How BuzzFeed has built a creators network for branded content

Two years ago, a series of “Why I Left BuzzFeed” videos popped up on YouTube, with past employees complaining they were not allowed to create non-BuzzFeed content while employed by the company. The implication: BuzzFeed wasn’t creator-friendly.

BuzzFeed has since expanded opportunities for in-house talent with The Creators Program, in order to strike the balance of retaining top talent while also allowing them to build their own brands with personal YouTube pages and the like. Since then, the program has evolved to include not just BuzzFeed stars, like Freddie Ransom from its Ladylike vertical and Curly Velasquez from its Pero Like vertical, but also include non-BuzzFeed talent like chef and TV personality Marcus Samuelsson. In all, Creators Program has 36 personalities and has brokered 65 branded content campaigns this year, already double the number the program ran in all of 2018.

“Retaining used to mean we didn’t want people to leave BuzzFeed, but now we look at it more like we want to maintain relationships with them,” said Andrea Mazey, head of talent partnerships at BuzzFeed. That means a creator doesn’t have to be a full-time BuzzFeed employee but could be an alumnus of the company or even an external content creator who hasn’t ever been associated with the brand.

The program has 31 in-house creators and five external creators, and last month the company announced the first class of creators for its travel-focused Bring Me! vertical, which includes two in-house staffers and three external creators, including a professional BMX athlete filmmaker and a couple that runs a network of food Instagram accounts.

The Try Guys, a comedy group that was formed within BuzzFeed’s video group in 2014 and later broke off in 2018 to form their own production company, gained custody of their brand rights and social media accounts in exchange for BuzzFeed serving as the group’s advertising and branded content sales representative, which allowed BuzzFeed to maintain some stake in the group’s success. (BuzzFeed no longer serves as the group’s sales representative)

BuzzFeed also uses the program in order to expand its reach into specific areas. “These audiences have unmet needs — for instance, dad content — so we look externally for the talent to meet that audience,” Mazey said.

BuzzFeed producers Jen Ruggirello and Kelsey Impicciche, who are both in the Creators Program participated in a Creators Program campaign this fall with The CW Television Network for its new show “Batwoman.” It included a branded video of Ruggirello and Impicciche transforming into characters from the show, which was promoted on the company’s YouTube page, and received nearly 1 million views on its Facebook Watch channel. A clip of the video was also shared on both creators’ Instagram channels, bringing in a total of over 25,000 likes and 110,000 views.

Refinery29, Group Nine and Condé Nast have all looked to create influencer marketing hubs. The advantage BuzzFeed has, according to Jesse Rosenschein, vp of digital and account strategy at media buying agency Mediassociates, is its ability for the talent to co-produce and star in longer-form content, as a way for brands to develop their own original series and create brand ambassadors. Additionally, she said that publishers who retain influencers as extensions of their editorial staff are likely to have properly vetted these individuals, providing more brand safety to partners.

“Influencer marketing has gotten a bad rap,” Mazey said. 

This story has been updated to reflect the fact that BuzzFeed no longer serves as a sales representative for The Try Guys.

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