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Spotlight: Why Today's Biggest Music Stars Are Turning to This Digital Marketing Agency

Cameron Fordham, Ben Hiott and Alex Dermer
Jason Benjamin

Get Engaged co-founders, from left: Cameron Fordham, Ben Hiott and Alex Dermer.

“If there are 40,000 releases on Spotify a day, how are you going to stand out?”

Currently self-quarantined at his home in Atlanta, Ben Hiott has never been busier.

The 32-year-old is the co-founder of full-service digital marketing agency Get Engaged, which specializes in influencer marketing. Ever since artists began canceling tours and press runs as a result of the pandemic, “We’ve seen a surge in business,” he says. “We’ve become a necessary tactic for marketing music right now.”

Founded by Hiott along with Cameron Fordham, 28, and Alex Dermer, 34, the Atlanta-based agency’s music division helps record labels discretely market their music on social media, whether through digital advertising, content creation (such as creating Instagram filters and gifs), or -- increasingly -- working with social media influencers to promote songs and artists on their platforms. Get Engaged has run more than 500 such music campaigns with acts like Marshmello, Megan Thee Stallion, Blink-182, Khalid, Big Sean and Steve Aoki, and some labels and artists now have the company on monthly retainers.

As businesses shift to digital ad spending amid the pandemic, it’s boom times for Get Engaged: In the past few weeks, the agency has worked on campaigns to promote The Weeknd’s After Hours album, PartyNextDoor’s “Believe It” featuring Rihanna, Leon Bridges and John Mayer’s quarantine-ready collaboration “Inside Friend” and more.

After becoming friends in college, the three co-founders initially embarked on separate careers. Hiott built a modest cult following as the rapper Ben G; Fordham, who played football at Louisiana State University, worked in the sports industry; and Dermer managed Wacka Flocka Flame before co-founding task management platform Curo Software. When Hiott felt he had hit a “plateau” on his music career, he and Fordham leveraged their networks to start a side hustle monetizing celebrities’ Facebook pages with articles and videos. Within six months, they went from monetizing 10 pages to 100, and Dermer joined in. “It just blew up,” says Hiott. “We were like, ‘Let’s turn this into a real agency.’”

Get Engaged was officially founded in 2016 and the team eventually built out their offerings to include Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok. The music marketing division was developed in 2018; outside music, Get Engaged also has major clients in the sports (Major League Soccer, The PGA Tour), fashion (Kendra Scott) and fast food industries (Raising Cane’s).

Their edge: “A brand wants to get a big celebrity, and they don’t want to navigate through the big agencies and all the red tape,” says Hiott. “We can run through the offer and pitch it directly to them.”

Those personal relationships have taken years to build. Fordham went to every music, sports and entertainment event in Atlanta that he could find until he had “tapped out” on meeting new people, he says -- at which point he moved to Los Angeles to do the same thing. “I like to do good by people. If I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to get it done,” he says. “I don’t treat relationships as a one-way-street. I like to bring them value as well.”

These days, the co-founders say that record labels and brands pay Get Engaged anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 per campaign, and campaigns can run from a week to multiple months. Labels come to Get Engaged with a budget and a handful of marketing ideas, after which Get Engaged helps figure out who to involve from its network of dozens of celebrities and more than 2,500 influencers.

The key to successful influencer marketing campaigns, Dermer adds, is “authenticity” -- which is why the Get Engaged team spends ample time understanding the likes, dislikes and lifestyles of each influencer they work with. “We’ve seen so many campaigns where someone will push Coca-Cola, but they don’t drink soda,” says Dermer, for example. “The average consumer is getting smarter. They’ll see it, and be like, ‘Woah. You don’t drink soda. Why are you doing this?’”

While the co-founders are mum on the details of specific campaigns, they helped amplify a recent TikTok challenge for The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100. Videos tagged #blindinglightschallenge have accumulated more than 168 million views on the platform, and TikTok stars like David Dobrik and Addison Rae have participated.

Influencer marketing also allows labels to be nimble and shift release strategy based on fan-created trends. While working on Megan Thee Stallion’s March album SUGA, Hiott says they planned to focus efforts on “Captain Hook” -- until a “Savage” dance challenge blew up organically on TikTok, at which point the label shifted strategy to promoting that song. Now that videos tagged #savagechallenge have garnered more than 516 million views on TikTok, they’re back to working on “Captain Hook.” “People have to release music with an open mind, and listen to fans,” Hiott adds.

As dance challenges continue to catapult songs like Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” and Doja Cat’s “Say So” to the top five of the Hot 100, the trio predict that the influencer marketing will only become more important to the music industry. And in fact, recent reports estimate that influencer marketing will grow to a $15 billion industry overall by 2022.

“If there are 40,000 release on Spotify a day, how are you going to stand out?” says Dermer. “We do a good job of curating a plan to allow you to be someone that gets noticed.”

SPOTLIGHT:

I knew I was committed to music when I recorded my first demo at 17 years old. After a mildly successful career as an artist, I began navigating through business ventures that led me to starting Get Engaged. The universe worked it's magic and I have now found my way back to music. I think having the perspective of someone who has been a musician and music historian has given an immeasurable amount of value to us building out the music marketing arm of our agency. (Hiott)

What's changed is the way music is marketed, distributed and consumed. It is so accessible, but with the massive influx of content and new artists, you have to identify strategic ways to create visibility. Music is one of the most ancient forms of entertainment and watching the evolution in just my lifetime has been amazing. (Hiott)

I am learning that the more content is distributed across social media, the more creative and innovative you have to be to make music stand out. How can your music go viral? What makes your content better than the 100s of millions of people on social media? (Dermer) 

It’s good to have a good team and support system. You want to surround yourself with people that will push you to meet your full potential for success and have your best interest at heart. A good team is defined by individuals that can complement your strengths and help lift up your weaknesses. (Fordham)

Dealing with musicians directly has allowed us to leverage our networking skills into creating other relationships [with] managers and labels. It is essential to have a multi dimensional network. We have connected many different people together which builds trust. We want people to work together and flourish. Even if you do not see anything come from it at that particular point, it will eventually come back. (Fordham)

Spotlight is a Billboard Business series that aims to highlight those in the music business making innovative or creative moves, or who are succeeding in behind-the-scenes or under-the-radar roles. For submissions for the series, please contact spotlight@billboard.com.  

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