Social & Influencers

To stay on trend, agencies are bringing TikTokers in-house

“Every client is at least asking about it,” Courtney Berry, managing director at Barbarian, said about the agency’s in-house offering.
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· 5 min read

When arriving at a party, there’s fashionably late and then there’s embarrassingly late. That concept also applies to TikTok.

“It’s pretty obvious when a brand jumps into something three weeks late, and it’s the sound that nobody’s using anymore,” Becca Stephenson, a TikTok creator and associate strategy director at ad agency Barbarian, told us. “Understanding how quickly culture moves on social media and being able to stay on top of it is hugely critical these days.”

In an effort to keep up with the latest audio trends and editing styles in a timely (and relevant) manner, agencies like Barbarian and Dentsu are going straight to the source, bringing TikTok creators in-house to work on brand accounts. As creators join the agency world, their roles and exact duties may vary, but the number of opportunities only seems to be growing.

Clock’s Tik-ing

Barbarian began hiring creators in early 2022 in response to TikTok’s rising popularity and the realization that trends were moving more quickly on the app than on other social media platforms, Courtney Berry, the agency’s managing director, told Marketing Brew.

Berry said Barbarian handles creator sourcing, vetting, and payment processes. By keeping anywhere from three to eight creators on staff at once, she said, the agency is able to “go from trend to brief to concept to execution” at a quicker rate. Depending on the client, Barbarian can often get content posted between two hours and two days, she said.

“We have to make sure that there’s no intermediaries in between things because that just takes up time that we don’t have,” Berry said.

Being able to post quickly can mean clients relinquish some creative control, something Berry said brands are becoming more comfortable with. While not every client is ready to work with their creators, “every client is at least asking about it,” she said.

Come on in

In addition to hiring people to work exclusively as creators, Barbarian has people in other roles who are also creators, like Stephenson, who has made content for clients like HubSpot given the success of her own TikTok account, which has more than 46,000 followers.


So what are the benefits of partnering with brands through an agency rather than directly? For one, agency work can offer more stability than one-off deals, creators told us.

“I know from other creators in my network that it can be really hard because you’ll have ebbs and flows when you’re doing sponsored posts and things like that,” Stephenson said.

Creator Robert Mayhew joined agency Gravity Road as a part-time creative director in March—a role he said means he can work with clients like Unilever and Minecraft on their TikTok strategies while still having the time to grow his own account. Having recently become a parent, he told us the stability of the role was one factor in deciding to take the job. Another perk: The chance to be part of an agency community.

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“It’s really nice being surrounded by other creative people,” he told us, adding that in addition to learning from his team, he also gets to work with agency clients, which he wouldn’t normally have access to otherwise.

Libby Walker, who joined Dentsu as a TikTok content creator last November and works with clients like Sour Patch Kids, Nutter Butter, and Trident, told us that her agency work has enabled her to build relationships with social media experts.

“I was someone who made a lot of content alone,” she said. Working in an agency, she added, means working collaboratively with people who "want to help and they all have really intelligent ideas—and you don't have to explain a platform to them."

Risky business

So what are the potential downsides for creators? For some independent content creators with larger followings, like Corporate Natalie, the potential limitation of working with only one brand through any kind of in-house arrangement could mean forfeiting other potential deals.

“If something changed and dollars were moving out of influencer spend, I would definitely consider being in-house,” she told us. For now, though, her focus is on growing her personal brand, she said.

Walker, who appears in TikTok videos for the brands she works on, told us she can still work with other brands for her personal account—just as long as they don’t overlap too much with client work at Dentsu.

“For me, personally, it doesn’t coincide too much, like Sour Patch versus kosher schnitzel,” she said.


Another risk for TikTok creators is the question of whether the platform will be banned in the US. If that happens, Berry said she expects Barbarian to continue using the same creators they’ve been working with and deploy content they’ve been working on to other platforms, like Reels. “A lot of the same skills that you get from one platform can translate on to other ones,” Stephenson said, so she’s “not too worried.”

In the meantime, Mayhew said he’s optimistic about where in-house roles are going.

“It’s only going to get more exciting in the future in terms of what agencies need,” he said. “And they're going to be looking for creators to join them.”

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