Here is a transcript generated by of The Content Mix podcast interview with Jo Burford, global head of marketing at Whalar, an influencer marketing agency:

Shaheen Samavati 0:13
Hi, everyone, I’m Shaheen from The Content Mix and I’m excited to be here with Jo Burford, Global Head of Marketing at Whalar, influencer marketing agency. Thanks so much for joining us.

Jo Burford 0:22
Thanks for inviting me.

Shaheen Samavati 0:24
So, Jo, tell us what is an influencer marketing agency? What is what they do?

Jo Burford 0:29
Oh, great question. So we’ve been around for about four years now, which is quite old in the influencer marketing world. There’s a lot of people out there that are getting into this industry. And it’s exciting. I’ve been working with content creators and influencers for the last 10 years and I’ve definitely seen a huge rise in interest around it, particularly from brands and clients who previously before hadn’t understood what an influencer was or how they could work with them. So we call it as a trifecta of how we work with clients, which is creativity, technology and talent. So we have a creative community that we work with. And we have an award winning platform that connects the graph API from Instagram through to Whalar’s platform, we also have the ability to take data from TikTok, and also, we’ve just started working with Twitter officially, which is really exciting. And then we have our talent division. Outside of our platform, we also represent some of the world’s best digital talent. So we can see it from both sides. We understand what it means for content creators who want to work with a client. And we can also see it from the clients perspective through our campaigns.

Shaheen Samavati 1:35
Super interesting. It’s like a really up and coming area, where you know, now influencers are are kind of homegrown celebrities. And it’s interesting that there’s an entire industry kind of like, being, growing around that.

Jo Burford 1:47
Oh, I completely agree with you. And as I said, I’ve been in this world for about 10 years now and it started very much as YouTube content. And then it’s evolved and the platform that seems to be the one that most influencers prefer to work particularly with clients is on Instagram. But the rise of TikTok particularly around the pandemic as a place to go for entertainment has just been incredible. I’ve really enjoyed watching a new player come into the market and entertain people in a way that brings quite a lot of joy very quickly. I would say that there’s a lot of misconceptions around influencer marketing. And sometimes if I walk into a party or I meet people and I say I work in influencer marketing, they’ll say, “Oh no, those people that are constantly pushing pushing products!” and I have to listen to them complain, be very polite, and then I’ll kind of go into the other side of it, which for me is around amazing content created by at home digital producers, who, when I explained who these people are, suddenly like, “Oh, but they’re not influencers!” But like, no, they are because a lot of people think it’s you know, just the Kardashians and it’s that very superficial lifestyle that everyone wants to potentially have a piece of. But actually there’s a whole world of remote creators out there that five, six years ago, 10 years ago would have been sat in a studio making amazing content in a very formal way. Now they’re at home, and they’re using technology to really empower themselves and liberate themselves from a normal 9-5 structure.

Shaheen Samavati 3:20
Absolutely. It sounds like you kind of got in at the ground floor on this industry. How did that happen? I mean, if you’ve been in it for 10 years, that was early days.

Jo Burford 3:28
Really early days, really early days. I worked at the starting of social media and that was mostly around forums and groups. So I had a kind of understanding and a love for talking to people. That’s my it kind of all started. I was working in a traditional role and I was told “Oh, you’re great at talking to people, Jo, just start talking to people on Facebook groups and, like, let’s have a look at what we can build around communities on Facebook.” So that’s how it kind of started and I was working for an agency. And then a company called Talent House came along. And they’ve actually just partnered now with Snapchat. And it was the first time I’ve worked somewhere that was more community focused, and it was around creating content alongside a client brief. And yeah, that was gosh, that was 2011 at Talent House, and from now on then I just focused working predominantly in with content creators, particularly in the arts, stop motions and cinematography, photography. And now we’re seeing much more exciting things happen on long form content. So influencers working directly with streaming platforms to create original content. So it really is extremely fast paced, it evolves at a rapid rate, let’s say things our presentations can change within every three months. because things change so rapidly…product updates from our partners and client work that is exceptional, it’s pushing boundaries. So we’re always, always adapting our communications when we talk to clients because things change so rapidly.

Shaheen Samavati 4:56
Absolutely. So I mean, how did you get to Whalar, where you are now?

