and agencies this could be a much more exciting industry than it is today.

Today, it’s hard to push innovative work through. I don’t think it should be easy, but I don’t think it should be this hard.

So much of this industry is based on legacy relationships and ways of working. These major brands are going to disappear in a few years if they can’t adapt. I genuinely believe that Fortune 500 companies will disappear if they can’t change the way they spend their ad dollars. TV isn’t impactful enough. You’ve got upstarts spending pennies on the dollar in digital to get way more impact.

Brands need to stay hungry and adapt if they want to survive the next few decades.