News UK wants to cash in on the burgeoning influencer marketing space with the launch of an in-house agency it claims will help brands identify talent, build long-term partnerships with creators and drive measurable ROI.
Dubbed The Fifth, the internal effort is located in News UK’s London HQ, sitting on the same floor as its commercial team. As well as working with emerging external storytellers, the media giant will offer clients access to editorial talent where relevant, having spotted an opportunity to let clients buy into the 'influencers' operating within its own walls.l
The Fifth was founded by Oliver Lewis, former director of digital strategy and partnerships for News UK. As managing director, Lewis will oversee a team of 10 including Sarah Gillespie (who has joined as head of talent from Gleam Futures – AKA the agency that made Zoella famous).
Lewis said The Fifth, which has been in the works for the past nine months, will offer: talent identification and management, storytelling strategy, creative production and cross-media amplification and events, for brands and creators. It has already recruited a few clients, though he is coy on what exactly is in the works.
He believes News UK is in a "unique a position" to answer some of the key challenges facing the influencer industry: "What we’re doing here is aligning our existing assets and the skills in the business around content production, storytelling and we have the resources, along with the studio expertise, to help brands transition towards longer-term creative executions. We also have a history of discovering new talent and a lot to offer to that talent.”
With the true media value of influencers coming under increasing scrutiny from advertisers, calls from some of the world’s biggest spenders (including Unilever) to crack down on follower fraud, and regulators putting pressure on Instagram stars to make their commercial deals more explicit, Lewis told The Drum that the agency wants to “redefine” the term.
“It’s absolutely a space that we have the expertise, the opportunity and the heritage to enter. It’s exciting and it’s growing but it’s also hit a bit of an inflection point where there is a growing need for professionalism.”
As part of its promise to advertisers to move beyond “reach and frequency”, The Fifth isn’t going to segment the influencers on its books based on their follower size. Instead, it has identified nine "faces of influence" to help brands connect with “credible storytellers” each with their own tone and format.
The nine categories it is defining influencers by are: ‘the artist’, ‘the humourist’, ‘the collective’, ‘the enthusiast’, ’the tastemaker’, ‘the journalist’, the expert’, ‘the host’ and ‘the cosmopolitan’.
News UK has given a descriptor of each of these ‘faces’ to help clients get a better understanding of the kind of influence, and therefore audience, they are buying into.
The ‘enthusiast’ for instance, would be person who was “passionately focused on a niche topic of interest” (like a fashion or travel blogger).
It describes ‘the journalist’ as a “professional writer or broadcaster for a news, magazine, online or TV company” – and Lewis confirmed this would include columnists, editors and others from across the publishers' suite of titles, including The Times and The Sun.
Where traditional agencies, such as Havas and M&C Saatchi have been entering the influencer arena, News UK joins Condé Nast in experimenting with giving clients access to its editorial team. When Condé unveiled its own ad agency last year, it revealed how clients wanted to buy into not only its social media, but also the profiles of the individuals that work for them.
Lewis explained that News UK had carried out an “audit” to identify the most influential people on its payroll and scope out who clients might want to forge commercial relationships with on social media; Times food critic Giles Coren was among the first to be signed up to work with The Fifth on this basis, and more will follow.
However, there’s a lingering question around how News UK will assure the integrity of journalists or columnists isn’t compromised by paid-for brand deals, but Lewis said that won’t be the case.
"We're only going to be working with these journalists on their social channels, this is about the individuals themselves and the social influence they've built up themselves on channels like Instagram. So we won't be blurring the lines of integrity within our own titles in that respect, they'll be very clearly separated."
The brands News UK talent is matched with will depend on the individuals' social presence too, and not necessarily what they write about. Coren, for example, won't be striking brand deals around food; instead his pitch to advertisers will be based on content he posts about his day-to-day life and fatherhood.
As well as offering its internal talent to bidders, News UK will also be affording up and coming influencers the chance to appear in and contribute (via clearly signposted deals) to its own portfolio. With The Sun owner claiming to reach 66% of the UK’s total news brand market and garner 29.5 million unique monthly visitors per-month it’s a big draw for brands.
Talent acquisition and continuing to monitor the talent already exists within News UK will be key too. To help it do this, The Fifth has inked an exclusive partnership with independent data platform CORQ –which combines journalistic insight and analysis to offer brands a talent selection strategy instead of just automating it.
“This business is not just about us offering marketing services to brands, it’s about the type of talent and the type of audiences we want to speak to editorially,” Lewis explained.
He also gave more insight into the ambition on the talent side too, saying the business wanted to create “new opportunities and new IP” and around the “most exciting” storytellers on its books, on top of “elevating” them via its current titles