Jo Burford 5:00
Oh, okay, so and I was working for Twitter as a Creator Partner Manager. And I was in the team that worked with the media partnership. So they’re focused very much on traditional media relationship with publishers and performers, and I was taking care of the creators that were kind of growing, particularly that time around Vine, I loved Vine. It was one of my favorite platforms, I think that’s probably why I sort of have a bit of a joy for TikTok—it reminds me of those days of silly creativity. Things gotten very serious on Instagram. And I think vine had that sort of like weirdness that TikTok has really embraced. So I was there and I worked there for three and a half years. I saw from the sidelines this new agency come along, and I was so impressed by the quality of work coming out of them and also by their own brand. Mostly, it’s always been seen as you know, you put the creative content out first, but the agency doesn’t really have too much of a brand where it was Whalar went in and these created you know the avatars so, each of us have our own cute little avatar. And lots of people, when we meet them at conferences always say, “How do I get an avatar?!” Well, you have to work here. So…or maybe do a panel with us, and we’ll make one just for you. So it had its own look and feel. And that’s really a lot of testament to our head of design. And Greg, who is my team in my marketing team, and he has created an identity of Whalar, it is very distinct in the market. If you walk into any conference, and you see a Whalar presentation on the big screen, you know, straightaway that it’s our’s, through the look and feel of the content. And that really impressed me because previous to that I hadn’t seen anyone entering in with such professionalism into the sector.

Shaheen Samavati 6:40
And so now you’re in charge of global marketing for the agency. So that means expectations are high, I guess? So how’s it been like transitioning into that role?

Jo Burford 6:52
So, I was offered the role in February and as I said, I was in a commercial role and I was mostly behind the scenes and working with the commercial teams and working on Creative strategy with talent at the heart of it. So being asked to have a more front facing role was exciting for me. And it was what I wanted to do in my career. And along came the pandemic. So, I’ve only been marketing in a crisis because I started the role pretty much first week of March. So we’ve had the pandemic, and we’ve obviously, obviously had everything going around with civil rights and our reaction to Black Lives Matter. And now we’re currently in the edges of the Facebook boycott. So a lot has been going on since I took this job. Yeah.

Shaheen Samavati 7:34
Absolutely, yeah. And so what’s been what’s been your biggest challenge so far?

Jo Burford 7:40
Oh, gosh, out of all of those ones…Every single one felt like nothing worse couldhappen until something else did. I would definitely say that the biggest challenge has been making sure that what we’re doing is original. I would say that was that would be something that I really agonized over we started doing a show called Whalar From Home. And it was really to put the talent on our roster front and center and have them tell their stories around what they were experiencing as creators and producers at home. And that worked really well because it wasn’t really our point of view—it was very much putting the talent in front and we were just facilitating that story. I think that I kind of agonized over “Is this original enough?” you know, “What can we do that’s pushing the boundaries?” but when we’re dealing with a lot of stress, you know, people with families they have to tend to, health issues, that I think putting that extra layer of “Is brilliant, is this original?” I probably could have enjoyed it a bit more, if I’d have known that it was going to last longer. And and that people were probably going to be a bit more sympathetic to the fact that things were not going to be as cutting edge and as original as they normally are. Because you can’t you know, control the lighting or the shoe or things happen tech problems happen. So I think for me, I definitely beat myself up quite hard, and the lens of all the content we’re creating and making sure that it was very high quality. And I could probably ease up a bit, actually; I could probably have done things a little bit more raw, rather than getting as stressed as I did at the start.

Shaheen Samavati 9:14
So I was curious, like your approach at Whalar towards marketing, I imagne, you have to like, practice what you preach. Could you talk a little bit about what channels you use that would… which ones are most important for you?

Jo Burford 9:26
Yeah, absolutely. Everybody that works at Whalar loves social content—I think it’s a prerequisite for it. Lots and lots of our talents and our staff as well actually have got quite high social followings—I am not one of those people. As I said, I’ve mostly been behind the scenes and I’ve always come at it from a strategic eye. But I would say that our team do love TikTok. We are one of the few official partners of TikTok, which is great because we’re part of their beta testing. And they give us a lot of great information on how the platform is evolving. And I think they’ve seen lots of learnings themselves through the pandemic and how much their uptake in users have shown them what is trending. It’s very important for my team to know what is popular and what other people are enjoying. And it shouldn’t just come from our own little bubble of what what we’re into, we often take a deep dive into our platform and take a look and see what is performing well for outside of our own likes, because, you know, what I get on my feed on Instagram is very different from yours. So you could be misunderstood to thinking, Oh, this is a really great trend happening now. Well, actually, it’s probably just something that you are potentially being served. So we take a broader view, and we take a look at the API data from Instagram and we’re able to track and see people that are particularly growing, why are they growing and why is their content engaging right now? And we can pull it out working with our insight team and start making start making some kind of decisions around what it is about this particular content? Is this trend or was it just a moment?

Shaheen Samavati 11:02
Speaking of trends, I think like a lot of brands are really perplexed about how to use TikTok, do you have any advice for like, what’s the what’s the right approach there?

