Business Insider: Some brands are hiring influencers as a 'one-stop shop' for video and animation as production studios shut down — and finding they're a lot cheaper

April 14, 2020

By Dan Whateley

This article originally ran in Business Insider.


Caleb Natale is a digital creator focused on visual effects and animation. He's been hired by brands in recent weeks to produce content from his home office.
Caleb Natale is a digital creator focused on visual effects and animation. He's been hired by brands in recent weeks to produce content from his home office.                                


  • As creative agencies and production studios close their doors in order to shelter-in-place, some brands have begun turning to influencers for their content creation skills.
  • Many influencers have worked from home for years and are already equipped with the production gear necessary to create commercial content for brands.
  • Digital creators can prove to be cheaper than production companies, with some charging half the price to produce professional photos and videos for brands.
  • Business Insider spoke with influencer agencies and digital creators who are being hired for their photography and production skills rather than their "influence" on social media.  

As production companies shut down photo and video shoots in order to adhere to social-distancing measures, some marketers have been turning to influencers for their content creation skills.

"For the first time, big brands aren't able to make those big budget television ads," said Karyn Spencer, the senior vice president of partnerships at Whalar, an influencer-marketing agency. "You don't need that full-blown production anymore. YouTubers taught us that."

The advertising industry has been hit hard in recent weeks as marketers cut budgets, major events like the Olympics are postponed, and the industry's major holding companies prepare for big drops in revenue in future quarters. The influencer-marketing business has slowed as travel-based opportunities come to a halt, retailers shut down commission-on-sales programs, and brand deals are put on hold

But digital creators with specialized production skills appear to be better positioned than most to continue working with limited disruptions during an extended period of sheltering in place. Many have worked from home for years and are already equipped with the gear necessary to create content for brands who typically rely on high-touch production studios. While brands have mainly turned to influencers for their "influence" over social-media users in the past, their production skills are now in high demand. And they often cost less. 

The influencer-marketing agency Obviously told Business Insider that it's seen a 33% increase in the number of brands looking to hire influencers specifically for content creation. Its clients are reporting a "creative cost reduction" of over 50% on average when working with influencers as content creators, the company said. 

"There's always going to be a place for highly polished, professional-looking content," Spencer said. "But I do think that the traditional networks have long believed that they needed much more equipment and support around production than they actually do."

Whalar told Business Insider that it received a brief last week specifically asking for creators who could help with content creation for a planned television ad.

"They were literally like, 'Here are the storyboards for the television commercial that we were going to make and we can no longer make it, and now we would like to shift into having your creators make it,'" Spencer said. 

One Fortune 500 company recently hired influencers to create photo and video assets for its homepage and paid media promotions, according to a marketer who asked to remain anonymous so as not to damage their relationship with the brand. 

The TikTok-focused influencer firm Sapphire Apps told Business Insider that it's been asking influencers to make animations and user-generated content for brands since its production studio shut down.

"We can't have shoots, production shoots, so what we've been doing is transitioning our clients into animation and very UGC-style type of ads," said Anish Dalal, the company's CEO. "A solo person can shoot at home, and then our editing team would go in and make the necessary cuts. It presents a very interesting opportunity. If we can get to a quality where we like it, it unlocks a new part of the business for us because we can make ads when a lot of other people can't."

Content creators with technical skills who can work from home are well-positioned to win business from brands right now

Caleb Natale, a digital creator focused on visual effects and animation, said during the coronavirus outbreak he's been able to continue producing content from home.

"Over the past three or four years, I've been slowly building up this home office, home equipment — stuff to record my own videos at home," Natale told Business Insider.

"I was originally going to be shooting a music video with an artist in the middle of March, and because of everything that's been going down, obviously the travel plans for that music video were cancelled," Natale noted. "We pivoted to creating more of an animated visual for his song to still have some sort of visual release to go along with the single even though we couldn't physically shoot anything for it."

Because Natale has a background in visual effects, he's better positioned than many creators to continue to add visual variety as he posts videos from home.

Many influencers have lost revenue in recent weeks as travel and events-based opportunities are shut down. But while Natale usually earns revenue by promoting brands on sponsored posts to his roughly 700,000 followers on TikTok, he also can make money producing videos that he doesn't appear in.

"Some projects will strictly be just creating content for brands to post on their own handles and use for whatever their purposes are," Natale said. 

Alexandria Ramon is a photographer and content creator who has been working from home for years.
Alexandria Ramon is a photographer and content creator who has been working from home for years.

The photographer Alexandria Ramon said she's also received requests from brands interested in her work as a content creator rather than her "influence" on Instagram (where she has close to 300,000 followers).

"In the last week or so, I've had brands approach me with opportunities that they haven't approached me with before," Ramon said.

She's recently been doing photoshoots at home for a fashion brand that's not requiring her to post on her Instagram account. 

“I’m kind of a little bit of a one-stop shop here, ” she said. “I can not only create for them but I can produce it and get it out there as well.”

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