Gleam Futures was founded in 2010 and became the trailblazer of the influencer industry. The agency both recognised the enormous power of creators and legitimatised it, building a commercial juggernaut through sky-rocketing the careers of Zoe Sugg, Jim Chapman and Tanya Burr. In 2017, Gleam was acquired by Dentsu International and more recently Melanie Kentish – Sky’s group director of influencers – was poached to lead the business as managing partner. One month into the job, CORQ sat down with Kentish to discuss her vision for Gleam.
Kentish fizzes with authority – not surprising given she’s worked in the social space since 2006. She began her career organising tech events, gathering the heads of Twitter and Facebook at conferences around the world. But she was also playing around with her own digital presence. “I was using YouTube, had a blog and started to gain a small following,” she says. Her own experience is part of what gives her such insight into the influencer world: “I understood it from a creator’s perspective and I think that’s so incredibly important as opposed to being a brand thinking you can just give words to a creator to say.” When the Engine Group came knocking in 2011, she decided she was better suited to devising strategies that connected brands with influencers rather than being in front of the camera. But she takes this understanding to every conversation.
Kentish is bold. At Sky she attempted to takeover Instagram with the launch of Sky Glass, however “unfeasible” that ambition might have been. “We worked with over 200 creators, and the rationale behind that was each of those creators has authentic trust with their communities. We could have worked with ten influencers and just boosted the content, but with that doesn’t come the trust.” She is also, however, very reflective about the campaign – despite the fact it serves as an industry-wide reference for ambitious influencer marketing. She says: “I mean, you would never want to do it again, right? Because it’s really intrusive and it’s not what good creative marketing is. I’m not sure any brand would necessarily want to do it again.”
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She adds: “Now I look at it from a Gleam perspective and I’m like, that is really bad practice.” Ah yes, the Gleam perspective. Gleam has catapulted the careers of definitive creators such as Mrs Hinch and Kat Farmer as well as the OG YouTubers. Of the original YouTubers, only Tanya Burr remains in its management, but it’s still a hell of a roster. One of the things Kentish is keen to change is the perception there is a “Gleam person”. She says: “My vision is very much that whoever you are as an audience, we should have a creator that represents you and that you feel talks to you in a relevant and authentic way.” It’s Kentish’s strategy for future-proofing, in an industry that is already worth £12.57 billion a year.
The Gleam lure was impossible for her to resist, even though she had no intention of leaving Sky. She notes: “I loved my team there – I loved the work we were doing.” But, she says, Gleam catalysed the industry. “They really created the UK creator economy – they were the ones that supercharged it. Gleam was the one company that I said, if I ever got approached by them, that would be it.”
And now she’s in the hot seat. One month on she is relishing it – relishing the opportunity to put her vision for the influencer space in place. As to the existing Gleam talent, she enthuses: “I love all of the OG talent we have – I think they’re incredible. With any talent who have left, it now gives us an opportunity to say, ‘okay, if we had the dream roster, what would that be?’ If you look at Jim Chapman [who left Gleam this year] for example, he wants to go into playwriting. We’ve taken him on this journey and now it’s time for the next leg, but that gives an opportunity for fresh talent to come in who we can really shoot to fame.”
The new talent, Kentish is crystal-clear, needs to be representative of diverse and different communities across the social spectrum. At Sky, she ensured 60% diversity on all campaigns. She is committed to this internally at Gleam too – for this representation model to work, the team needs to reflect it. “I really want to walk the walk. Within our recruitment process, it’s not just looking at graduates who come from wealthy backgrounds.” Everything in Kentish’s dream for Gleam, “should ladder up as being a force for good”.
She’s also committed to advocating for better protections for the creators in the industry. “One of the big things for me is really pushing the social media platforms in terms of their responsibility for online safety,” she says. “Not enough is being done both for the young and vulnerable, but also for our creators. The level of abuse and hate that is levelled at them is completely unfair.” While she is keen to sign up more TikTok and Twitch creators, the Kentish way is not about overnight success or creators who go viral and burn out within months. “From a Gleam perspective, it will always be about quality creators, quality content and brand safe creators.’
Long-term goals for influencers and brands will align more profoundly, “through being part of the Dentsu network”. She says: “We are looking at talent as IP and then thinking, other than just brand deals, what’s your essence? What do you stand for? And how can we make sure we’re tapping into this in different verticals that give you a long-lasting career, be that podcasts, books or broadcast deals.”
She thinks brands are getting better at understanding that if a creator is talking about them organically, they should be working with them commercially. “Identifying those people who are true brand advocates has become much more of a focus and I think is a really good thing.”
The industry has grown up a lot, she says, and it is essential for brands to be part of it. “Brands are less and less able to show up in the social space in an authentic way and participate in conversation,” she says. “Using creators allows them to engage in that conversation in a meaningful way.” I ask her how Gleam will advise their talent on new social media platforms like BeReal and she insists they don’t expect their creators to be across everything – it’s all about how they want to be perceived. “So there will be lots of people, for example, who say, ‘Actually I’m doing really well on Instagram, but it’s really polished and I’m not showing off my personality’. That’s why so many people have flocked to TikTok – because they can have more fun with it. To be a bit more authentic and less polished. I think the same with BeReal – it’s an opportunity where they don’t have these massive communities so they can afford to make mistakes a little bit.”
As our conversation winds down, it’s clear Kentish is the ultimate ambassador for the influencer industry. “It’s the only thing I care about. I really love what I do.” And as for Gleam? “I want us to go back to being pioneers.” And with that she is gone, passionate about setting the world right, one post at a time.
By Emilie McMeekan, features director for CORQ. Picture credit: Dentsu Creative.