The New York Times Shuts Down Its Stand-Alone Influencer Agency

The publisher bought HelloSociety in 2016

new york times hellosociety influencer agency
The New York Times is tucking its influencer agency into its experiential agency. Getty Images, HelloSociety, The New York Times

The New York Times has shuttered HelloSociety, the influencer marketing agency it acquired in 2016, as a stand-alone business. Instead, the publisher will rebrand and offer those services under Fake Love, its experiential agency, by 2020.

The move was “in response to continued and growing needs from our clients,” a spokesperson for The New York Times said. “We look forward to being able to work with our clients in a more holistic way and to offer a more integrated set of capabilities that better meet the needs of their businesses.”

About 20 positions were eliminated in the change, while other employees will now work for Fake Love.

HelloSociety was started in 2012 by California-based venture capital firm Science Inc. The all-cash deal with the Times closed in March 2016. At the time, the publisher said it would offer HelloSociety’s services through its content agency, T Brand Studio. The offering will remain under the T Brand Studio, just not as a stand-alone business.

“Our goal is to ensure that we’re able to keep up with the growth we’re seeing at T Brand (inclusive of Fake Love, our experience agency) and have the ability to continue to evolve to meet the needs of our clients’ businesses,” a spokesperson said.

Under NYT’s ownership, HelloSociety offerings have ranged from print ads to augmented reality experiences tapping “influencers” across Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. Some would update their followers about their experiences in branded posts—in one case study, Visa and Airbnb wanted to encourage travelers to use both brands while abroad. The campaign included 12 travel-focused influencers to encourage their followers to explore one of five pre-selected cities. The campaign ultimately included 46 custom Instagram posts, 15 Instagram stories and one NYT paid post.

Under NYT, HelloSociety attempted to scale by working with larger-named influencers and highly produced content, said Stephen Smyk, SVP of Podcast and Influencer Marketing at Veritone One, an audio and performance marketing agency.

“We see tremendous success with the type of influencer marketing they were built upon – avoiding celebrity salespeople and using real influencers,” Smyk said. “A ‘real’ influencer has an authentic voice and a direct connection on an individual level with their followers. These influencers aren’t perceived as paid shills, but are real people who use a company’s product or service because they like it, not because they are being paid, which is the basis of successful influencer marketing.”

Some brands still seem to be betting on influencer marketing. Estée Lauder, for example, is spending 75% of its marketing budget on digital marketing, particularly on social media influencers. However, more than half of consumers (54%) said they have not purchased a product based on a recommendation from social media, according to consumer intelligence research platform CivicScience. The same survey found that 22% said they had made a purchase based on such a recommendation, but 24% said they didn’t follow any influencers or celebrities at all.

“Media buyers that are looking to help brands create an effective strategy are starting to realize that all of the reach generated by macro-influencers doesn’t necessarily translate to measurable business gains,” said Kristin Johnson, Vice President of Content & Communications at Sprout Social, a social media management and analytics platform for businesses.

More brands are also making a point to develop relationships directly with influencers, instead of working with them on one-off campaigns, said Cara Scharf, president and founder of Fearless Media.

“It’s also not about the ‘biggest’ most popular influencer anymore. The marketing is becoming more nuanced and there are more authentic influencers that may reflect your brand values and ultimately drive better results. It’s more about finding the right audience,” Scharf said.

The New York Times also recently announced the shuttering of its Spanish-language platform, NYT en Español, but the two strategic decisions are not related, a Times spokesperson said.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.