Hallie Harris - Managing Director, Epic Signal
Hallie talks to TheNextGag about hiring experts in the social media space, the relationships between brands and influencers and working with VP Joe Biden.
Hallie Harris is the Managing Director of Epic Signal in the USA.
Hallie Harris has been developing and marketing global brands for more than a decade in industries ranging from music-management to digital media.
As Managing Director of Epic Signal, she oversees 27 brand relationships, including Alaska Airlines, Amazon, Kind Snacks, Mountain Dew, and The White House.
In a little more than a year, she has expanded her staff of three into a team of more than 35 employees, while at the same time helping to grow the firm’s revenue tenfold. Hallie has also led development of numerous first-of-their-kind projects, including a creator-driven, multi-channel network for Mountain Dew, an influencer-hosted content series for Amazon Fire, and the launch of Pepsi’s Periscope Channel.
Hallie previously served as General Manager of IconicTV, a digital media company founded in conjunction with YouTube’s premium-content initiative. There, she managed relationships with clients such as Skrillex, Diplo, and A-Trak, and negotiated over 50 acquisition and production partnerships with social media celebrities like Michael Buckley, Todrick Hall, and The Hillywood Show.
Hallie’s earliest business venture was in the music-management sector, where her clients included multi-platinum producer Damon Elliot and platinum-selling recording artist Jessie James. She has toured with Justin Bieber and The Jonas Brothers, and visited troops in Iraq with Kid Rock.
Common to all of Hallie’s endeavors is a deep fascination with the platforms, products, and technologies around which communities are built — together with a passion for helping talented individuals connect with new audiences.
THENEXTGAG: WHERE ARE YOU BASED?
HALLIE HARRIS: I am based in New York. I oversee our team in four offices: New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle.
TNG: HOW COME YOU DON’T HAVE AN OFFICE IN LOS ANGELES THEN?
HH: That’s a good question. We place offices where our clients are so that we can best serve them and be local. New York primarily represents the PepsiCo brands. Chicago, we’ve opened just this past year, because we won several MillerCoors brands. We also service Jim Beam / Skinnygirl Cocktails. In San Francisco, we work in partnership with Athleta and Dockers. And then in Seattle, we’ve got Starbucks Doubleshot, Amazon, and Alaska Airlines.
TNG: HOW DID YOU ATTRACT ALL THESE BIG BRANDS, SUCH AS STARBUCKS AND AMAZON?
HH: It is a combination of two efforts. First and foremost, Epic Signal was acquired in February of 2015 by a larger company, Mekanism, a creative advertising agency. They had an established roster of clients that we were able to piggyback upon. And they have, of course, incoming new business opportunities. Now, we are able to offer a more 360° offering inclusive of everything from a TV commercial all the way down to a single tweet. And the production of all of those assets are handled by our in-house production company, Sister. That’s a huge contributing factor.
The second factor is that we’ve been very particular about who we hire. We’ve got a team of 35 people now. But, in the early days, six months after I started, we had a team of seven people. We placed a high importance on hiring experts within the field. The team and its capabilities are of the utmost importance. And due to that emphasis, our team of seven people won new business opportunities, like Athleta, Dockers and Amazon. We were winning those opportunities away from larger social media agencies that had anywhere between 300 and 900 employees. For me, the way that we did it was being lean and mean and hiring the smartest people. We also worked weekends for a long time at the beginning!
TNG: I WOULD SAY THAT IT PAID OUT. YOU HAVE THE WHITE HOUSE AS A CLIENT. I MEAN, THAT’S IMPRESSIVE. CONGRATS!
HH: Thank you. The work that we did in partnership with the former White House administration is one of the reasons why I joined the company. I am not sure if you are familiar with the “It’s On Us” campaign?
TNG: YES, OF COURSE.
HH: It’s a campaign to help combat sexual assault on college campuses. I was completely impressed by the positioning of the campaign. The idea that we wouldn’t go after the 6% of people who commit these heinous acts, but we would rather create a campaign that focuses on the 94% of people who can do something about it. It is an empowering position to put the responsibility on us with a simple message “It’s On Us.”
In order to extend the campaign driving awareness amongst the college aged demo, Mekanism asked for our involvement. We had the great fortune of visiting The White House and meeting with Vice-President Joe Biden. We took nine influencers there that have a reach of over 40 million. And we have now created YouTube videos in partnership with those influencers to help extend that campaign message to their fans to spread the movement.
TNG: I SAW THE CAMPAIGN AND THE DIFFERENT EVOLUTIONS OF IT. AND IT WAS FUNNY TO SEE VP JOE BIDEN IN IT AND EVEN WEARING THE T-SHIRT AND BLENDING WITH THE OTHER CHARACTERS IN THE COMMERCIAL. IT WAS NICE TO SEE.
HH: I am very proud of it. Mekanism led the efforts to incorporate President Obama and Vice President Biden into the commercials. Additionally, both President Obama and Vice President Biden generated awareness of the campaign by speaking at high profile events such as March Madness and The Oscars. Needless to say, they were very involved and passionate about the campaign.
TNG: THE “IT’S ON US” WORK WITH INFLUENCERS MUST HAVE BEEN EASY TO DO SINCE IT WAS A CHARITY. BUT HOW DO YOU GET INFLUENCERS TO WORK WITH BRANDS?
HH: It is a pretty in-depth process. We start with the creative idea. And we assess influencers based on a set of criteria. Do they have the demographic that we are trying to target? Do they produce higher quality content? Are they on brand? Do they speak to the brand’s philosophy/ethos/messaging? And then sometimes there is a metric or a benchmark for a certain amount of following that we are trying to garner in terms of reach and overall success of a campaign.
