Talent Agent, Jessica Henig talks with Real Business about starting up an SME in a $2.3 billion dollar industry, unlocking the dreams of young influencers, and why TikTok is changing the future of marketing.
The Instagram influencer market size was valued at $2.3 billion US dollars in 2020 and is set to triple by 2027. The lucrative industry pulls in billions every year and is now considered in the top five dream careers for UK adolescents. With the rise of TikTok, many influencers start building their online brand and persona at quite a young age.
That’s when the Unlocked branding team step in.
Jessica Henig established her talent management business in 2017 after over seven years in the talent industry. She and her team manage and assist young social media influencers, athletes, and music artists, helping secure brand partnerships and grow their client’s careers.
Real Business sat down with Henig to talk about her business and the ever-expanding industry.
So, how did she end up working in talent and marketing?
Henig started her career at MTV, where she was hired as an intern while studying Communications and Media studies at Leeds Metropolitan University. During her time at MTV, she worked hard building contacts, connections, and networking, forging professional relationships that served her well when she decided to build her own talent agency. After graduating, Henig moved on to act as a talent agent. The job gave her the opportunity to manage athletes like Greg Rutherford and Louis Smith during the 2012 London Olympics. She continues to manage high-level athletes, including double gold-medal Olympian, Joanna Roswell. Currently, most of the Unlocked Branding roster are young women with large profiles on TikTok and Instagram. Her clients are typically still in school when Henig takes them on to manage, something she takes very seriously.
We obviously try to make sure we have their best interests at heart and that they are able to properly balance their studying and education alongside building their careers.
The management team foster marketing deals and partnerships with brands like ASOS and Curology, helping their clients secure contracts with popular, well-known companies that are suitable for their platforms and audience. Henig is very specific with the talent she signs, seeking out creators with an established niche, style, or topic of interest.
As public figures, usually with very young audiences, influencers are often expected to properly understand and consider the information and ethics behind everything they post.
How important is it that Unlocked Branding’s young creators understand and promote social responsibility as public figures?
“I found the younger generations really care and they tend to only match with brands that have a good ethos and on understanding of social responsibility. They are very good about researching news events and issues to build and present an informed point of view and I think that’s quite amazing.”
One of Unlocked Branding’s core values is maintaining their client’s well-being as well as their careers. Being in the public eye inevitably leads to a significant amount of criticism and even hate and taking on big name clients can put a lot of pressure on the younger influencers.
We have a mental health department with a psychologist that we do workshops with every quarter. There is a lot of pressure and responsibility, obviously it is not always clear what our clients should or should not post so we try to encourage an open conversation.
What is a challenge Henig often faces when managing younger clients?
A big worry for parents regarding their children becoming influencers is the risk of exploitation, particularly with young women, but Henig’s all-women team make it a top priority to safeguard and protect their clients.
“We liaise with our clients and their parents together and individually. Another damaging aspect of the influencer industry is parents pushing their children too hard and over-working them because they’ve never seen the amount of money their child is earning before and they are concerned about opportunities disappearing.”
Henig is very committed to expanding the opportunities and future options for her clients. Whether they are interested in fashion, modelling, music, or acting, the company ensures that their clients re-invest their time and money for the future. This means the team is very careful to curate online profiles and content that will leads their clients into the industries they want to explore once they become more established.
We decline brands and business on behalf of our clients all the time. We get to build the right brands for our talent by being selective.
What’s on the cards for unlocked branding in the next year?
“We have a lot of music marketing ideas and campaigns that are coming up with some major artists and developing artists, we have influencer trips scheduled but obviously until government restrictions are lifted. We have a few clients that are booked for TV shows in America that I can’t really mention just yet, so there’s quite a lot going on in different sectors. Obviously we have a lot of big campaigns and connections coming up as well but that is fairly standard for us, but yeah, we do have a lot of cool things in the pipeline outside of social media.”
As a business leader, Henig defines success through her professional and personal relationships. She believes in genuinely supporting the people around her and to be able to have flexibility in her work, so she doesn’t have to be sitting in front of her computer nine till five. She will never deny the importance of having the books balanced and the monetary success of running a profitable business, but she has always been invested in having a good ethos and helping those around her build their own success stories.