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MrBeast's breakup with his talent manager is a wakeup call that influencers won't always need middlemen

Lindsay Dodgson   

MrBeast's breakup with his talent manager is a wakeup call that influencers won't always need middlemen
  • YouTube star MrBeast has parted ways with his talent manager after six years.
  • This could signal a trend where influencers seek more control over their brand.
MrBeast broke up with his talent manager of six years, and it's a wake-up call.

YouTube's biggest star striking out alone could signal that creators may not always need middlemen.

Jimmy Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, is a cultural phenomenon with 257 million subscribers.

He's likely to be running the most-subscribed-to channel within a few months, given the pace with which he is gaining on T-Series, the channel of an Indian music record label.

On a roll, Donaldson parted ways with Night Media and its CEO Reed Duchscher, Semafor reported on May 5. The Dallas-based company would "no longer be his primary talent-management agency," the report said.

Donaldson confirmed the news to Bloomberg, saying he and Duchscher still get on but that it "makes sense" to instead build a team of his own.

Influencer-economy experts are torn on whether Donaldson's move will be widely replicated.

It highlights what happens when influencers get to a stage where they believe they no longer need a buffer between them and traditional media — a dynamic that has long caused tension.

Building on borrowed territory

Nikita Walia, the founder and CEO of Blank Strategy Inc., who has worked in consumer social media since 2012, told Business Insider that Donaldson's decision was evidence "of creators not wanting to build on borrowed territory."

"They want to own their brand connections, they want to own their audience, and they want to make sure they're getting the most they can out of those relationships," she said.

Walia predicted that the future of talent agencies would depend on being able to understand this approach "instead of just being a middleman brokering deals."

Katya Varbanova, an influencer industry expert and CEO of Viral Marketing Stars, told BI that talent agencies are only useful to creators when "they have more influence than you."

"When you're MrBeast, and you are the most powerful YouTube creator, you don't really need them," she said.

Another example of this trend could be the case of Gleam Futures, the pioneering influence-management agency.

Gleam became famous for molding the careers of huge British YouTubers like Zoella, Alfie Deyes, and Jim Chapman — but recently closed its talent arm, which has run since 2010.

Writing for industry outlet The Drum, Raf McDonnell, a cofounder and managing partner at the London agency Supernova, wrote that Gleam was a casualty of the times, upended by creators seeking a more direct link with their audiences.

Agencies and creators, ultimately, have different priorities, Varbanova said.

A creator's focus is "making something epic," Varbanova said, while a talent agency wants to know: "How do I squeeze the most amount of money from this brand?"

This is helpful in a creator's earlier days, freeing them to put all their energy into their content while delegating the business side.

But tensions can rise if creators are constantly pushed toward brand deals they don't believe in.

Donaldson has evolved, Varbanova said, and built multiple businesses, including Feastables and MrBeast Burger. He is now a brand himself.

"He's just taking control of his brand," Varbanova said. "Ultimately, I think he is somebody who values control over money. It's actually how he's been able to grow so much — because he is such a control freak."

There are drawbacks to total control

Courtney Bagby Lupilin, the CEO and founder of Little Red Management, told BI there are drawbacks to MrBeast-style total control.

An in-house team would likely have a narrower network than a talent agency and be able to offer less support with other tasks.

The talent managers who survive will be those who foster individual relationships with all their influencer clients, Lupilin said.

"Don't just be an extension of their brand," she said. "Be a valuable resource they need on their side."

Walia argued that agencies can still be helpful in furthering an influencer's career, but they need to modernize — especially if their clients follow a similar path to Donaldson.

"The middleman relationship of a traditional talent manager doesn't quite fit the times," she said.

Correction: May 14, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Supernova's managing partner. It's Raf McDonnell, not Raff McDonald.

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