Interview of Barrett Wissman: Influencers and the Cultural Arts

Influencers in the world of arts and entertainment can drive an impact of real profits. A single Instagram post by Beyoncé, for example, is worth $1 million. Beyoncé’s follower count — which puts her at one of the top influencers across Instagram — was only one factor in evaluating her worth as an ambassador.

March 23, 2021


8 min


Influencers in the world of arts and entertainment can drive an impact of real profits. A single Instagram post by Beyoncé, for example, is worth $1 million. Beyoncé’s follower count — which puts her at one of the top influencers across Instagram — was only one factor in evaluating her worth as an ambassador.

Interview of Barrett Wissman: Influencers and the Cultural Arts

Engagement and click rates are also an important factor.  Beyonce’s curated content helped her rare commercial brand posts be seen as organic and on-brand. Record labels have increasingly been working with influencers to positively affect streaming numbers.

Digital platforms have not only made the arts accessible to everyone, but they’ve also democratized the promotion and distribution of it. Money no longer resides solely in physical distribution, and that’s where Barrett Wissman believes every form of art stands to benefit.

Milou Sky: The Social Media Influencers

More Than Brand Ambassadors

Wissman, the chairman of IMG Artists and the managing director of social media management firm Two Pillar Management, has watched influencers shape the arts world over the past few years. While people frequently think of influencers as brand ambassadors, they’re also very much cultural ambassadors.

“These days, influencers have more clout, more powerful than a music label,” he explains. “If an influencer has 20 million followers and she tells them to listen to a new song, that can result in millions of plays — that’s a very expensive goal for labels to meet.”

These influencers tend to focus on certain areas, Wissman notes, because of their own demographics. Primarily Millennials or younger, influencers tend to focus on elements accessible to their fan base: merchandise, pop music, and the like. This is good news for arts companies and artists themselves. “Today, the way music is played and listened to has changed drastically, for better and for worse,” he says. “The barrier to entry has been taken down. Lots of good stuff that have should have been heard — but wasn’t — is making its entry, but so is lots of bad stuff that 20 million people were paid to ‘like.’”

Wissman points to two well-known names as examples of artists who sidestepped the traditional path to music stardom: Bella Thorne and Danielle Bregoli. An actress and Disney alum, Thorne had millions of followers — over 20w million on Instagram alone — and leveraged that following to build a music career. Rather than approach music labels and wait for them to sign her, she produced her own music and shared it with her followers. Bregoli, who first appeared on “Dr. Phil,” parlayed her social media catchphrases into a career as a rapper. These artists, who may not have made it through the label system 10 years ago, have become stars on the backs of their social power.

How the Fine Arts Stand to Benefit

That’s because these influencers are already more influential than celebrities, according to Wissman. “People tend to be in awe of celebrities, but they’re not living in awe of influencers,” he explains. “Consumers can see themselves in influencers — they have a different relationship with them and feel like they’re relatable and authentic. Celebrities feel untouchable.”

While pop art is currently accruing the advantages of working with influencers, other forms of art could also benefit. They’re just currently not taking advantage. “More serious arts — dance companies, opera companies, museums — use social media in their own way,” Wissman says. Performing arts institutions tend to use social media to reach the community they already have, treating it as a method of providing information rather than a form of outreach.

“Those with huge influence aren’t doing anything of note in this area yet,” he explains. “The promotion of individual arts and the growth of e-commerce show there’s a huge opportunity in this area. What about galleries, visual arts, dance, or operas, all of which have been more selective in the past about how they tell their story?”

The fine arts are living on the edge of promotion, yet expanding their audience has always been a big pain point for these institutions. Wissman predicts new business models will develop as a result of influencers’ involvement. Art galleries may charge artists up to 50 percent commission on their artwork today, but online tastemakers have vast influence over how things are viewed or promoted. If influencers become involved in promoting the fine arts, what becomes successful — and who stands to profit — may very well change.

Getting Arts Institutions to Take the Plunge

While getting involved with influencers may sound intimidating to those operating with much smaller budgets, Wissman assures it’s not. “Every city has higher-end beauty or lifestyle influencers,” he points out. “Local arts institutions can involve those people to build their audiences out. Never before has a mom who happens to be interesting and elegant with a true platform of influence been able to talk to a million people directly. Arts institutions need to use her influence to promote things they both care about.”

Many cities pulled on members of the local society pages to fill their boards. Wealth used to connote connections, but today, people who have lifestyles others admire should be incorporated to bring in followers. Wissman recommends inviting these influencers to events, such as symphony performances or ballets, but to also include them on boards. These people have their fingers directly on the pulse of the public, and they can help implement changes that will increase engagement beyond their own influence.

They can also be encouraged to participate. “If you’re hosting an arts festival, then music, arts, food, wine, and dance probably all factor in,” Wissman says. “Each segment can have its own area. Take an influencer who fancies himself a tastemaker, and have him design the gala after the concert — he could promote his involvement and make an immediate impact.”

While influencers like Beyoncé may pull in a million dollars with a single post, many arts institutions have more modest goals — and a big chance to make a real impact. By investing in relationships with influencers, the arts can move the needle to bring fans, opportunities, and new business models their way. Money’s no longer found solely in CD sales or art prints, and that’s a very good thing.

Related Topics

Related News

More Loader