Should brands hire creators over agencies to produce high-fidelity content?

Should brands hire creators over agencies to produce high-fidelity content?

September 8, 2022
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In recent years, reports have shown that creators have an overwhelmingly higher ability to gain consumers’ trust over brands and celebrities than traditional marketing tactics.

For example, 49% of consumers say they depend on influencer recommendations in making purchasing decisions, 63% say they trust influencer messages over branded content, and 70% of teens say they trust influencers more than traditional celebrities.

Furthermore, 74% of consumers find content from brands annoying and are actively dodging brand messages.

It makes sense why consumers are making this shift. With recent spikes in social media innovation coupled with the rapid growth of the creator economy, consumers now have unlimited access to diverse, honest, and unfiltered opinions.

Stats also show brands that understand the power of creator influence are winning. Influencer marketing is booming, driving stellar results, and has an average ROI of $5.78 for every dollar spent. This is one reason why only 39% of marketers planned to grow influencer marketing efforts in 2018, but a whopping 72.5% are increasing their budgets today.

This begs the following questions. If creator content is so effective across social media, should brands be turning to creators for all kinds of high-fidelity content as well? And, is there a benefit to hiring creators directly instead of going the traditional route and hiring an agency? 

Should brands hire creators for high-fidelity content?

One of the most compelling arguments for hiring creators to produce high-fidelity content is built around customer expectations. Namely, customers demand companion content from brands.

Online shopping is rarely a one-platform journey anymore. Rather, it’s an omnichannel journey across several platforms and touchpoints. This year, Salsify reported customers research and shop across at least seven different touchpoints before making a purchasing decision.

What’s more, customers demand highly personalized experiences and consistent messaging across the whole shopping journey—not only on social media.

Since shopping is an omnichannel journey, it follows that marketing should also be consistent and equally recognizable across channels.

Jeffrey White, co-founder and CEO of PodTV, explained this idea perfectly in a creator economy trends article for Unscreen.tv. While White is talking about more traditional media, the sentiment applies perfectly to meeting customer demands in digital marketing efforts as well:

Consumers are ingesting content in more ways and on more platforms than ever. One trend that has emerged and will be a driver going forward is the extension or repurposing of original content across other forms of media. 
We will no longer see a single streaming TV series or documentary that is done in isolation as a stand alone piece of content. Creators are now extending the runway for a given story to include companion content. 
The ability to move across content platforms has taught consumers to want more from their content and to want flexibility in accessing it.

Brand partnerships are expensive, and creator content is often used for a singular purpose (e.g., a video for an IG ad). But, in today’s omnichannel world, it makes more sense to hire creators to package and repurpose content for various uses across the whole digital journey.

Luxy hair does this well. For example, it pulls its creator content from Instagram influencers directly into the home page of its website.

This strategy adds social proof to its home page content. It also meets customers' demand for companion content across platforms (i.e., it offers a recognizable content story across various platforms to reinforce trust).

Retail Brew adds additional insight into why using creator content on websites is an outstanding marketing and sales move. 

The Retail Brew article explains that social media platforms can engage customers with video content, and the abundance of other creator videos can be distracting and make shopper conversion challenging. Similarly, people who are scrolling for entertainment purposes don't always have an intent to shop.

When you take that same creator-made video content and use it on another platform (like your website) where consumers have a higher intent to buy, it adds social proof. And, that social proof can go a long way in influencing conversions.

Etsy is a company that is all about the creator. It’s also a brand that uses creator content across several marketing channels.  

Here’s an example of Etsy featuring a creator collab with Aimee Song in an email marketing campaign.

In the same email, Etsy also adds social proof with testimonials from other creators involved in the collaboration.

In summary: The power of creator content isn’t limited to social media ads. It makes perfect sense for brands to partner with creatives to package and repackage creator content into different types of content use on every digital marketing platform.

This brings us to the next question. Should brands hire creators to produce high-fidelity content or stick with hiring a traditional creative agency?

Should brands hire creators over agencies to produce high-fidelity content?

While researching this article, I asked several creators, marketers, and brand owners whether they’ve hired creators over agencies to produce high-fidelity content. I also asked whether it was smarter to hire creatives over agencies.

Answers varied.

Jonathan Snow, founder & COO of The Snow Agency, said going through an agency is a better option. Snow said this on Twitter: “Unfortunately, most creators have no insight into the performance of the creatives (other than engagement). This limits their ability to optimize for direct response. Lean on agencies to not just outreach & engage creators, but to build an A+ creative brief based on all the data we have.”

