Talent Agents Power the Influencer Economy

Internet influencers rely on agents like Viral Nation's Nick Reisch to secure sponsorships and ad deals.

Nick Reisch
Nick Reish (left) with model manager Jenn Zinn (center) and website executive Sami Aviles
Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for The Industry Model MGMT

This story was initially published in The Creators — a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it sent to your inbox.

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Creating unique content brings audiences to online creators, but it is sponsorship deals and advertisements that allow creators to make content full time. And there are entire teams of people behind the scenes powering the revenue streams for the internet’s favorite celebrities.

Viral Nation is an influencer-focused marketing and talent agency founded in 2014. Nick Reisch—the vice president of talent who oversees more than 30 agents and 500 creators—came from a background in brands and endorsements. He also worked previously as a talent agent at CESD Talent Agency and Wilhelmina, which both manage models and other celebrities. He noticed the agency model hadn’t been built to serve creators and joined Viral Nation in 2020.

Viral Nation represents creators like Brody Wellmaker (21.7 million followers on TikTok), Jason Coffee (21.6M, TikTok), Drew Afualo (7.8M, TikTok) and Steven He (5.8M, YouTube). The company provides production services for influencers like athletes, where there is a big appetite for content but it isn’t necessarily their priority. It also offers content strategists who provide data insights to creators regarding the most effective ways to use their platforms. Rachyl Jones of the Observer recently spoke with Reisch:

How did you get started in this industry?

I started my career in commercial branding and endorsements at the celebrity level. We had clients that were coming to us and saying, “We’ve heard of these people called ‘influencers.’ Do you represent any of those?” At the time, I said, “No. But let me go out and see what’s going on.” Buyers were interested in doing big deals with YouTube talent, and people working in the influencer space wanted to dip their toes into the celebrity world. 

Why is having a talent manager so important for content creators?

It’s very hard to do everything alone. As much as you may know your platforms, we know brands, and we provide scale. 

How does an agent get clients?

Because we have so many clients, we’re very visible. Our clients tell their friends about us. And we have a lot of client recommendations. We have an open submission model as well. But I think one of the most important things about being an agent is having taste and really being able to see what’s coming. I expect [Viral Nation’s agents] to also go out, have their own level of taste and procure clients for themselves.

What’s a day in the life like in your job?

You wake up early and look at emails—it’s not much different than most other people’s jobs. And the layout of the day is to find ways that make money for our clients. It is fielding deals, pitching clients, talking to clients about what else they want to do. We want them to focus on the part that’s fun for them, content creation. 

Agent work is very full stack. You have to be a salesperson. You have to be a customer success person, both for the brand and for the talent. You have to be a mother, father, best friend, de facto attorney. In some cases, we negotiate and redline contracts for clients that don’t work with an outside legal team. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve looked at thousands of contracts in my life. And then therapist—you’re doing a lot of therapy with clients, talking to them about things going on in their lives. 

What’s Viral Nation’s business model?

It’s a commission-based business model. It keeps us hungry. So we’re only making money when the client’s making money. It’s not like a publicist model where you are paying your publicist a retainer every month or a lawyer where it’s an hourly fee.

What are the most popular revenue streams for your clients?

Of course brand deals, right? I view brands how I view commercials from the old-school agency model where you are a struggling actor, but if you had a successful commercial career, you didn’t have to work as a waiter. Content monetization is number two, and ad-supported models. Merch is huge for a lot of clients. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to be an agent?

Don’t be greedy. I see a lot of greedy people. But I built this team around me in a way where we’re not greedy with each other. We’re not greedy about the clients. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. This world is too big for any one person to do it alone. 

The other thing is to think about the markets. Be strategic about how you approach and sign talents. Having an eye as an agent is one of your most important and valuable things.

This interview was originally published in The Creators, a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it in your inbox before it’s online. 

Talent Agents Power the Influencer Economy