At 29 years old, Erin Kleinberg has already founded three successful companies. In 2008, she started a womenswear line under her own name, now on hiatus; in 2011, she co-founded The Coveteur, the behind-the-scenes fashion and beauty site known for its closet editorials; and just last summer, she joined forces with former Coveteur managing editor Stacie Brockman, 26, to launch Métier Creative, a digital marketing and creative branding agency with a keen eye on social marketing. The New York City-based company got its start with a seven-figure investment by Next Models, which was one of the first agencies to start signing digital influencers such as Chiara Ferragni and now counts Danielle Bernstein and Sofia Sanchez De Betak on its roster. Next founder Faith Kates approached Kleinberg and Brockman, looking for a new kind of agency that could maximize relationships between brands and influencers. (Though, Métier doesn't have any exclusivity to working with Next's talent.)
"We really felt there was this void that hadn't been tapped, which was: how do we mediate both sides of the equation?" says Brockman, who was working at an ad agency after leaving The Coveteur. "We had this really unique, dual perspective of what it was like for influencers, content creators, bloggers, tastemakers... to the other end of the spectrum, on the brand side."
A certain kind of influencer activation had become standard and repetitive to the point of cliché — for example, a blogger posting a picture of herself carrying a designer bag. "Trying to replicate what X brand did with X girl for your own benefits isn't the best way to go about it," says Kleinberg. "The copycat model is what got us here in the first place, of [asking] what's next? How do we move this entire advertorial world forward, instead of doing the same thing over and over again?"
Together with their "very nimble army of Métielves," Kleinberg and Brockman run a "new age digital creative collective" — named after the couture approach of Chanel Métiers d’Art collections — that works closely with brands like Stuart Weitzman and Moda Operandi on multi-platform projects. The all-female company consists of six full-time employees in addition to the founders, plus interns and freelancers. They provide a wide spectrum of support: influencer activation, initial ideation, casting, styling, photography, post production, copywriting, communications strategy and more. "No one has that approach anymore, with content development," says Brockman. "We want to help brands tell their stories in their own bespoke ways... We create this concoction for each brand — our special sauce, as we like to call it — and help them craft stories that feel uniquely different from other brands, and quite disruptive."
And when it comes to volatile world of influencer marketing, a Métier speciality, Kleinberg and Brockman attribute their success to, quite simply, trolling the Internet. "We are constantly trolling all over the social networks and we live it, breathe it, sleep it — we are those girls who are influenced by influencer marketing," says Kleinberg. "We do a ton of manual auditing to each of the accounts to find what type of content they are producing. The influencer could be right but the type of imagery that they shoot or what they show on their feed may not feel organic and authentic to the brand."
The approach helps Métier see past the over-inflated influencer market, in which brands often put blinders on when they spot big follower counts. "It's very difficult to understand who actually resonates," says Brockman. "We do a lot of social listening and see what the comments are actually saying... To Erin’s point: we troll, we go through each person’s [account], photo by photo." The most influential personalities often don't have the most name recognition, especially within the mainstream fashion conversation. "For every vertical, there’s a different subset that actually moves the needle, and I think a lot of times people don’t realize who they are because they have a very surface-level understanding of the industry," says Brockman. "What we try to do is dig deep in sub-communities that are permeating that environment." It's the leaders in very specific demographic categories that have the most impact. "We will actually go into Sephora and ask employees... who moves the needle?" says Kleinberg.
Métier has remained under the radar in its first year, finding clients through word of mouth and pre-existing relationships, but it's already pulled off two major projects. The first was the launch of Prestige, Dior's newest anti-aging skin-care product, which costs almost $400. Instead of going for the obvious influencer activations — a bag spill or 'morning routine' moment — Kleinberg and Brockman focused on the product's key ingredient: roses with regenerative properties grown on the cliffs of Granville near Christian Dior's home. "The story of the rose is the reason why it has such a high price point, and we wanted to make sure that we communicated that," says Kleinberg. So Métier photographed Julia Restoin Roitfeld, Chriselle Lim and Kristen Noel Crawley experiencing their own versions of a "prestige" day (a taste of Paris in New York, and date night before the birth of a baby) and turned those images into rose-tinted, shareable content.
Métier was also responsible for the launch of celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin's hair-care line, Ouai. "We did everything from the launch phase to shooting what turned into her 'ad campaign' — for a social-first brand, she wasn't buying paid media, it was just social imagery," says Brockman. They also created 200 "Supreme-like limited-edition box sets" and sent them to a carefully curated list of celebrities, editors and beauty bloggers. "Not a single person was paid to post — which again, in 2016, rare rare rare. Knowing 'how pay to play' is the name of the game," said Brockman. "It was everyone from Khloé Kardashian to Kris Jenner to Chrissy Teigen to Shay Mitchell to Cindy Crawford to Kat Dennings — I mean it was astronomically insane." They also got valuable engagement from beauty YouTube stars Chrisspy and Desi Perkins — "people who are actually really moving the needle for Sephora."
Despite the undeniable marketing impact of these digital campaigns, working with influencers is never an exact science. "This is a very new space," says Kleinberg. "There’s not one definitive technology that can say Erin Kleinberg posted this on her Instagram at 2:55 and she sold 500 units." Companies such as RewardStyle give "insight into how do you work backwards from a monetary standpoint to move the needle," says Brockman, but what works for one brand won't necessarily work for the next.
Métier also stresses approaching each social channel strategically. "Not only do you need to be shooting content that feels social-first, natural, organic; but we also need to disseminate it in different ways for each channel, native to the platform," says Kleinberg. As for the Snapchat versus Instagram Stories debate, they both say it's too soon to tell.
Another ongoing discussion is the recent spate of articles addressing industry-wide disclosure violations in influencer advertising — meaning, people aren't careful to include #spon. "It's changing so rapidly and it's the most hot button topic that everyone needs to be aware of," says Kleinberg, who is in favor of adherence to the guidelines. "Because at the end of the day, those types of agencies like the FTC are going to tie our hands behind our backs and makes our jobs more difficult." She adds that consumers, especially Generation Z, don't care about disclosures. "There’s no shame in it anymore, I think everyone realizes they're a billboard."
The landscape of micro-influencers and social media apps is constantly shifting, and Métier's founders understand the value in staying forward-thinking and disruptive, and in trusting their instincts. "If you are playing the game for influencer space, it’s the wild, wild west," says Kleinberg. "Everyone is trying to figure it out and I think we pride ourselves in the fact that we are thinking so far into the future." Brockman agrees: "We know what women want, we know what millennials want. We really are the customers."