IMG Chairman Barrett Wissman On Monetizing Your Influence
Over the last several years, we have witnessed the stratospheric growth of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. They have taken the advertising world by a storm. Companies are scrambling to understand the dynamics of promoting their businesses through social media and have turned to newly minted specialist agencies to guide them through the maze of choices, platforms and solutions.
Also new in the mix are the social media so-called "influencers" and stars who have popped up out of nowhere. These home-grown talents have made it through their own efforts and clever collaborations, shooting their own videos and photos and telling their stories directly to their fans and followers. Historically, the mega agencies, studios and moguls of the entertainment world could decide who had a chance to "make it" and who didn't. Those times have now changed and no one can deny the power of an influencer that can directly tell their story or promote a product directly to millions of people.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Barrett Wissman, chairman of IMG Artists and managing director of social media management firm Two Pillar Management. IMG Artists, a leading global arts and entertainment representation firm, was purchased by Wissman from IMG, the global entertainment monolith that recently merged with leading Hollywood agency WME. IMG/WME continue to own a stake in IMG Artists.
Most recently, Wissman co-founded the social media management firm, Two Pillar Management. He has also co-founded a new firm, Empower, in partnership with serial entrepreneur Robert Earl, to incubate, develop and operate businesses in partnership with celebrity talent.
Two Pillar Management has now become a major player in the social media game, which Wissman characterizes as an extension of his long-term experience advising live-attraction performers.Their list is impressive, representing talent with more than 50 million followers. It includes lifestyle adventurist Jay Alvarrez, You Tube star Andrea Russett, lifestyle guru Sazan Hendrix, actor and social media wiz Ray Diaz and Instagram stars and You Tube vloggers Murad and Nataly Osmannon the roster. Wissman is also Alexis Ren's partner in her own brand Ren Active.
Wissman said that until recently, influencers have been largely seen as the new pitchmen for companies, products and services. His feeling however is that unlike most traditional celebrities, they have a far greater opportunity in the role of entrepreneur. Many traditional celebrities are seen by their fans as untouchable icons; social media stars are their followers' friends, cohorts and contemporaries.
"This is an untapped market and it is our responsibility to open this world up to our clients,'' Wissman said. "We are here to advise them on how to build their overall brands as celebrities, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. We are only at the beginning stages of this next evolution."
Empower, Wissman's partnership with Robert Earl, is focusing on building brands and businesses for its clients who have developed a following. Sazan Hendrix has already launched her successful subscription box, Bless Box. Alexis Ren has just launched her activewear line, Ren Active, in August. Helping these young clients to navigate these unchartered paths is Wissman's primary objective, as they are the opinion leaders and tastemakers of the future.
Wissman is no stranger to adversity. A few years ago, he was caught in the crossfire of an investigation that had an impact not only on his career as an entrepreneur but on a personal level as well. In this day and age of the internet, headlines continued to pop up that reminded everyone of his self-admitted mistakes. With every article, there were references to his legal issues surrounding a pension fund investigation in the state of New York and the millions of dollars that he paid as part of his settlement there. It was definitely a case of his past continuing to haunt him digitally.
In the end, Wissman realized he could not let past mistakes dictate the rest of his life and control his ability to make a positive difference. And, that's exactly where he is at today. Wissman knows that there are others out there like him. His best advice is to own the past but not let it define you. Instead, actively learn from it, change and grow, and make a difference. In this way, Wissman has become a true renaissance man, remaking himself through his work.
To that end, Wissman directed an investment that IMG Artists made in the Global Philanthropy Group run by Trevor Neilson and Maggie Neilson. The company advises celebrities, philanthropists and companies on their philanthropic strategies. Their list of clients has included Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Shakira, John Legend, Gucci, Miley Cyrus, Clinique and many others. With this collaboration, Wissman plans to build social media stars' philanthropic profiles, which he sees as an area of opportunity and way to focus on giving back and doing the right thing.
Now, Wissman is going a step further toward the future focused on his philanthropic efforts. His latest venture is W Preserve, a sanctuary for art, music and sustainability in Montana. Wissman is no stranger to the arts and similar ventures, having founded multiple festivals and major arts initiatives around the globe. With the help of the sanctuary's co-founder, Nina Kotova, a musician and composer, this nonprofit organization will provide welcome relief and common ground for artists, thinkers and musicians.
Located 90 miles northeast of Yellowstone National Park, W Preserve is a place to brainstorm ideas, collaborate and perform in a natural setting. In the summer of 2018, W Preserve will host its first events to encourage more people to escape the digital world and reconnect with live experiences surrounded by others who appreciate great art and music.
Wissman's point of view is that nothing can change the past. The digital world won't let it go. Instead, write your own future. Ensure what you do is an example to others to do the right thing and find positive ways that you can give back whether it is with one's money, time, or talent.