Jo Burford 11:12
Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think that there’s a real race to be, you know, a first mover in this market and to really understand it, and there’s no surprises some of the brands that have done well, makeup, beauty and fashions or sportwear lends itself beautifully to it. But there’s lots of other channels that do really well particularly more serious content around like the Washington Post and they do some great content and other platforms as well that are more serious able to get across quite difficult conversations. The Black Lives Matter movement on TikTok has really used and creativity and copy and fonts to kind of communicate stories in a way that that is really emotionally engaging. And so I think that’s been pretty successful for them. If I had any advice to a brand, it would be to let go of the guard rails, absolutely do not do anything that’s hyper branded, that will not work. However, putting product front and center is great when you’re able to use the product in a really innovative way. The app is great, the social functions for it and your ability to edit in the app are fantastic. So the ability for creators to create great content with your product is a ton of scope there. So you can be product focused, but it can’t be a really heavy brand message.

Shaheen Samavati 12:30
So yes, great advice. And then you mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement. And I noticed on your website right now that you have a campaign to amplify black voices, I think you guys are in a really unique position to be able to do that. Could you tell us a little bit about that project? Yeah.

Jo Burford 12:48
I mean, when things were happening over in the states, I think originally this was something that was happening in America when actually it wasn’t— it was happening across the world and it was really important for us to have a part in it. I mean, influencers are the absolute cutting edge of what is happening at the moment, and a lot of our talent and our roster as well have an opinion, a lot about staff, and we all wanted to make sure that the world knew that we were an actively anti racist business. We have been doing some great work with diverse voices, some really amazing content with a whole range of brands. But what we weren’t doing was wasn’t actually recording how many people of color were on these campaigns. So now one of our commitments is to measure that, monitor it and record it, and actually be very, very open and vocal about it. We’re going to start going out to everyone that we work with asking them to tack themselves on their ethnicity so that we can actively be very proactive in our approaches to briefs, and make sure that we’re surfacing great people. And sometimes, and when you work with people, you always want to go back to the same people who produce great content and I get it because it’s reassuring to know that someone is going to deliver for you. But you have to now be actively anti racist and going beyond back and look and find some people you might not have worked with, or some people that maybe you hadn’t heard their name before. And make sure that we’re doing that and to be very, very vocal about it. So yeah, it’s been, it’s been for me and a really, really kind of a rewarding experience to work in a marketing role where I actually can make an impact by putting my own values into the business and into the industry we work in, and it’s been really important for me

Shaheen Samavati 14:28
Absolutely, that’s really cool. So looking forward to see, like, how that develops, because it’s, I guess, something that’s going to be happening over time.

Jo Burford 14:35
Totally. And it’s not overnight. And we’re going to make some higher changes in your leadership level as well, which I’m also very excited about. And yeah, this is going to be a long road and it shouldn’t be forgotten. It should be remembered and kept working on. And it’s the same thing, isn’t it? If you don’t measure it, it won’t matter. So it’s really important that we put this on the agenda and it’s always talked about

Shaheen Samavati 14:58
Absolutely. So I wanted to ask you about what you mentioned before about, you said you’re the only agency that’s, you know, official partner of all, like, basically all the major social media platforms. How did how did you guys manage that? And what does that mean, exactly?

Jo Burford 15:13
Yeah, I mean, it’s great for us because as I sort of said at the start, there’s a lot of competition in this area. And there’s a lot of people starting small agencies, and they all have their own kind of USBs and values. But I would like to say that Whalar is the one that has taken a long term view to be extremely professional, and to work with the tech teams at all the partners and build true partnerships, not only at a commercial level, but also at a tech level. So we’re working with TikTok at the moment to sort of help them with their API because we have so much experience with the API from the graph of Instagram—how can we work with them. Twitter, as I said, at my old workplace, I’m a huge Twitter fan, and I think in fact genuinely If I had them all gone, my one left would be Twitter. It’s where I get my news, my opinions, my laughs, my friends, and I also build my own community around marketing on Twitter. So that’s a new partnership for us. And we work with people visually. And we make sure that it’s quite a process that we understand what the RFP is like from their side, what do they need from a partner, and we work alongside them. I think other agencies that I’ve understood out there, they work on a kind of scraping level. So it’s, you know, it’s fine. It doesn’t infringe the platforms and rules of engagement. And we don’t do that; We have an official partnership so it means that things a little slower, it’s a little time to put things into place that it means that our tech team are talking straight directly to the other tech teams.

