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A year on from its inception, News UK’s influencer agency The Fifth is officially expanding into talent management. It’s a move that comes not only in response to increased demand from creators to be on its books exclusively, but also follows editorial vacancies across News UK’s portfolio being filled with some help from the influencer outfit.

In the 12 months since it set up shop in News UK’s London HQ (right next to the publisher’s commercial team) The Fifth has found itself on the rosters of brands like Tag Heuer, Lucozade and TikTok. As well as offering talent management, strategy and creative production to brands, its managing director Oliver Lewis had identified an opportunity to let clients buy into the 'influencers' operating within News UK’s walls.

The investment – coupled with a focus on moving beyond “reach and frequency” – has paid off, with the team growing from eight to 23 since 2019.

Now, The Fifth Talent (which will operate independently of its parent agency) is launching with a small team of four who will identify and manage rising stars in the burgeoning space. With a focus on diversity and inclusion, the talent arm is debuting with a broad range of influencers on its books including LGBTIQ+ activist and illustrator Wednesday Holmes and Asma Elbadawi, who recently led a campaign for UK basketball rules to be changed to allow hijabs.

The management team will help signed talent navigate the complex commercial ecosystem by identifying the right brands with which they should build long-term strategic partnerships.  

Everyone signed by the business will have exclusive access to News UK’s in-house creative and production studios to support with editorial, podcast, radio, publishing and broadcasting opportunities, as part of the agency’s mission to elevate the “social talent of today into the mainstream talent of tomorrow”.

Deepening Lewis’ vision of a crossover between influencer and editorial talent, the new agency will also manage News UK’s content creators and journalists including Sunday Times Style Magazine’s deputy beauty editor, Fabulous Magazine’s fashion director and The Times’ Money Mentor.

For these journalists, it will create opportunities to partner with brands which it assures will be handled “independently” of the publisher’s titles.

Changing the role of the ‘storyteller’ 

“We’re working really closely with editorial as a talent business now,” Lewis tells The Drum.

“When we launched, News UK very much gave us a challenge and we always wanted to feed a funnel of new and emerging talent into our media titles.”

To “future-proof” News UK’s wide range of content, Lewis says both his own business and the publisher have been reconsidering the role of the “storyteller”.

“We’ve been thinking about how we can bring a new generation of artists, creative storytellers and journalists through – that perhaps come from non-traditional backgrounds but have huge influence and talent. This is a realisation of that vision.”

When The Fifth launched last year, Lewis detailed how News UK had carried out an “audit” to identify the most influential people on its payroll and scope out who clients might want to forge commercial relationships with on social media. Times food critic Giles Coren was among the first to be signed up to work with The Fifth on this basis.

News UK joined the likes of Condé Nast in experimenting with giving clients access to its editorial team. When Condé unveiled its own ad agency last year, it revealed how clients wanted to buy into not only its social media, but also the profiles of the individuals that worked for its magazines. However, The Sun owner is taking it one step further.

Lewis reveals how the agency has been working with managing editors across News UK titles to help recruit journalists who can also function as influencers in their own right.

This includes beauty Instagrammer Ava Welsing Kitcher, who has recently taken on the deputy editor role at Sunday Times Style magazine. When it comes to independent brand deals, she will be represented by The Fifth Talent.

Lewis says Lorraine Candy, The Sunday Times luxury content director and editor-in-chief of Style magazine, was quick off the mark in realising that fresh editorial talent can be found in unlikely places.

“So, we put together a talent search and scouting programme to identify someone that we felt would fit The Sunday Times business as well as ours, and found someone we wanted to champion. It was a great example of working collaboratively with editorial to bring in new talent that perhaps wouldn't have come through traditional routes.”

In a space often labelled the ‘wild west’ of marketing and dogged by claims of opacity, this correlation between editorial and influence raises obvious questions about the fine line between church and state, and whether this way of working prioritises editorial integrity.

Lewis insists that while the two are now connected, the lines between editorial and commercial won’t be blurred. Though The Fifth now has a hand in recruitment, it will ensure transparency around paid-for deals by only working with journalists on their social channels.

“We’ll be helping support Ava with brand deals and there’s been an understanding from day one about where she works for style versus what she does for brand partners,” he says.

What is certain is that he foresees more of this type of talent acquisition to come.

“I’ve had other editors come to me and ask who we’d recommend. It could be marketing, editorial but ultimately we can bring talent into the business in a number of different ways.

“We’re not running and managing the whole building yet, but we are identifying the talent we want to work with.”

The Fifth Talent will be headed up by Katie Wallwork, who joins the business as director of talent after two years of running her own talent management roster and personal brand consultancy. She will be joined by Chloë Downes, previously talent manager at Sixteenth; Adam Bowdery, previously talent manager at ASM Talent; and Olivia Francis, ex-publicist at Dundas Communications.