What This Head Of Celebrity Relations Has to Say About Influencers
For 16 years Sara Kantathavorn has booked celebrities the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Aniston and Tom Cruise. If you follow her on Instagram, you wonder how on earth she has the energy to do her job and be out as much as she is — and then you meet her. Her energy is amazing and at a level that is not normal. Then you get to know her and realize that all the outings are actually part of her job. And then it hits you: This woman works a lot more than you realized. And she’s damn good at it. Here, she sheds light on how the industry has reacted and adapted to the rise of digital influencers — and shares some best practices for selecting and engaging with them.
How did you get into talent relations?
I got into talent relations as a fluke. I was a two-day temp at ABC Entertainment in casting and made friends with the head assistant (who is still a great friend of mine). I mentioned to her that I loved the department, and she marched right into my manager’s office and asked her to keep me. When I transitioned into my second role in entertainment at Nickelodeon, the department was a casting/talent relations team, and I was hired to assist two executives (one from each team). I quickly realized that I was more engaged on the talent relations side of the business. I learned from the team and began to book my own talent for the award shows, series and social campaigns. I lucked out because at the time I joined the team my boss was mostly focused on music and the head of the department was focused on films, which gave me the TV lane. Cut to many years later in my career: I am working for the same person that led my team at Nickelodeon (but not in the digital space), and I was her first hire on the team.
How has the rise of digital influencers impacted your job?
The landscape of talent relations has shifted tremendously in the past 15 years. Influencers did not exist as they do today. An A-lister can mean different things to different people. The lines are blurred in many instances. You have A-list talent like Justin Bieber that started as a YouTube influencer, but is now a bonafide celebrity selling out tours.
The shift in demand for talent was in response to YouTube. Brands began to notice the dynamic between digital talent and their fans (or, as they call them, friends) and the engagement these influencers had with these fans. From there, it was a different landscape. The goal for most of this talent is to get to celebrity A-lister status, and some have made it there. We are now seeing traditional A-list talent moving into the digital realm and building their brands in this ever-so-lucrative space. When talent is being viewed for a role, in many instances companies are looking at more than just their portfolio; they are looking at their social impact as well.
The world of celebrity and influencer will continue to shift, and it’s anybody’s guess what happens next. There is one thing for sure: It’s a roller-coaster ride worth being a part of.
Influencers are in high demand today. Do you think the demand has peaked? Where do you see the industry going?
I think the demand for this influencer market has just begun and will continue to grow as social media evolves. The industry will twist and turn, and it will be some time before anyone really knows where everything will land. There are too many unknowns to give a definite answer. One day Snapchat is the hottest trend, and then Instagram comes in and adds video to their app. Musical.ly comes in and muddies the water, to which FaceBook answers back with their live feature. One thing is certain: Companies must join the digital world to stay alive. Companies like MTV and talk shows like Ellen are not only using their broadcast platforms, but also adding Facebook Live as a second tool to view their content while snapping and posting photos (in real time) to Instagram.
What makes a good influencer? How do you choose them, and what is the best way to engage them?
Influencers flourish when they stay true to their brands and post regularly. Typically, a weekly post on the same day at the same time is best. We choose specific talent that fits our brand. Our brand is very focused on the Gen Z audience, so it is important that the talent feel that, in addition to our team helping them grow their YouTube presence, they have TV and film opportunities as well. In terms of diversifying the type of talent we work with, we cover music, beauty/lifestyle, comedy and other categories that engage this audience.
You are a big advocate of diversity in the workplace. When did it become a cause you wanted to stand behind and why?
I am a huge proponent of diversity in the workplace, on screen and off. Our company has invested in mitú, another media company that services the Hispanic Gen Z audience. In terms of diversity, our team has been doing a phenomenal job at discovering diverse talent that delivers to our core audience while also engaging a larger audience.
One would say that your line of work allows you to have a greater impact when it comes to diversity because you have a hand on the talent that is hired. Is this something you do consciously?
I believe that it is crucial to cast a wide net when searching for talent, and diversity is a huge key for me. I believe it is very important to find talent that can represent the ever-growing diverse landscape and give fans different points of views and perspective. Our company has recently gone global through a partnership with Endemol in Brazil, Germany, the U.K., Spain and France, in addition to airing content in Canada through our partnership with DHX. I believe these partnerships will give us greater tools to assist in finding more diverse talent to consider for all upcoming TV and film projects.
The World Wide Web has made it easy to connect people from all walks of life, and I hope to be a small part in discovering influencers that can give a positive and diverse voice to this next generation. It is interesting to me to attend events and see all the traditional stars and influencers running in the same circles, thus connecting the world of entertainment that I started in and this digital landscape that I am helping to forge a future for.