Performance marketer Barry Hott agreed with Snow and said, “Even if brands can get good creators, they're often sending bad briefs and scripts.”

There’s also an argument to be made for the type of high-fidelity content a brand needs. Not all creators specialize in all types of content a brand will need. But, agencies typically have access to employees or freelancers who specialize in a particular service, style, or genre.

Other marketers were more nuanced when it came to thoughts on hiring agencies or creators. 

“I’m tempted to say going with an agency will produce better results because I’m currently shouldering a heavier than usual load. However, I have firsthand experience dealing with agencies and know how hard it is to find a reliable one that won’t charge a legit king’s ransom. For now, I’m leaning towards hiring creators directly instead of through an agency,” said creative content specialist Adekunle Elemo.

And, in true marketing fashion, Jason Falls, an influence marketing strategist and host of Winfluence - The Influence Marketing Podcast, said it makes sense to use both. “It's typically not one or the other (agency or creator) when it comes to creating content for a brand. Smart brands use both,” says Falls.

However, Falls does agree with Snow and Hott in terms of business savvy. “The one thing an agency's creative team has over most independent creators is the business savvy and discipline to know how to convert a brief into strong marketing communications,” says Falls.

While answers varied, several professionals related the benefits of working directly with creators for producing various types of high-fidelity content. 

Reasons to hire a creator for high-fidelity content

1. Creators boost your brand’s credibility

It’s safe to say most advertising agencies don’t play an active role in the average person’s life or directly influence their purchasing decisions. The average person probably can’t list a handful of advertising agencies by name.

It’s not the same for creators. People interact daily with their favorite creators. Not only can they list off their favorite creators, but they can also list off brands the creators work with.

Take Mint Mobile, for example.

You recognize the creator in the video. Yes, it’s Deadpool. But do you know the agency that produced the commercial? Ryan Reynolds lends a certain credibility to the video ad that outweighs the reach of Maximum Effort.

“Creator content drives results for companies by helping build a brand’s credibility. Successful creators have managed to build meaningful relationships with their audiences. As such, audiences are more likely to trust the creator than they would a brand. Hence, creators can pass on their credibility to brands,” says Lisa Richards, CEO and creator of the Candida Diet

The power creators have in raising awareness is a critical distinction to understand, especially since boosting awareness is the top objective for 86% of marketers.

“Creator content is also effective at increasing brand awareness. Creators normally have significant and impactful reach in the communities they’ve established online. These creators can leverage this extensive reach to boost brand awareness, recognition, and recall for the companies they’re partnering with,” says Richards. 

While creators most often create content for social media, there’s no reason why the same logic can’t apply to all types of high-fidelity content.

2. Creators are more affordable and easier to stay in touch with

Content creators—especially ones with smaller followings—don’t typically charge as much as agencies for content creation. 

Agencies have set prices, and those prices are high. In Adekunle Elemo’s hyperbole above, he said these agencies “charge a king’s ransom.”

“A lot of brands are switching to creators instead of agencies because they get a lot more content for the budget. Hiring smaller creators gives you more total content and higher odds of going viral for the same budget,” says Jonathan Green, founder at ServeNoMaster.com.

To Snow’s point above, brands should remember that while hiring a creator may be cheaper, agencies are often doing more comprehensive work. In other words, agencies take on an entire marketing and advertising campaign while creators are building singular assets.

It’s worth mentioning that many creators are often in the dark about what to charge for content creation. Many haven’t realized the true earning potential they have with content creation and are lowballing themselves. 

This is evidenced by platforms dedicated to raising awareness like F*** You, Pay Me, and brands that offer to pay influencers with either gifts or affiliate commissions as opposed to cold, hard cash.

As brands create partnerships with creators, it’s essential for brands to remain accountable and pay creators fairly.

In addition to producing more affordable content, Elemo says it saves time to work directly with a creator.

We cover weekend games; It’s easier to call up one of our writers over the weekend and ask for the review of the Chelsea—Tottenham game instead of having to reach an agency liaison to do that. We also get to negotiate directly with the creators and avoid paying the agency extra fees,” says Elemo. 

3. Creators help with distribution

Multichannel marketing involves distributing various types of content across several channels to reach your target market.

Currently, 95% of marketers say they know how essential multichannel marketing is for targeting. Yet, only 73% say they have a multichannel strategy in place.

This is one instance where hiring an individual creator for high-fidelity content could potentially outweigh going through an agency.

For starters, creators are excellent at knowing what type of content will resonate well with their target audience. “Agency creatives know how to make the art work for the brand. Online content creators (in general) know how to make art that engages their singular audience,” says Jason Falls.

