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How to make your dog Instagram-famous, according to a manager for “pet influencers”

A manager for famous animals explains the big business of pets on social media.


The dogs of the Instagram account @HarlowAndSage work with pet influencer manager Loni Edwards.
 Harlow and Sage via Facebook

Pet ownership comes with many perks. There’s the unconditional love, the furry cuddles, the companionship.

In 2018, it can also come with an added advantage that used to be relegated to dog show folk and whose ubiquitousness is surely a sign of our times: making a nice income from them. The catch, of course, is that the pet has to be famous. Instagram-famous.

Today, there are tons of pets who’ve gained enough of a following on social media to earn the coveted title “pet influencer,” and they can command tens of thousands of dollars creating content for brands. And it’s not just pet food companies and vacuum makers; fashion brands like Ralph Lauren and upscale hotel chains have written checks for four-legged talent to appear in their marketing too.

As the pet influencers field has gotten crowded, a cottage industry has sprung up to help pets — or their owners, at least — manage their newfound marketability. Loni Edwards is one such entrepreneur: For the past three years, she’s been running her talent management firm, the Dog Agency, working with “the most influential animals in the world.”

Edwards — whose dog, known on Instagram as Chloe the Mini Frenchie, amassed so many followers that her death last year made local news — knows that striking the jackpot in the pet influencer space isn’t as simple as just creating an Instagram account for your photogenic Labradoodle. I sat down with her over breakfast to talk about the business of being a pet influencer and how she avoids clients who treat their pets unethically. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Chavie Lieber

First and foremost, how on earth did you get into this type of business?

Loni Edwards

I used to work as a lawyer and was pretty unhappy. I quit my job and started a handbag company [with bags] that had phone-charging capabilities. Being an entrepreneur is pretty lonely, and so about five years ago, I got a dog to keep me company, Chloe. She was the cutest thing I’d ever seen, and I decided to start her own account so that I wouldn’t bombard people with photos of her five times a day.

She quickly amassed this large following. Within six months, she had thousands of followers. People really liked her personality because I dressed her up and had her sitting next to me in business meetings. She was always smiling and was a sweet, adorable ball of love, and her personality translated through the photos and by the way I wrote the copy.

Pretty soon, pet brands like PetSmart and Purina were reaching out to send us stuff and invite us to parties. I started meeting other pet owners, and realized there’s this new and growing pet influencer world. Every time I meet someone behind a celebrity pet and they’d hear I was a lawyer, they’d ask me for help on the contracts, to read over the terms and agreements they had to sign from brands. It seemed like this was a perfect way to match my legal background and obsession with pets.

Crusoe the Celebrity Dachshund, with his 2.9 million followers on Facebook, has book deals and a line of calendars.

Chavie Lieber

What are your daily tasks as a celebrity pet manager?

Loni Edwards

I help grow a brand, whether it’s deciding if they should write a book or branching out in terms of content. I also connect them to the right companies and people. A lot of it is acting on behalf of owners. Brands used to DM pet owners, who have full-time jobs and couldn’t coordinate details. Some couldn’t negotiate rates or read a contract. It was a mess. Now I have relationships with both clients and the brands, so I have a standard of how to run things, and I take commission.

Chavie Lieber

Do you help pets become famous?

Loni Edwards

No. We’re super selective as to who we assign as a client, so they have to have a large following, they have to have really good engagement, and they have to have good-quality content. We take an influencer that has already proven themselves.

Chavie Lieber

Can any pet become famous? Like, can a basic golden retriever really become a star?

Loni Edwards

The way pets become famous is all different, but what they have in common is that they stand apart to develop a following. So either they’re very unique-looking or the copy is super witty — as long as there’s something, whether it’s that they are insanely cute or really not cute, that make people go, “Oh, my god,” and tag their friends.

Chavie Lieber

Can you give me some example of these pet personalities?

Loni Edwards

Ella Bean is basically a fashion blogger in dog form. The fashion community loves her. Popeye the Foodie is LA’s hottest foodie, who takes photos in front of amazing dishes. Food bloggers love him. Harlow and Sage, who are these dogs that just cuddle all the time. Wolfgang, who is a guy that takes in all these senior pets and is the sweetest guy to follow. We just signed this cat, Bruno, who went viral because he is fat. Like, really fat.

Chavie Lieber

Do you work with other animals other than cats and dogs?

Loni Edwards

Yes, we work with pigsmonkeyshedgehogs.

Chavie Lieber

What are some unique challenges you think people in the pet influencer space face?

Loni Edwards

Pets can’t work as many hours as a human. They need breaks, they get tired, and so we have to explain that to brands all the time. “No, the dog can’t do a five-hour meet-and-greet!” Sometimes, it also takes longer to create content because you can’t communicate with the dog to tilt their head this way. They’re not as human as we think.

Chavie Lieber

What was it like to get brands on board?

Loni Edwards

Human-facing brands totally didn’t get it. When I started the agency, my first big focus was meeting with brands and convincing them that working with pet influencers made sense. I got a lot of looks. But Chloe would come to all the meetings, and so she helped sell the idea. They would look at her and see and feel a connection.

