After Cardi B dropped her latest single, “Hot Sh-t” featuring Kanye West and Lil Durk, this summer, one of the first calls the label made was to an increasingly in-demand digital marketing agency called Get Engaged Media. Within the first two weeks of release, the Atlanta-based firm’s social media campaign for the rapper’s song had generated more than 100 million impressions.
College friends Cameron “Cam” Fordham and Ben Hiott initially launched the company as a side hustle in 2016 away from their day jobs as a way to monetize celebrity Facebook pages by curating the content on them. Alex Dermer, who had managed Waka Flocka Flame, joined six months later, and the three co-founded Get Engaged Media. Six years later, the company has led social media campaigns for artists ranging from DJ Khaled, Wiz Khalifa and Imagine Dragons to Walker Hayes and Ozzy Osbourne. This year alone it has led social media drives for Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers “First Class” by Jack Harlow, “Heat Wave” by Glass Animals and “About Damn Time” by Lizzo.
The pandemic benefited the company, sparking employment and volume growth of more than 300% over the last two years, according to Dermer, who describes the company’s mission as providing “fuel to the fire to help create conversation and drive content.”
During the COVID-19 shutdown, “there was a massive reallocation of focus of spend in all industries,” Dermer says. “With music, you take away touring and billboards and other aspects, then they had to get aggressive on digital. The money was coming through streaming for music companies and there’s a direct correlation between streaming and traction on social media. So that’s where we saw the massive shift to the digital space.”
That shift played out in Get Engaged’s work with The Weeknd’s After Hours and the album’s single “Blinding Lights,” which became the longest-charting hit in Billboard Hot 100 history at 90 weeks.
“That album came out when everyone was locked down and right in the height of the pandemic, and so many people were suffering and scared,” Hiott says. “We were able to create viral moments, especially with the ‘Blinding Lights’ dance, that was able to bring happiness and joy to a lot of people.”
Get Engaged Media has worked with over 1,000 musicians and celebrities and 10,000 influencers on more than 7,500 campaigns that Dermer says have generated over 30+ billion views across social media platforms.
In addition to working with artists on all three major record companies, its client list includes such brands as T-Mobile, Crocs, The Honest Company, Vita Coco, Major League Soccer, NBC Universal, NASCAR and Snapchat.
“I wanted an incredible team that I can bounce creative ideas off of and that could help us capture critical content because I can’t be following [Kane] around with an iPhone all day,” Brown’s manager Martha Earls tells Billboard. “[Get Engaged is] unique in their approaches with each artist. They understand generationally who people are talking to, who their fan bases are, and to have that type of insight is an incredible strength.”
This year, in addition to opening its Nashville branch, Get Engaged’s principals launched a record label called Series A Entertainment, which has signed rapper The Letter M as part of a joint venture with 300 Entertainment. They have also branched out into artist management, representing rapper SYMBA.
They are also looking to expand further geographically, potentially opening offices in Miami and London. “There’s a big Web 3.0 presence in Miami now, so I could see a satellite office of sorts someday,” Fordham says.
Get Engaged Media has operated so far without the help of venture capitalists or other outside funding, but that hasn’t stopped potential suitors from stepping forward.
Several months ago, Jason Zerden, then vp of business development for Create Music Group, reached out to Get Engaged’s founders about buying the company. They weren’t for sale, but Zerden was impressed with how Get Engaged competed toe-to-toe with much bigger companies. “I came up through CAA, then Stem and then Create Music Group, all very flashy companies,” he says. “These guys are operating a 90-person business in this space out of Georgia.”
Four months later, Get Engaged asked Zerden to come on board as chief strategy officer. Impressed with their scrappiness, he started this month.
Here, Zerden discusses why Get Engaged has become a go-to partner for a growing number of artists and brands and how he sees social media campaigns and music evolving.
What drew you to working with Get Engaged Media?
I was struck by how deep their relationships are directly with [companies like] TGI Fridays, Raising Cane’s, the Honest Company. …They are talking to C-level execs, CMOs. They were not just talking to vps of marketing. These guys without traditional Hollywood backgrounds have been able to infiltrate Hollywood, media and brands in such an impressive way.
How do you describe your role with the company?