But that’s not all. Content creators already have built-in, loyal, and niche audiences who are used to consuming their content. One share from a creator—no matter the type of content—can go a long way for a brand.

I see my freelance writer friends do this all of the time. Many of my colleagues have built extensive audiences across social media. When they write an article and post it on Twitter, their personal blog, Instagram, or LinkedIn, it doesn’t only show off their writing skills. It also draws the attention of their whole following to the brand or publication.

Adekunle Elemo put his decision to go with a creator over a brand simply, “We ultimately decided to hire several individual creators because we wanted to expand our coverage,” says Elemo.

Finally, creators live on specific platforms and know what works. A thought-leadership influencer will know what works on LinkedIn and, “The biggest advantage to creators versus agencies is they often know the mechanisms of the social network in question and what works with that type of audience because they create content just for that medium,” says Jason Falls.  

In other words, creators understand the potential for virality of a piece of content in a way agencies might not.

4. Creator content is organic (and consumers like that)

Over the past couple of years, there has been a huge push for more organic content. Consumers are tired of highly-produced content and gravitate toward content that’s raw and authentic.

If you look at popular creators on TikTok, they’re regular people shooting entertaining or educational videos from their iPhones as opposed to scripted celebrities in a studio.

“Our brand loves working creators instead of agencies to create content for us because it is more organic. Our ambassadors have their own friends and followers who trust their opinions,” said Almma, owner of the swimsuit brand The Tropical Society.  

“Also, the fact that they are micro-influencers means their followers are smaller than bigger influencers which creates a more personal view.”

I asked marketers on Twitter whether creative agencies can produce raw and organic content in the same way creators can.

Some said no. Some said yes.

“The cynic in me says no: because of politics, imposter syndrome, etc. versus just a cool original idea before it's beaten to death,” said freelance writer Caitlin Kelly.

Maria West, copywriter and founder of DTC Mom said, “I’m low-key experimenting with UGC-style content and could see how it’s a different switch from marketing brain, but not too far off. I just have to be okay with scrappier production.”

So, what’s the verdict?

Should brands hire creators over agencies to produce high-fidelity content?

Well, it depends.

If you’re looking for singular assets, niche expertise, organic content, and help with distribution, hiring a creator directly may save you time and energy.

If you need a full campaign strategy and content that lies without a creator’s expertise, go with a creative agency.

Share

Should brands hire creators over agencies to produce high-fidelity content?

In recent years, reports have shown that creators have an overwhelmingly higher ability to gain consumers’ trust over brands and celebrities than traditional marketing tactics.

For example, 49% of consumers say they depend on influencer recommendations in making purchasing decisions, 63% say they trust influencer messages over branded content, and 70% of teens say they trust influencers more than traditional celebrities.

Furthermore, 74% of consumers find content from brands annoying and are actively dodging brand messages.

It makes sense why consumers are making this shift. With recent spikes in social media innovation coupled with the rapid growth of the creator economy, consumers now have unlimited access to diverse, honest, and unfiltered opinions.

Stats also show brands that understand the power of creator influence are winning. Influencer marketing is booming, driving stellar results, and has an average ROI of $5.78 for every dollar spent. This is one reason why only 39% of marketers planned to grow influencer marketing efforts in 2018, but a whopping 72.5% are increasing their budgets today.

This begs the following questions. If creator content is so effective across social media, should brands be turning to creators for all kinds of high-fidelity content as well? And, is there a benefit to hiring creators directly instead of going the traditional route and hiring an agency? 

Should brands hire creators for high-fidelity content?

One of the most compelling arguments for hiring creators to produce high-fidelity content is built around customer expectations. Namely, customers demand companion content from brands.

Online shopping is rarely a one-platform journey anymore. Rather, it’s an omnichannel journey across several platforms and touchpoints. This year, Salsify reported customers research and shop across at least seven different touchpoints before making a purchasing decision.

What’s more, customers demand highly personalized experiences and consistent messaging across the whole shopping journey—not only on social media.

Since shopping is an omnichannel journey, it follows that marketing should also be consistent and equally recognizable across channels.

Jeffrey White, co-founder and CEO of PodTV, explained this idea perfectly in a creator economy trends article for Unscreen.tv. While White is talking about more traditional media, the sentiment applies perfectly to meeting customer demands in digital marketing efforts as well:

Consumers are ingesting content in more ways and on more platforms than ever. One trend that has emerged and will be a driver going forward is the extension or repurposing of original content across other forms of media. 
We will no longer see a single streaming TV series or documentary that is done in isolation as a stand alone piece of content. Creators are now extending the runway for a given story to include companion content. 
The ability to move across content platforms has taught consumers to want more from their content and to want flexibility in accessing it.

