MICHAEL HELLER — ECLECTIC BRAINS MAGAZINE / COVER ISSUE 10, DECEMBER 2022
Entrepreneur, Talent Resources Holdings
Hey Michael, Tell us about your starting point with your degree. What did you study, and why did you choose entertainment law as a career?
I went to law school because, prior to college and while in school, I spent a lot of time promoting events and became very involved with celebrities. I felt like, with this degree, I would continue to be able to use my established relationships with these celebrities.
What did “vision” mean back then? Is it something you expected when you look back on how far you’ve come? How do you define your success?
I stuck with my vision of knowing that celebrities of all kinds, from A-list stars to reality stars to athletes, would always move the needle. With my law background, I knew that there wasn’t really anyone or anywhere for brands to rely on to understand authentically why someone was or wasn’t a good fit to partner with. My vision was to help bring the right people for each different opportunity to the brands rather than just suggesting the talent that I repped. I understood that knowing what different celebs’ mindset were in terms of what they were looking for would take me a long way, as the deals would seem more natural rather than the fit between the brand and talent being unbelievable and seeming like someone was just accepting a deal for the money.
What led you to create Talent Resources Holdings in 2007, and how did you come up with the idea of managing influencers as well? And why did you think that starting a talent agency would be successful too?
So I didn’t start a talent agency; I created an agency that bridged the gap between brands and talent. As I mentioned earlier, I understood that there was a blue space to jump into by being in the weeds and acting as the middleman in these deals. With my previous knowledge of being a talent lawyer and talent manager, I had been working on these contracts. My objective was to be fair on both ends, both financially and legally. Additionally, I had a good understanding of what would move the needle for talent, both from a product and pricing point of view.
How do you think a talent agency compares to other industries, such as the film and celebrity industries?
What we do in today’s environment is a big stream of income for the talent, for little work comparatively.
How does Talent Resources Holdings work for its clients? What is the company’s competitive advantage in the industry?
Because we have been around for so long and have such a diverse collective of people working at the company, in our different divisions (communications, talent procurement, influencer procurement) I feel that it allows us to best understand pricing, what we can get out of the talent, who is going to be the best talent for the opp as well as why. Then with being around for so long we have built such a strong reputation with our network of agents/reps that trust us because we are always bringing money to the table and working in their clients’ best interests.
What are the most important qualities of a great digital marketing agency?
- Constantly being updated on all the platforms.
- Understanding trends/moment marketing, focusing on charged moments.
- Having a full strategy – not just from one influencer/talent but understanding that putting paid spend behind posts and opportunities to help them grow is important.
While an agency is always responsible for the talent, do you think that the talent is also responsible for the agency? If yes, how?
I think that there is and always should be a mutual respect for each other when working in a professional way. Both sides should feel free and comfortable to give their own opinion, but they also need to trust each other in order to work together.
What are your thoughts on influencers as brand ambassadors?
We are in a very exciting time because with all the data we have on influencers’ platforms, it is important to use this as a tool to help identify and target the brand’s specific target market in order to best align. Now more than ever before, people look at social media as a way to be influenced to buy or look into new products. Brand ambassadors are important, but it is more important to key in on who the ambassadors are and why they make sense for your target audience rather than just going after the biggest “name” possible.
Do you think that Instagram or any other social media account has shrunk its reach for businesses to use advertisements, which sort of affects businesses from both ends, for influencers, celebrities, and brands?
Yes which makes it harder than ever before but for that reason, the budget behind is even more important for paid in order to get even more exposure.
How do you view marketing? What makes you so passionate about it?
I love getting behind disruptive products and having the ability and power to put interesting messages behind them. After almost two decades of gaining brands’ trust, they are now letting me pick what I think is authentic and what will work while allowing me to be a thought leader and explore all platforms and ideas to figure out what is best in each individual situation.
What are the few principles that you swear by when dealing with clients? Sometimes, you don’t want to conflict with the stardom of a celebrity. What do you do in such situations?
