Influencer agencies expand in U.S. markets with new leadership as global competition rises

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European influencer marketing agencies are making their way to the U.S., entering with new leadership as they vie for an edge in talent and technology.

With influencer marketing maturing as a viable and measurable option for brands, it is becoming a competitive advantage for these agencies to set up shop in strategic markets and recruit talent there. It’s part of a “global expansion” for influencer agencies to have a “presence in multiple markets — giving them an ability to tap into local influencer networks and cater to multinational clients,” said Alex Dahan, CEO of influencer agency Open Influence.

U.S. expansion was only a matter of time — given that the U.S. continues to be the largest influencer market. Since 2019, global influencer marketing value has more than doubled to $21.1 billion in 2023, according to Statista. The influencer marketing spending was around $6 billion in the U.S. in 2023. Of this pool, social media influencers and creators in the U.S. have the largest followings and accounted for 75% of influencer marketing spending worldwide in 2023.

This month, U.K. creator agency Buttermilk opened its first U.S. office in Miami, and hired Cedar Milazzo as CTO and Zoe Mitchell as chief growth officer, Digiday has learned. Mitchell has an agency and creative background, previously leading business efforts at WPP’s Wunderman Thompson globally. The Miami office will support some of its global brands, including Valentino, Armani and Prada Beauty.

Mitchell, who will focus on strategies and marketing to attract clients, said Miami stands out as a “hotbed for talent outside of more saturated markets like New York City and L.A.” Miami has also been a strategic market to attract a growing community of a young, diverse talent pool, added Jamie Ray, CEO of Buttermilk.

“Miami has experienced an explosion of growth and creativity over the last several years, accumulating global attention — thanks to Lionel Messi cultivating a massive presence for world soccer, cultural moments like Art Basel, popular creators like Alix Earle and so much more — that makes it unlike anywhere else,” Ray said.

Yet the influencer industry’s growth has come with obstacles such as scaling content creator partnerships, developing analytics and discussing influencer compensation — leading influencer agencies to invest in artificial intelligence integrations, creator metrics and other marketing and software services.

Founded in 2014, U.K.-based influencer agency Billion Dollar Boy last November created a new division, named Muse, to develop client offerings focused on generative AI and emerging technologies. BDB also developed its own creator management platform, which uses AI to match creators to brands and campaigns. Its innovation unit is headed by Becky Owen, former head of creator innovations at Meta, with a growing team consisting of business and creative leads, according to the company.

To support its U.S. growth, BDB hired leadership from social media, strategy and agency backgrounds, including Marie La France as vp of growth, Christine Göös as senior director of marketing, and Emily Brown as senior manager of strategy. They will focus on new business in the U.S. client base, marketing operations and campaign strategies.

BDB has since expanded to New York and New Orleans, generated $40 million in 2022 revenue from U.S. operations, added 30 new clients (including Dove, Disney+ and Spotify) — and now totals 160 employees across four offices. Ed East, global CEO and cofounder of BDB, said the agency will continue recruiting talent in other major U.S. cities this coming year. East has also moved from the U.K. headquarters to the New York office to focus on U.S. expansion.

“As we’re operating in an evolving and emerging field, we’ll continue to place a high priority on staying forward-thinking and being well-informed about technological advancements gaining traction in the industry,” East said.

These U.S. expansions may very well set the stage for influencer agencies to get acquired by holding companies or larger advertising agencies. As Dahan at Open Influence noted, those larger players acknowledge the role of influencer marketing, and could end up buying some firms as a competitive strategy.

“This is another element fueling competition between those agencies that want to be purchased,” Dahan said.

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