Brand partnerships are expensive, and creator content is often used for a singular purpose (e.g., a video for an IG ad). But, in today’s omnichannel world, it makes more sense to hire creators to package and repurpose content for various uses across the whole digital journey.

Luxy hair does this well. For example, it pulls its creator content from Instagram influencers directly into the home page of its website.

This strategy adds social proof to its home page content. It also meets customers' demand for companion content across platforms (i.e., it offers a recognizable content story across various platforms to reinforce trust).

Retail Brew adds additional insight into why using creator content on websites is an outstanding marketing and sales move. 

The Retail Brew article explains that social media platforms can engage customers with video content, and the abundance of other creator videos can be distracting and make shopper conversion challenging. Similarly, people who are scrolling for entertainment purposes don't always have an intent to shop.

When you take that same creator-made video content and use it on another platform (like your website) where consumers have a higher intent to buy, it adds social proof. And, that social proof can go a long way in influencing conversions.

Etsy is a company that is all about the creator. It’s also a brand that uses creator content across several marketing channels.  

Here’s an example of Etsy featuring a creator collab with Aimee Song in an email marketing campaign.

In the same email, Etsy also adds social proof with testimonials from other creators involved in the collaboration.

In summary: The power of creator content isn’t limited to social media ads. It makes perfect sense for brands to partner with creatives to package and repackage creator content into different types of content use on every digital marketing platform.

This brings us to the next question. Should brands hire creators to produce high-fidelity content or stick with hiring a traditional creative agency?

Should brands hire creators over agencies to produce high-fidelity content?

While researching this article, I asked several creators, marketers, and brand owners whether they’ve hired creators over agencies to produce high-fidelity content. I also asked whether it was smarter to hire creatives over agencies.

Answers varied.

Jonathan Snow, founder & COO of The Snow Agency, said going through an agency is a better option. Snow said this on Twitter: “Unfortunately, most creators have no insight into the performance of the creatives (other than engagement). This limits their ability to optimize for direct response. Lean on agencies to not just outreach & engage creators, but to build an A+ creative brief based on all the data we have.”

Performance marketer Barry Hott agreed with Snow and said, “Even if brands can get good creators, they're often sending bad briefs and scripts.”

There’s also an argument to be made for the type of high-fidelity content a brand needs. Not all creators specialize in all types of content a brand will need. But, agencies typically have access to employees or freelancers who specialize in a particular service, style, or genre.

Other marketers were more nuanced when it came to thoughts on hiring agencies or creators. 

“I’m tempted to say going with an agency will produce better results because I’m currently shouldering a heavier than usual load. However, I have firsthand experience dealing with agencies and know how hard it is to find a reliable one that won’t charge a legit king’s ransom. For now, I’m leaning towards hiring creators directly instead of through an agency,” said creative content specialist Adekunle Elemo.

And, in true marketing fashion, Jason Falls, an influence marketing strategist and host of Winfluence - The Influence Marketing Podcast, said it makes sense to use both. “It's typically not one or the other (agency or creator) when it comes to creating content for a brand. Smart brands use both,” says Falls.

However, Falls does agree with Snow and Hott in terms of business savvy. “The one thing an agency's creative team has over most independent creators is the business savvy and discipline to know how to convert a brief into strong marketing communications,” says Falls.

While answers varied, several professionals related the benefits of working directly with creators for producing various types of high-fidelity content. 

Reasons to hire a creator for high-fidelity content

1. Creators boost your brand’s credibility

It’s safe to say most advertising agencies don’t play an active role in the average person’s life or directly influence their purchasing decisions. The average person probably can’t list a handful of advertising agencies by name.

It’s not the same for creators. People interact daily with their favorite creators. Not only can they list off their favorite creators, but they can also list off brands the creators work with.

Take Mint Mobile, for example.

You recognize the creator in the video. Yes, it’s Deadpool. But do you know the agency that produced the commercial? Ryan Reynolds lends a certain credibility to the video ad that outweighs the reach of Maximum Effort.

“Creator content drives results for companies by helping build a brand’s credibility. Successful creators have managed to build meaningful relationships with their audiences. As such, audiences are more likely to trust the creator than they would a brand. Hence, creators can pass on their credibility to brands,” says Lisa Richards, CEO and creator of the Candida Diet

The power creators have in raising awareness is a critical distinction to understand, especially since boosting awareness is the top objective for 86% of marketers.

