‘Who doesn’t like cute?’: Popular pets spawn a cottage industry of animal influencer agencies

Digital and experiential agencies are old news. Pet influencer agencies are where it’s at right meow.

When Kyla Brennan launched influencer network HelloSociety in 2012, she would only get a handful of requests from brands looking for pets to star in their social campaigns. Today, she fields anywhere between 30 and 50 requests a month, for pet social influencers like Esther the Wonder Pig and Cobythecat.

“The numbers speak for themselves, the interaction and engagement with pets on social media is huge,” she said. “Besides, who doesn’t like cute?”

The requests increased so much that HelloSociety was compelled to launch WAGSociety this week, a standalone division within the New York Times-owned company that represents influential pets on social media and connects them with brands. But it’s far from being the only one.

The rising demand for pet influencers among marketers has spawned a cottage industry of influencer agencies trying to cash in on the opportunity. These agencies either solely focus on pets or have pet divisions of their own, including The Dog Agency, Bark & Co.’s BarkPack, Clever, Speakr and SocialFly.

“If you have a social media presence with a following — even if you’re a pet — you’re an influencer,” said Stefania Pomponi, founder and president of Clever. “With more and more brands coming to us to recruit pets, it was a no-brainer for us to expand into the space.”

In recent years, popular pets like Chloe the mini Frenchie and Loki the Wolf Dog have appeared in ads for brands ranging from JetBlue and Ritz-Carlton to Mercedes and Pet-Smart. They have been roped in to hawk everything from designer shoes to cars, as they strut around from one photo shoot to another and earn anywhere between $2000 and $3500 per deal. Chloe, for example, has worked with Barneys and Bow & Drape among others, whereas Loki was the star of a virtual reality campaign by Mercedes Benz for its 2017 GLS SUV earlier this year.

“With the pressure to create a constant stream of new and interesting content, brands are searching for influence and reach in all forms,” explained Jill Sherman, svp of social strategy at DigitasLBi. “Brands aren’t making pets famous anymore — it’s the other way around now.”

But unlike their human counterparts, these four-legged celebrities can’t manage their own deals. Many of their owners, while invested in their pets’ careers, have full-time jobs of their own. That is where these agencies come in — some going beyond matchmaking and handling everything from payments and scope to project management and creative strategy.

“My job is not just responding to brand pitches but a lot more hands-on,” said Loni Edwards, founder of The Dog Agency. “I manage everything from their daily schedules to getting them book deals, TV shows and merchandise deals.”

With the American Pet Products Association projecting that spending on pets would surpass the $60 billion mark in 2016, this trend is only expected to grow. It’s also not hard to see why brands are hiring pet influencers, given their universal appeal, versatility, affordability and uncontroversial nature compared to human influencers. But just like regular influencer marketing, pet influencer marketing faces similar challenges, namely, that there exist no common standards for measuring engagement.

“Measurement is an issue, and we’re working on a platform that takes into account both quantitative and qualitative factors,” said Pomponi.


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