Public Link in conversation with Agency Owner und Influencer Manager Renato Leo

Renato Leo, Founder MAZE Management

Public Link in conversation with Agency Owner und Influencer Manager Renato Leo

Month: November
Year: 2020

Whether it be TikTok, Instagram or LinkedIn – influencer marketing has only become more popular with Corona, according to a study by Duff & Phelps. However, the use of familiar faces as ambassadors and advertising figures of a brand is nothing new: Since the beginning of advertising, stars & starlets have been used in the traditional media as so-called testimonials. Despite its profitability, influencer marketing is becoming a challenge for every advertiser due to the increasing number of channels, messages and complex, cross-channel campaigns, paired with the decreasing attention span. Luckily, we have Renato Leo in the office. 

Our newest member of the office family and valued partner Renato founded his agency MAZE Management in 2014 to support and promote emerging talents in the field of social media. As a former journalist, Renato knows exactly how messaging must look to be credible and effective and has a trained eye for exciting content creation and storytelling. We asked him what influencer management actually means, what a good cooperation should look like and where he sees the future of the industry.

PL: Hey Renato, thanks for taking the time to talk. Please introduce yourself and your agency MAZE Management.

Renato Leo: Today, we see MAZE as a talent management for social media creators, whom we support in storytelling conception, image building, positioning, marketing and content monetization. Our network includes a selected pool of photographers and videographers, who can be accessed by our talents at any time. Currently we have ten influencers from various fields under exclusive contract, with a focus on creators with a TV background. Among others we manage former Germany’s Next Topmodel participants or actors of “Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten”. 

PL: Where did you come up with the idea to build up a management for Influencer and what are the characteristics of good management?

Renato Leo: Around 2016 I received more and more requests from influencers if I would consider taking over their management. Two years later, Maze had already grown so much that I was completely focused on the agency, which was one of the best decisions of my life. I really enjoy working with the talents, building and marketing them. I believe that is what good management is all about: Not relying on rapid monetization, but on the consistent and sustainable development of talents. 

PL: How does one become a talent at MAZE and what are the most important criteria in selecting your talents?

Renato Leo: All our talents are characterized by a high affinity to social media. It doesn’t really matter whether one primarily utilizes Instagram or multiple platforms.  Much more important is the quality of the content and a high quality can only be guaranteed if the creator is one hundred percent on the job. Of course we also take a close look at the statistics of the talents. If someone wants to be accepted there are several criteria to be met. These include not only a high reach and commitment, but also a following, at least 50 percent of which comes from German-speaking countries. From time to time, we receive applications from people with a six-figure number of followers, most of whom come from Brazil, the USA or elsewhere. An advertising partner with Germany as a target market would immediately turn away. 

PL: Do you specialize in a particular industry or segment at MAZE? Where do you still want to go?

Renato Leo: There are some managers who only take care of Let’s Gamer or YouTuber, which can make sense, but that’s not what we do. We feel very comfortable as an agency for influencers, who became known through a TV show or are full-time active in the film/TV business. At the moment we are looking very closely at the market for professional athletes, because there is a lot of potential in this area. In the meantime, we are also planning to set up a marketing unit that develops and rolls out campaigns for brands, which is a logical further development of MAZE. 

PL: According to which principles do you choose the appropriate brands and projects? What makes a good cooperation for both sides?

Renato Leo: In one word: Brandfit. The brand and the product have to fit the Influencer. When an inquiry reaches us, we take a very close look at the company and the products we want our talents to promote. We also let our talents test the products in advance and check the campaign concept. So there are a few parameters that have to be met before a cooperation can be established. When we started placing the first jobs six years ago, many companies were still looking at the pure channel size and less at whether an influencer and its community could really get the products across credibly. A lot of money was burned. A cooperation is only successful if the brand sees their targets fulfilled and the talent has been able to monetize the content in an authentic way – ideally, this will result in a long-term partnership. 

PL: At Public Link we are big fans of best practice examples. Is there a MAZE campaign that you especially like to remember?

Renato Leo: Just recently we implemented a campaign with KFC Germany that was a great success for all parties involved and even caused a sensation at their US headquarters. The cooperation came about by a lucky coincidence. Timur Ülker, who is an actor for “Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten” and a passionate musician, sent me one of his recently produced songs to ask me for my opinion. In a text passage it was about him and his friends having a stop at a fast food chain after a party. I suggested changing this passage, offering the song to KFC and building a cooperation based on it. Not only was the song extremely well received by KFC – they even commissioned us to produce a new song to celebrate the 130th birthday of KFC founder Colonel Sanders. We joined forces with Timur’s good friend and well-known German rapper Eko Fresh and within a week the “birthday song” was finished, which then became the heart of the Colonel Sanders jubilee in Germany and was featured on a special landing page on the KFC homepage and on Instagram. 

PL: How do you think the influencer market will develop? Are there new trends that you find particularly thrilling?

Renato Leo: This professionalism will continue to advance. This is already ensured by the platforms alone with new innovations that allow influencers to create exciting and relevant content. The TikTok hype and also Instagram with reels have strengthened this development in 2020. Especially the brilliant catch-up of TikTok has surprised many. In addition, podcasts are likely to become increasingly important for advertisers. This is also shown by the recent acquisitions of streaming services such as Spotify, which bought up podcast agencies for insane sums of money and signed up star podcasters exclusively. Over the past two years, many bloggers have created their own podcast, and podcasters have become influencers. There is still quite a lot to happen in Germany.

PL: What is your personal opinion about younger platforms such as TikTok? Is this where the future of influencer marketing is headed?

Renato Leo: The TikTok creators did a lot of things right and recognized the right opportunities in the Corona crisis to attract new users. The further development from the Lipsync app for kids to an entertainment platform for young people has been extremely successful. Most creators, whether YouTuber or Instragrammer, have quickly picked up the new TikTok hype and used it for their own purposes. Our talents are all represented on TikTok as well because it is another pillar: on the one hand, to create exciting content, on the other hand, of course, to be relevant for advertising partners. In any case, TikTok is a great addition for social media creators. 

But for brands, TikTok is still a difficult platform at the moment. For brand awareness campaigns, the platform is great, since you can achieve high reach with the right concept. However, TikTok cannot generate direct sales like Instagram – at least not yet. I’m sure that Bytedance will come up with a solution for this in the near future to catch up with Instagram & Co. 

PL: And finally: Can brands or products still be successful today without influencer marketing?

Renato Leo: As soon as a brand or product is intended to appeal to a broad mass, there is no way around influencer marketing. In the beauty, food, sports and fashion industries, influencers have become an integral part of the marketing mix that can significantly drive growth and sales. And compared to Asia, where influencers are the most important advertising media, we are still in the early stages of influencer marketing in Europe.  

PL: Thanks for the great talk Renato!