“Creator content is also effective at increasing brand awareness. Creators normally have significant and impactful reach in the communities they’ve established online. These creators can leverage this extensive reach to boost brand awareness, recognition, and recall for the companies they’re partnering with,” says Richards. 

While creators most often create content for social media, there’s no reason why the same logic can’t apply to all types of high-fidelity content.

2. Creators are more affordable and easier to stay in touch with

Content creators—especially ones with smaller followings—don’t typically charge as much as agencies for content creation. 

Agencies have set prices, and those prices are high. In Adekunle Elemo’s hyperbole above, he said these agencies “charge a king’s ransom.”

“A lot of brands are switching to creators instead of agencies because they get a lot more content for the budget. Hiring smaller creators gives you more total content and higher odds of going viral for the same budget,” says Jonathan Green, founder at ServeNoMaster.com.

To Snow’s point above, brands should remember that while hiring a creator may be cheaper, agencies are often doing more comprehensive work. In other words, agencies take on an entire marketing and advertising campaign while creators are building singular assets.

It’s worth mentioning that many creators are often in the dark about what to charge for content creation. Many haven’t realized the true earning potential they have with content creation and are lowballing themselves. 

This is evidenced by platforms dedicated to raising awareness like F*** You, Pay Me, and brands that offer to pay influencers with either gifts or affiliate commissions as opposed to cold, hard cash.

As brands create partnerships with creators, it’s essential for brands to remain accountable and pay creators fairly.

In addition to producing more affordable content, Elemo says it saves time to work directly with a creator.

We cover weekend games; It’s easier to call up one of our writers over the weekend and ask for the review of the Chelsea—Tottenham game instead of having to reach an agency liaison to do that. We also get to negotiate directly with the creators and avoid paying the agency extra fees,” says Elemo. 

3. Creators help with distribution

Multichannel marketing involves distributing various types of content across several channels to reach your target market.

Currently, 95% of marketers say they know how essential multichannel marketing is for targeting. Yet, only 73% say they have a multichannel strategy in place.

This is one instance where hiring an individual creator for high-fidelity content could potentially outweigh going through an agency.

For starters, creators are excellent at knowing what type of content will resonate well with their target audience. “Agency creatives know how to make the art work for the brand. Online content creators (in general) know how to make art that engages their singular audience,” says Jason Falls.

But that’s not all. Content creators already have built-in, loyal, and niche audiences who are used to consuming their content. One share from a creator—no matter the type of content—can go a long way for a brand.

I see my freelance writer friends do this all of the time. Many of my colleagues have built extensive audiences across social media. When they write an article and post it on Twitter, their personal blog, Instagram, or LinkedIn, it doesn’t only show off their writing skills. It also draws the attention of their whole following to the brand or publication.

Adekunle Elemo put his decision to go with a creator over a brand simply, “We ultimately decided to hire several individual creators because we wanted to expand our coverage,” says Elemo.

Finally, creators live on specific platforms and know what works. A thought-leadership influencer will know what works on LinkedIn and, “The biggest advantage to creators versus agencies is they often know the mechanisms of the social network in question and what works with that type of audience because they create content just for that medium,” says Jason Falls.  

In other words, creators understand the potential for virality of a piece of content in a way agencies might not.

4. Creator content is organic (and consumers like that)

Over the past couple of years, there has been a huge push for more organic content. Consumers are tired of highly-produced content and gravitate toward content that’s raw and authentic.

If you look at popular creators on TikTok, they’re regular people shooting entertaining or educational videos from their iPhones as opposed to scripted celebrities in a studio.

“Our brand loves working creators instead of agencies to create content for us because it is more organic. Our ambassadors have their own friends and followers who trust their opinions,” said Almma, owner of the swimsuit brand The Tropical Society.  

“Also, the fact that they are micro-influencers means their followers are smaller than bigger influencers which creates a more personal view.”

I asked marketers on Twitter whether creative agencies can produce raw and organic content in the same way creators can.

Some said no. Some said yes.

“The cynic in me says no: because of politics, imposter syndrome, etc. versus just a cool original idea before it's beaten to death,” said freelance writer Caitlin Kelly.

Maria West, copywriter and founder of DTC Mom said, “I’m low-key experimenting with UGC-style content and could see how it’s a different switch from marketing brain, but not too far off. I just have to be okay with scrappier production.”

So, what’s the verdict?

Should brands hire creators over agencies to produce high-fidelity content?

Well, it depends.

If you’re looking for singular assets, niche expertise, organic content, and help with distribution, hiring a creator directly may save you time and energy.

If you need a full campaign strategy and content that lies without a creator’s expertise, go with a creative agency.