Shaheen Samavati 16:40
Okay, super interesting. did not even realize that that goes on behind the scenes. Well, and I was just wondering also if you have any advice for like smaller businesses who are kind of overwhelmed by all the— I know these what aren’t your clients but you know, who don’t maybe have the resources to be super active on all the channels. Do you have any advice on like, you know how you can be effective on social media with a smaller budget?

Jo Burford 17:04
Great question. Yeah. I mean, it’s an interesting one, because we are, at Whalar working on some big scale budgets. But that wasn’t always the case. It started out… I think that starting out small is always a good thing. I would say that Facebook is a great place for return on investment. And we all agree that their advertising and the way they structure their ad platform is extremely simple to use. And I think everybody can get something from that. If you have a small influencer budget as a client and I was talking to you socially, I would definitely recommend working directly with the talent themselves. And I would look for people who have potentially talked about your product or have organically mentioned it. What that does involve, though, involves a lot of watching content. And I think that is that’s one of the reasons an agency like ours is here…is that we have a robust team of people that are constantly watching content. And I think that if you do want to work with influences there is that trade off, you can’t just think, “Oh, that person looks cool—I’m going to just approach them and ask them to work on my brand!” You would need to look at their content, understand what they post about what their story is. And then the good news is that all extremely excited to hear from a client or brand. Anyone in particular, anyone who’s got ethical message, and you can really cut through a lot of noise and approach an influencer directly, if you’re selling a product or you have a service with an ethical identity, a lot of influences are extremely happy to work with and cut their costs on those types of products. And so yeah, I think a little bit of like, work goes a long way.

Shaheen Samavati 18:39
So yeah, I was curious, you know, being based in Europe, do you guys work in…you work worldwide, right? Does that mean you work with people in all different languages, and…?

Jo Burford 18:50
We do, we do. And, and it’s, I mean, it gives us a great overview of what is happening in the world. Our clients are based all across the globe. We’ve worked with clients from China to Egypt through to Saudi Arabia and the States, the UK. And I think the reason that we pivoted so successfully at the start of the pandemic was that we frequently have never met our clients or influences in the real world. It’s always been like this. So we were able to move very quickly into our kitchens and work just continued on and in the same exactly the same way we always had. So yeah, we have a great overview of what is happening globally, particularly on social media and where things are going. It’s a really turbulent time right now. I’m just seeing that India has banned TikTok, and there’s lots of conversations around whether the US will go that way because of security issues in China. So it’s extremely fast paced, every… you kind of wake up on a Monday morning, and think: “What news is going to come in next?”

Shaheen Samavati 19:53
Yeah, it’s crazy times we’re living in. Let’s transition to the recommendations part of the interview. I wanted to ask you, if you recommend any influencer who’s doing great content?

Jo Burford 20:04
Yes, I do. And I mean I’m probably the best person to ever answer that question, too, and I think I could just reel, reel off lots of different people. And but one person I really like is Aja Barber, and her account is all about sustainability and fashion. But it’s not about judging people or telling people they shouldn’t do certain things and they should buy certain clothes. One of the major challenges I have with sustainability fashion at the moment is that it’s very much geared to slim and people that go from size, you know, eight to 12/14. And there isn’t really much representation for people of color or different sizes. And Aja Barber, she talks a lot about how to be a woman of color and be more of a curve model, but also be sustainable with her wardrobe. So she’s just super informative. She kind of does the reading for me and then she digests it and then tells us you what what her advice would be, and she also creates really beautiful content that is aspirational, but also relatable. It doesn’t feel like a sustainability message because sometimes we’re quite far away and quite exclusive. And she really brings it back to home.

Shaheen Samavati 21:14
So, yeah, it kind of goes to the point, I guess of like some of the…I mean, what do you think makes great content? I’ll ask you and not put the words in your mouth!

Jo Burford 21:25
It’s… I think what makes great content —it doesn’t have to be super high quality, it doesn’t have to be always polished. I personally really love more artistic and avant-garde quirky style. That’s my personal taste. And but I think that really, if you were to give anyone advice, it would be good sound, good lighting and a good message.

Shaheen Samavati 21:46
Yeah, makes a lot of sense. But it sounds like like you were talking before about like wanting to like how important it was to kind of have a unique take. And when you were talking about this example of an influencer, it sounds like she has like a really unique perspective that she’s sharing?

Jo Burford 22:01
Yeah, that’s true. There’s a lot a lot of people out there a lot of noise out there. And I think it’s a funny thing. It’s sort of like, you know, two sides to it is that you do want to be original have something unique, but also you need to be someone that people don’t feel too far away from when they don’t get it. So there has to be that that layer of originality, but with a story that is that is relatable to our lives, because that’s where we turn for social media. I would definitely say my biggest advice is like, we say, like, go high, go low. So I subscribed to The Economist and I read a lot of articles around the Financial Times, but then I’m straight on TikTok, as well. So keep your balance in social media or going high and going low, because it’s always inspiration, all of those areas that help you with your work.

