🤝 Creators-In-Residence

The future of brand partnerships isn't influencers...it's creators-in-residence

Happy Thursday!

Today, I’m diving into the future of creator <> brand partnerships. In my view, the traditional influencer model is about to be significantly disrupted.

Let’s ride 👨🏻‍🚀


The future of brand partnerships

I’ve been thinking about this idea for the last few months.

Brands should find and develop “creators-in-residence” (CIRs).

CIRs are creators that become known for consistently collaborating with a brand in a deeper way. They create content for the brand and are given growth resources akin to the R&D spent to incubate a new product.

The difference between a brand’s “in-house social team” and a “creator-in-residence” is anonymity.

A brand usually expects its social team to be behind the content…default anonymous.

Creators-in-residence are intentionally in front of it.

I believe “creators-in-residence” are the next evolution of influencer partnerships.

Why do creators-in-residence make sense for brands?

People buy from people.

In the new age of short-form video and dopamine casinos social media platforms, consumers spend the majority of their time “building” parasocial relationships with influencers and content creators.

These are the people they trust most. These are the people they talk about with their friends. These are the people they look forward to watching every night.

The new wave of consumers doesn’t like being sold to. They hate direct ads and they have an extremely high distrust for corporations.

The evolution of brand partnerships

If you were to visualize the modern history of brand partnerships, it would look something like this…

First, there were celebrity endorsers.

And this worked for a while, but let’s be honest, most people knew these celebrities were just trading their endorsement for a fat check.

You actually think LeBron drives a Kia? GTFO.

Those “endorsements” were weak at best.

Next, there were influencer partnerships. And this was basically just a new form of celebrity at 1/100th the price & scale.

Eventually, the biggest influencers also became the biggest celebrities (e.g., Kardashians) and the influencer partnership model (especially at the top) slowly drifted back towards celebrity endorsement.

Again…do you really think Kylie Jenner drinks Detox Tummy Fit Tea every morning? GTFO.

Influencer marketing still works, of course, but is trending towards a more transactional relationship.

Transactional for the brand, influencer, and fans.

One-off brand deals with influencers aren’t as effective as they used to be because audiences know they’re for the money.

Then, companies tried to get smarter.

They thought, instead of paying these influencers for one-off shoutouts, why don’t we also invest in our own content teams and “become the influencer” ourselves.

We’ll own our distribution.

And this works for some brands, but it’s missing the most important thing…a recognizable human endorser.

People buy from people, remember?

The best brands have used all-stars on their content teams to serve as that recognizable face, but the pay and incentives quickly become misaligned for the creator.

Any in-house social media coordinator that can grow a big enough following to become on-screen talent themselves, will just give up their $40K corporate salary and go do it.

This leaves brands with in-house content personalities that are either average or fleeting.

Enter, the creator-in-residence (you should have heard angels singing when you read that line).

It’s a long-term brand <> creator relationship specifically designed to make branded content while leveraging the face, personality, and audience of that creator.

It’s different from influencer partnerships in that CIRs are designed to work with a brand for years, fluidly, with less transactional inputs/outputs.

There’s just one problem.

What’s actually in it for the creator?

This weekend, I saw a tweet from Morning Brew CEO, Austin Rief.

And the comments helped crystalize the missing piece in my thinking on CIRs.

In his thread, Austin suggested that brands would hire creators full-time and be able to leverage their existing audience and creator skillset.

The big question is not…”Will an in-house creator model be attractive to brands?”

Of course it will.

Full-time, mission-aligned creators with an overlapping audience designed to help grow the brand? Every brand wants that.

But the real question is…“Why would creators want to join a company full-time after already unlocking their freedom?”

Tell me how this proposition sounds…

“Hey Kallaway! Why don’t you come work for [Brand X]. We’ll pay you $Y per month to create content for us and you post it on your channels. We’ll have posting guidelines in terms of what you can say and how many times you need to post. If it goes well, there’ll be some upside incentives. It’ll be different because instead of one-off brand deals, your audience will get to know how much you love our brand over time and we’ll offer you stability.”

Sounds like another job to me. I just quit mine, so that’s a no from me dawg.

But there is some good news! I have a version of this model that I think both sides would be excited about.

The Creator-in-Residence Model

As the creator, here’s what I’d want…

  • I partner with 3-5 brands as a creator-in-residence (non-exclusivity to one brand). Each one is extremely important to me and plays a natural and authentic role in my life and content

  • Each brand offers free product/access to their creative assets & team. Ideally, there is some deeper access that a CIR would get that a traditional influencer partner doesn’t

  • My mission, as the CIR, is to organically create content about these brands that I post to my channels. The key is, it must be authentic and natural, not forced. If I’m not inspired, I won’t create. I may have set “minimum content quantities” per year with extremely flexible posting guidelines.

  • A brand may pay me a small monthly retainer (if I’m big enough to warrant it). Most of the compensation is in the upside performance of the content on pre-defined metrics (e.g., affiliate conversions, CPMs on views, etc.). This way, incentives are max aligned

Basically, I rep these brands in a deeper way because I feel like a part of them.

I may still do some one-off brand deals, but ideally I don’t have to.

As a CIR, these brands and their creative teams are more like collaborators and less like transactional buyers.

If I don’t hit my minimum post quantities, the brand reserves the right to terminate my CIR relationship and stop sending free product/access. In other words, if I’m lazy and do nothing, the brand owes me nothing.

Why will this structure work?

The reason this works is because as a creator, all I care about is having the flexibility to create what inspires me.

As a brand, all I care about is working with people who are authentically inspired by my mission/products and have direct access to my target consumers.

When brands try to put rules in place to govern content creation, it removes the flexibility and kills the inspiration. That’s why most creators don’t like brand deals.

The potential downside of this, of course, is that as brands give more access and creative freedom, they open themselves up to a CIR going rogue and saying something they shouldn’t.

The truth is, most of these scenarios are edge cases that can be specified in fair legalese. If a brand does their homework on a creator and offers a CIR spot, they should be fairly confident this won’t happen.

As transactional ads work less and less, brands will realize the increasing need for creator faces that consumers connect with.

They won’t be able to retain these people in-house on exclusive deals.

Instead, they’ll have to meet creators where they want to be…deep, long-term partnerships with uncapped upside and tightly aligned incentives.

It may sound crazy, but I predict these creator deals will be akin to how major sports teams treat players today. You’re already starting to see it with Adin Ross and xQc.

Like it or not, we live in the age of the player, not the franchise.

Forward thinking brands will make billions by realizing all they need to do is put gas in a player’s car and just let them drive.


If you thought this was helpful or interesting, consider forwarding to another creative nerd 🤙🏼