So, we will create a shortlist of influencers. But then, once we dial in deeper and start to blow out a specific creative idea and we know that the brand is very interested, we start speaking directly to these influencers. We want them to be authentic, representatives of the brand. And there is a lot of clutter that exists in the world of influencer marketing. A lot of influencers are being smart about choosing brands to align themselves with and creating a shortlist of brands that they work with, so that they don’t fragment their opportunities or fragment the message to their audience. However, there is a long list of influencers who are not as savvy, and they are just taking whatever deals come their way. So, in terms of protecting the brand, we want to make sure that the creative resonates with the influencer’s audience and vice versa. We want to make sure that that person is a great representative of the brand, is authentic and hasn’t muddied the waters too much when it comes to creating branded content and receiving payment for the distribution of ad content. We find that when we are thoughtful of all of these elements, influencers respect and enjoy the process of working with us. At the end of the day, we are trying to be mindful of two brands, our client and the influencer’s brand. It’s about finding an equal balance that is mutually beneficial.
TNG: AT SOME POINT, WORKING WITH A BRAND FOR AN ARTIST WAS KIND OF SELLING OUT. NOWADAYS, IT BECOMES ALMOST LIKE A VALIDATION FOR AN INFLUENCER TO BE APPROACH BY A BRAND. DO YOU SEE THIS CHANGE?
HH: Absolutely. There is a shift happening in that fans are so loyal to influencers that they genuinely care about their personal success and growth. For the most part, when the brand partnership with an influencer makes sense, the fans are happy for them.
But if an influencer is engaging in too many branded content deals and too frequently, it is likely that their fans will view them as a sell out. You can see it in the comments and in the lowered engagement rates. A key differentiator for Epic Signal is that we are really pushing brands to not engage with influencers in a one-off deal manner. We have been huge proponents of signing influencers to deals that are more akin to a celebrity’s endorsement deal: multi-faceted and over a long period of time.
An example of our work in doing that would be our work with Mountain Dew. We created the first ever brand-owned, creator driven multichannel network. And we’ve signed six different creators on YouTube: two skaters, Josh Katz and Nigel Alexander, one gamer named Dyrus, The Professor, who has the premiere basketball channel on YouTube, and D-trix, who has the largest dance channel on YouTube. By creating a longer-term arrangement between brands and creators, we are able to have more exclusivity in the soft drink category. And we are able to create a much deeper, more interesting relationship overtime that is mutually beneficial to the talent and to the brand.
TNG: THE ROCK LAUNCHED A YOUTUBE CHANNEL LAST YEAR DOING THE OPPOSITE MOVE OF INFLUENCERS BECOMING BIG AND GOING TO HOLLYWOOD. DO YOU SEE OTHER MAINSTREAM CELEBRITIES DOING THE SAME?
HH: Absolutely. Before I was in advertising, I was in the music industry. And I represented an amazing talented musician named Jessie James Decker. Jessie has always placed an importance on communicating often with her fans on social media. Her close connection with her fans has helped her at times when she did not have support in other areas. In one instance, her song went to #1 on the country charts primarily supported by social media efforts and her pure amazing talent, of course!
The points is, I believe you are going to continue to see this cross pollination of celebrities exercising their talents across multiple mediums, especially on social media platforms. As advertisers have noticed the shift in their audiences’ attention to a multi-screen experience, celebrities also recognize where/how to reach their fans and the importance of doing so on social. Plus, fans want a window into who celebrities really are. Social is the gateway to providing that experience.
The same rules apply to launching a major recording artist’s career that you would apply to launching a campaign for Pepsi
TNG: MUSIC IS HUGE ON YOUTUBE. MUSIC VIDEOS GET EVEN EXCLUDED FROM END OF THE YEAR CHARTS AS THEY ECLIPSE ANY COMMERCIALS. DO YOU SEE SOME BEST PRACTICES FROM YOUR MUSIC BACKGROUND THAT YOU CAN USE IN ADVERTISING?
HH: Absolutely. It feels a bit like an indirect connection, coming from the music industry and skipping over to advertising, but the point that I made to the CEO of Mekanism, when I was first interviewing for the job, is that the same rules apply to launching a major recording artist’s career that you would apply to launching a campaign for Pepsi.
The brand and the artist have a core belief and message that they want the world to hear.
That core belief and messaging is supported through smart creative- whether a TV commercial with a smart script or a hit song brought to life in a music video.
Each launch must be supported by a strategic marketing rollout plan, including the likes of PR, print, OOH, radio, podcasts, social media, paid media, etc.
Each brand, whether Fortune 500 company or musician, engages in strategic sponsorships to cross-promote their efforts and expand their audience base.
In the music industry it all starts with a hit, and in advertising it all starts with a big idea.
TNG: DO YOU SEE A BRAND ONLINE WHO IS DOING IT RIGHT?
HH: So many brands are doing a great job on social. Of course you’ve got the expected answers like Red Bull and Taco Bell. I think the tricky part is winning at social across all platforms that are pertinent to your brand. A lot of brands are approaching social correctly on one or two platforms but not nailing their presence across all of the platforms that should matter to them. For example, Barbie has an incredible presence and content strategy on YouTube. AirBnB is especially great on Instagram. Gatorade made a big splash on Snapchat this year! The more brands build out multi-platform strategies with consistent programming and content, the better. The fans are hungry, you have to feed them!
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