The first brand I worked with was Dyson [which makes vacuums]. I had to convince them, but it totally made sense for me because dogs shed, and we clean up after them. I had similar pitches when I went to the Body Shop and Urban Decay. These are brands that don’t test on animals, so why wouldn’t they work with pets?

Same with Ritz-Carlton, since they are pet-friendly — of course they should want pet influencers staying at their hotels in Aruba and Puerto Rico, showing followers that it’s a pet-friendly hotel chain. Now we work with brands like Sony, Coke, Ralph Lauren, Barneys, Moda Operandi, Neiman Marcus.

Chavie Lieber

What are the prices for a pet to land in a brand campaign?

Loni Edwards

The price varies and is usually tied to your follower number, where a scale of, say, 100,000 followers will get you a few hundred dollars and up. I have clients who have a few million followers and are getting $15,000 per post. There are a few variables to factor in, like if they’re creating video, because that’s a higher cost. People also make money off book deals and merch.

Chavie Lieber

Does the price vary when clients are posting on Instagram versus Instagram story?

Loni Edwards

Yes, story posts are less money than in-feed posts. So someone with 1 million followers would get a couple thousand dollars for a story post, instead of their usual $15,000 post. We are mainly creating content on Instagram, with a little Facebook and YouTube.

Chavie Lieber

I don’t understand why pets commend such a price, no offense. Why are they this valuable?

Loni Edwards

People like to look at pets on social media. Pets raise endorphins and make people feel happy. They are adorable to look at and are easier to connect with than human influencers. There’s no barrier like jealousy. You can gush, “Oh, my god, you’re the cutest little terrier,” in a comment without feeling weird.

As a society, we’ve evolved so that we now think of our pets as our children. They’re such an important part of our lives, and that also has helped this become such a huge and important space. Human-facing brands want to work with pet influencers because they want to show that they align on the values of their consumer, and their consumer loves pets.

The owners of the Dog Agency client Maya the Dox now have their own line of pet accessories.

Chavie Lieber

Do you find that people are buying animals specifically to make money off them on Instagram?

Loni Edwards

I do get a lot of requests from people who ask me to help get their pet famous. I get inquiries about what type of dogs people should buy, based on what is most likely to become an influencer and make money. They want to know, “[If] I get a dog that’s missing an eye, will they become an influencer?”

Chavie Lieber

How do you make sure you aren’t working with an owner that’s abusing their pet for fame? Like Toddlers and Tiaras but, you know, fur and fortune?

Loni Edwards

It’s definitely become a thing. Since pet influencers have become more common, people are actively trying to make it happen for them, and all they care about is capitalizing on their pet. We do not work with those people.

Chavie Lieber

But how can you tell?

Loni Edwards

Oh, it is so easy to tell. You can tell when someone is hugging and kissing their pet, and asking to take breaks so they can give their animal a drink or something to eat or a chance to run around. The pet looks happy. It’s very different from the people that are yelling at their pet, “Sit! Stay! We’re getting a shot!” You can tell when all they care about is getting the photos so they can get paid. I can also tell by the way people write an email if they are in it for the right reasons.

Chavie Lieber

So what are the right reasons to you?

Loni Edwards

The right reasons are loving their pet. Being able to spend more time with them, being able to work with awesome brands that they love, and getting a middle or main income doing it. The pets enjoy this too, you know. Some pets love dressing up; others love meeting people.

Ella Bean in a campaign with Ritz-Carlton.

Chavie Lieber

Do you think it’s wrong to want to make money off your pet?

Loni Edwards

It’s not wrong if you want to make money; it’s wrong to be in it if you pet doesn’t want to do it and you’re forcing them. Some dogs just want to be dogs. And at the end of the day, it has to be a good experience for the pet too. It can’t be about being forced to act and perform so you can buy more clothes.

Chavie Lieber

What’s some advice you would give to someone who has a pet with a following and wants to monetize?

Loni Edwards

You want to be consistent and find the one thing that stands out about them, whether it’s if the dog is really funny or you are really funny but the dog is cute. Anyone can take photos and put them on the internet; it takes effort to develop a strong brand and to consistently engage with people and be the front of that community. A consistent brand voice is the most important.

Chavie Lieber

What are some ways you’ve evolved your business?

Loni Edwards

This year, for the second time, we’re running an event, PetCon. It’s on Saturday and Sunday, November 17 and 18,at the Javits Center [in New York City]. It’s a big pet event. There will be meet-and-greets with celebrity pets, brand shops, a dog adoption garden, an adoptable cat café, and a keynote with the Animal Legal Defense Fund on the laws status on pets as property and the associated consequences.

Super Corgi Jojo has landed ad deals with mattress brands.

Chavie Lieber

Who are the type of people who go to this event?

Loni Edwards

All different types! We’re expecting 10,000 guests! It’s for pet lovers and pet owners. And it’s also for aspiring pet influencers who want to network.

Chavie Lieber

Do you think the pet influencer space is too crowded now? I remember how novel Grumpy Cat was. Now I feel like there are a hundred Grumpy Cats.

Loni Edwards

I think there’s still plenty of room in the space. There will always be people who want to look at cute pets.

Source Credit: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/6/18066056/dog-instagram-famous-pet-influencers