Shaheen Samavati 22:48
And then I have for next on the recommendation list, a publication that you recommend? Besides The Economist, which you mentioned already.

Jo Burford 22:57
Oh gosh, interesting! I mean, I’m a die hard fan of The Economist. I love…the journalism is so high quality for me. And it really has helped me through the pandemic with information that I trust. And so anything that lighter than that, I would say something probably more fashion related like Refinery29, or something like that is quite cool because I think what they’ve done really well is they’ve put women at the heart of conversation, and they’ve always been—from what I see—really open to unique diverse voices.

Shaheen Samavati 23:26
Awesome. And you also mentioned something called Super Thinking when we were talking earlier.

Jo Burford 23:30
Oh, yes, a book. This is a book I found actually. I’ll tell you, a publication I miss and I used to love was the inflight BA magazine. I think it’s fantastic. And the business area in there was one of my go-to—My Supply BA, back in those days, those yesteryear days, and I always got great advice from it. And Super Thinking is about like thinking strategies to help you make decisions quicker because I would say one of my probably things that I have to work on is I will overthink a real problem and try to come at it and make it a solution that no one’s ever thought of before or, or that is extremely innovative, when actually there’s some models that can help you get to the heart of what you’re trying to solve, rather than cause yourself lots of stress.

Shaheen Samavati 24:18
That sounds super interesting. I have to check that out. And then lastly, your your favorite app at the moment?

Jo Burford 24:25
Yes, I would say Headway. I have…I stumbled upon Headway through must have been very appropriate retargeting advertising Instagram, it popped off as an Instagram advert. And it kind of like appealed to me because although I am an avid reader, and I love to read, when I go out walking, sometimes I don’t want to listen to music, and I don’t want to sort of follow a podcast. So these are books that can help you around self-development, career development, negotiation, they’re kind of like summary points into 20 minutes, a little bit like this podcast, and it’s just good I think especially now to get out and to listen to something that’s both relaxing and informative and it can just really brighten up your day.

Shaheen Samavati 25:06
Cool, yeah, there’s another one that’s famous but also does that and I just can’t remember the name of it now so… Oh well! No shout out to them—get Headway! But I use the other one, but I can’t remember the name of it.

Jo Burford 25:20
Oh yeah, you know I think there’s got to be a few of them. I think I was just being in marketing. I don’t know about you, but I’m such a sucker for advertising.

Shaheen Samavati 25:27

Jo Burford 25:29
I’m always very open to people advertising to me, I’m like “That looks good!” So I downloaded it. And it’s great. Great for a bus ride in a city or a walk.

Shaheen Samavati 25:39
Yeah, it also at least the one I use it like gives you an idea if you want to read the whole book or it gives you kind of…

Jo Burford 25:43
Yeah, exactly, exactly it does. And I think when you are an avid reader, there’s only so much time, right? And you know, you’ve got Netflix to watch!

Shaheen Samavati 25:50
Yeah, absolutely. Got to fit everything in. Okay, so as we end up the interview, I just wanted to ask if you have any parting advice, especially it could be interesting to hear any advice you might have for people who want to get into the influencer marketing space. Because I’m sure a lot of people are interested in that. It’s a very cool, cool industry to be in.

Jo Burford 26:11
Definitely. I would always recommend people get into influencer marketing space because of the vibrancy and how fast paced it is. It’s definitely a character—you’re a type of character that would like… that likes change, and is interested in trends, how they evolve, loves pop culture, and also you absolutely have to love people. If you’re… if you’re not able to watch a lot of people talking about a lot of things, then don’t get into this industry. But if you’re like me, and you’re like a human magpie, as my mother used to always call me, I was always meeting new people and collecting new friends across the world. That was who I was already before social media came along. So it was just an extension of who I am. So if anyone wants to get into it, I think you have to love people.

Shaheen Samavati 26:55
Makes a lot of sense. Well, thank you so much, Jo, for being on the podcast.

Jo Burford 27:00
My pleasure. It’s been really fun. It’s nice to talk to somebody who I don’t work with!

Shaheen Samavati 27:05
Yeah, we’re just coming out of quarantine, so it’s unusual, right? But yeah, so thank you. And thanks everybody for listening in. For more perspectives on the content marketing industry in Europe, check out and we’ll be releasing a lot more interviews like this one every weekday, with content and social media marketing professionals, so keep tuning in. See you next time. Bye!

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