There are a lot of options now if a celebrity is going to cause a conflict based on what is black and white in a contract. There is no issue or hesitation in pulling the deal and telling the brand to move on. Brands have way more options and control than ever before, and if they are not happy, they can move on. We feel that we’ve been at this long enough that we are better off moving on than forcing someone to do something that isn’t going to be mutually beneficial to both sides.
What factors does a brand consider when deciding whether to work with an influencer? Is it the number of followers on social media alone, the number of likes, engagement, or the total number of followers? Sometimes, social media is biased toward food, fashion, and entertainment. How do you decide, and what factors do you consider as a talent agency while building a bridge between talent and a brand?
The most important is to make sure that there is an affinity for the category from the celebrity or influencer to make sure that the talent’s social media audience and brand target audience align. This includes looking at all the relevant data points for that deal. So if the brand is based and only sold in the UK, it doesn’t make sense to have a US celebrity promoting it just because they are a big name. You want to have someone who is based in the UK, with a primarily UK-based following/ audience, as that is going to be the most natural fit and get them in front of the majority of people who are going to be your customer base. The same goes for if it is a men’s clothing brand, engaging with someone who has 75% female followers might not make the most sense in that situation.
Most start-ups or well-established brands go with affiliate partnerships or pay upfront. What do you think is a fair share of collaboration for both brands and influencers? Is it pay per post, custom packages, or pay by commission? What’s your take on it?
We focus on paid deals or collaborations, so I don’t have a take on this as it is not part of Talent Resources’ business.
While running agencies and managing talent is more about handling people on a large scale, with constant show-ups, management, and decision-making all the time, How do you manage to prioritize your work, individuality, and family?
I always make sure that I have the weekends for my family as well as at least 2 nights a week for dinners and family time. The rest of the time is all about work, I am currently living in the UK, so some days it is necessary to be working late into the night to accommodate the time difference with the west coast, but I make sure that there is a balance in order to keep everyone happy. This includes going to the gym 4 or 5 days a week as well as cooking as a form of relaxation to reset my mind and think about things other than work.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
It doesn’t feel like work. I know that this is a cliche answer, but every day is a new challenge to make something great happen. And because every day is something different, it doesn’t feel repetitive or work-like.
One celebrity with whom you would like to collaborate :
- Rihanna—she’s always so true to herself and authentic because she doesn’t touch many things in a collaborative or promotional way, and you know that when she does, she feels strongly about the brand and the product.
One celebrity you really admire and have already worked with
- Kevin Hart
Your favorite quote.
- There is nothing permanent about change.
- Build it, and they will come.
ABOUT MICHAEL HELLER
Owner and Founder of Talent Resources Holdings, Michael Heller started his career in entertainment law, where he oversaw and negotiated many opportunities for brands to garner celebrity support as he managed many celebrities’ careers from a commercial brand perspective, which at the onset included but wasn’t limited to Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Mischa Barton, & Rachel Hunter. Michael has established deep and strong connections within the entertainment, brand, and celebrity spaces for years. In 2007 quickly realized that there weren’t many active facilitators bridging the gap between brands and talent, thus founding Talent Resources. Michael has led the creation of some of the biggest national events and campaigns since founding Talent Resources.
TR has stood the test of time, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, by managing to evolve with the ever-changing trends in social media, pop culture, and technology.
Talent Resources has recently facilitated partnerships with brands like Got Milk, Dunkin’, Elta MD, Neiman Marcus, The Children’s Place and their new sub-brand PJ Place and Gymboree featuring renowned talent including Kevin Hart, Mandy Moore, Kris Jenner, Khloe Kardashian, and more.
From working with A-listers like Kylie Jenner, to Pro-Athletes like Kyle Kuzma and Steph Curry, Michael has a passion for connecting brands with the right talent for high-impact marketing campaigns that yield significant results.
Over recent years, Michael has continued to grow the Talent Resources presence by opening offices in London, Dubai, and Chicago, while expanding in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.