Pamela Zapata of Society 18 on quadrupling her roster of clients in a year, and how she is disrupting the influencer marketing space
Describe your business in a few words?
A bicoastal influencer management and consulting agency with a focus on multicultural and multiethnic content creators and digital strategy.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
My “Aha Moment” happened during those ten years in the trenches. I saw a gap in the industry when it came to diversity. Not only were POC not always represented in campaigns, but I found that many diverse creators did not understand their value when comparing what their counterparts were receiving for branded projects. That gap is what fueled me to take the leap and start my own company! There was a need to address the issue which pushed me to work directly with multicultural and multiethnic content creators to help them understand their value while also helping advise brands and agencies on the importance of strategically including diverse influencers into their brand campaigns.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
Prior to starting my business in 2019, I garnered over 10 years of experience working in influencer strategy, integrated marketing, talent relations, casting, and production for some of the biggest networks, brands and agencies in the industry. I began my career in Los Angeles where I worked for companies such as E! Entertainment, Ryan Seacrest Productions, Style Haul, and Sweety High. During that time, I cultivated valuable relationships by successfully and strategically utilizing influencers and talent for digital and on-air programming, brand sponsorships and events that supported business initiatives, drove ratings, and increased revenue.
After relocating to NYC, I became the Director of Influencer Marketing at United Entertainment Group, where I led influencer partnerships, strategy, procurement, negotiations and campaign reporting for various personal care brands within the Unilever portfolio including Suave, Dove, Love Beauty Planet, Axe and Popsicle. I eventually moved on to my role as Senior Director of Influencer Marketing at Starpower, where I oversaw multiple campaign and influencer casting initiatives for key beauty brands including Estee Lauder, Bobbi Brown, MAC, BECCA and La Mer. Within this role I had a range of responsibilities including campaign ideation through concept execution, while also overseeing strategy, client management and talent relations.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
When I first ventured out on my own, I was constantly battling with myself on whether I was going to be capable of supporting myself and finding success with this idea, which led to many moments of self-doubt. However, in the back of my mind I always knew that this was my true purpose, and all the hard work would pay off, which it has. Knowing I’m a part of something that is for the greater good continues to push my drive and make all the long nights worth it.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
I didn’t have a marketing strategy! My plan was to create a business where I could use my knowledge of influencer strategy and partnerships to help content creators understand their value and worth. Most of our clients came through referrals. I had created a website and social media presence, however, I would say 98% of our business and clients came through word-of-mouth.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
I think my biggest mistake to date has been growing too fast without taking the time to focus on company structure, creating a business plan and tech (i.e CRM, Project management tools, etc.) I’ve learned now that those aspects of running a business are crucial if you plan to scale. Now that I am two years in, I’m taking time to focus on that before accepting any more business/clients.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
My proudest accomplishment has been increasing most of our client’s annual revenue from 3-5 x times. We have one client in particular that netted out at $50K in annual revenue with her previous management agency, and since she’s joined us, has hit almost $250K in brand deals in one year. Those numbers are life changing and are further confirmation that we are truly bringing value to our clients’ lives. I was also just recently named one of the top 25 talent managers for YouTube creators and top 15 talent managers helping micro influencers land brand deals by Business Insider, which was a major honor!
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
Transparently, I’ve made some great, but also terrible hiring decisions. One question I always ask is why they’ve decided to apply for a position at Society 18. Someone simply looking for a job in influencer marketing isn’t enough – I want them to be particularly passionate about supporting and elevating influencers of color. When work gets tough and tiring, passion will drive you. Furthermore, as a hiring manager, you must understand the skills that are critical to be great and flourish at the role you’re hiring for. Someone who is meticulous, a self-starter and can thrive in a fast-paced environment are the top three qualities we look for.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We actually quadrupled our roster of clients to 20 since I founded the company last year. Over the past few months, I’ve hired three experienced professionals to expand the business and we are continuing to grow. Thankfully, we’ve been extremely fortunate to see an uptick in business due to the nature of our work in the digital space. We’ve seen brands and marketing agencies shift their approach to content creation and recognize the real value of working with influencers, especially in a time where human media consumption and behavior has shifted so drastically and digital and social media consumption is at an all-time high.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Our objective is to be the agency of record for brands who are looking for insight and support on influencer initiatives and holding them accountable in terms of their diversity/inclusion commitments. With our wide range of multi-ethnic creators and seasoned team, we want to be the agency that brands immediately think of when they need guidance, and we pride ourselves in providing best-in-class services to anyone that chooses to prioritize these important initiatives. I have always emphasized the importance of working with multicultural and multiethnic content creators, and as someone who is well-established in this space, I am in a unique position to advise any brand that wants to be part of the solution on how to get it right when it comes to diversity, which is something I take very seriously. Not only is our roster diverse, but each of our employees have strong backgrounds from various vantage points which can help us when pitching, creating strategies and developing potential partnerships. The next 6 months will be dedicated to structure, tech and hiring/onboarding. I’d love to start scaling the business in the next 12-months, so it’s critical that these elements are put in place to support the growth properly.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Simple – you’re in charge of your own life. Don’t let societal norms or outsiders scare you away from achieving your dreams, whatever they may be. If you are not happy in your current situation, it is your obligation to yourself to make a change. Want to start that clothing business? Do it. Want to go back to school? Do it. Block out the white noise and surround yourself with people at your level. Having a strong support system has helped me tremendously, especially during the times when I wanted to quit. Whether that is your family, friends, partner or team members, it is crucial to surround yourself with trustworthy people that believe in your vision to accomplish the impossible.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
1. Hire a business coach. Having someone who really understands business structure, scaling, etc. that can support you when you are making critical decisions that will affect your business is crucial. Unless you have entrepreneurs and business owners in your network who have been in your shoes, it is hard to really get the support you need through your friends and family. Although they can provide encouragement, they won’t understand the gravity of some of the decisions you are making.
2. Create a business plan and company structure. I’m sure someone told me this, but I was too busy starting my company to listen. Setting up the structure and processes/procedures while you’re still small enough to pivot is a great way to get started. It is harder to implement these things once your company grows to a certain level.
3. Give yourself a schedule and work hours. It’s easy to work around the clock as a business owner and it’s hard to shut off sometimes, but this will help you stay focused and balanced without burning out.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
The Headspace app has been a great tool for disconnecting in the morning and late evenings. Taking a run along the running path by the Hudson River near my house has also been extremely therapeutic for me lately. I’ve also spent some time catching up on my favorite shows – Ozark on Netflix and Billions on Showtime.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
There will be days when a vacation is needed, so knowing you have a team you can rely on to steer the ship while you take a moment to yourself will help. Make sure to also take a step back whenever you feel yourself feeling overwhelmed. As a founder and CEO of a company, wearing 100 different hats is probably one of the most challenging and underestimated aspects of running a business. One must know a little bit of everything – Legal, finance, marketing, operations, HR etc. It’s something that can be extremely defeating, especially when you don’t have all the answers. Dive into your network and find resources that can properly support you.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- To-do-Lists are EVERYTHING.
- Exercise always helps boost my energy.
- Sleep – Without sleep, you will crash and burnout.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It means being your own boss and doing work that is purposeful and fulfilling to you.