I look at the business holistically. They are 90 people—60 in Atlanta, 15 in Nashville and then a few scattered around LA, Boston, New York and so forth. We have a lot of retainer clients. Our businesses are separated into social content, web, music and ventures and most of our time is spent within music, web and content. But at the end of the day, it’s social media management and project management.
So many artists are being told to keep churning out TikTok videos and other content, on top of the touring and recording responsibilities they already have. How is Get Engaged positioned to help ease that burden?
I’m having conversations with heads of digital at the labels, because some artists don’t want to do TikTok. Traditionally, there have been two verticals: music marketing, like TikTok seeding, and then Instagram seeding. Instagram seeding is more of having the culture pages speak on your behalf, like [Instagram pages] Our Generation Music, DJ Akademiks, or RapTV, and we have a huge business with that. But we also have this massive Snapchat network, with about 80 shows that are owned and operated by Get Engaged Media. Being able to go to labels and say, ‘Let’s think more creatively here. Why not have a show and it [follows] an artist from [album] inception to the album release,’ and then being able to buy all the ad distribution associated with that Snapchat show.
How are you developing this Snapchat strategy?
Right now we’re in talks with every single major [label] to really figure that out. The immediate play we’ve started is buying ad distribution, so if Universal comes in and wants to buy all the ad distribution around a show, with a title that is adjacent to that artist, we can. That lets us differentiate our core offering. Not many people are playing with Snapchat in terms of it being a land grab and we own the most land right now in that space.
What metrics do you use to determine if a campaign is successful?
The goals are different for every campaign. Every label says, ‘Hey, we want this to go viral. We want this amount of likes or comments.’ A lot of rappers don’t care about the number of impressions, they care about which pages share their content. Brands like Raising Cane’s are very KPI [key performance indicators], very metric-driven, so impressions are big for them.
We have buying power. Let’s say an artist calls you at Thursday night at 12:01 and says, ‘Hey I want to be on these pages in the next five minutes,’ we have the ability to pull that off because we buy so much. We hear from labels that we are the only partner that can pull something like that off. It’s not like that’s unique that we do that, but what is unique is the time and speed we can get stuff live and that’s a competitive advantage.
What is the general price for a campaign?
There’s not a set price, but most of our campaigns are in the range of $20,000 to $50,000. We take on smaller campaigns at times, but it depends on the project and artist, the requirements, and if we are in it from the beginning and can really tell the story.
When there is a song or dance that would work well for TikTok, what is that process?
We have over 5,000 creators in our network, so we can send a song to our creators. If we’re talking TikTok, we can say, ‘Here’s the dance, here’s the general creative here. We’d love your take on it.’ And it’s always iterative. We put the dances out there, and if one of the dances goes viral, that kind of morphs the campaign. Based on UGC [user-generated content], this is now the viral clip we should run with.
Who are some of the top creators in your network?
DRUSKI, Lele Pons, The D’Amelio Family, Noah Beck, Just Maiko and Michael Le are a few.
How do you determine when to begin working with a new creator?
As new, exciting creators come online and we see stuff working. That’s the beauty of social media—whoever was hot last week is going to be different than who’s hot next week. It’s just staying on the pulse of it and being ingrained in culture. Having a very diverse company helps with that as well and we can look across the gambit and see a cool new creator in one subculture of the world. There are so many pockets of subcultures that just take off and we can’t plan that.
What subcultures are growing right now?
It’s really location and age, just going into areas where there’s an affinity for certain kinds of music, like what you are seeing happening with New York drill music and Ice Spice. Pop Smoke had it and then it went to Ice Spice and she’s got the torch now. It’s just seeing culture in real time and being able to move with the speed of culture. One thing I have seen in country, which is different than most other markets, is the live piece. People care a bit more about the live show than in other genres. And the brand piece, as country artists are usually very brand safe. If you are a country artist, you can get a brand endorsement deal faster than if you are in another market.
In the digital marketing space, what is the biggest misconception you see?
Some people think you just get on a playlist like [Spotify’s] New Music Friday, and you’re good to go. There are 60,000 songs a day that come out on DSPs. There are so many playlists out there, so it’s a holistic campaign. And in a world where people are going to concerts and events again, there is a real live element to doing that.