There’s pretty much no part of the talent and entertainment industry that Pamela Zapata hasn’t conquered. Starting in casting and development at Ryan Seacrest Productions, Zapata climbed her way through E! Entertainment, StyleHaul, SweetyHigh, United Entertainment Group, and, finally, Star Power, before she broke out on her own last year to pursue an issue she felt plagued the world of influencers and talent: lack of diversity. 

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” she tells me over the phone, describing her decision to quit her full-time job. She ended up launching Society Eighteen, a management, PR, and consulting firm that works with multicultural and multiethnic content creators, partnering them with brands like Sephora, Google, Dove, and Hallmark. 

“A couple of [creators] who were on their own last year have been able to double, triple, even quadruple their revenue from previous years,” Zapata says, referring to her roster of 20-plus influencers and other talent. 

That roster includes prominent names like dancer Charlize Glass, Real Housewives Of Potomac’s Robyn Dixon, and beauty blogger Aysha Sow. We asked Zapata what kind of advice she gives her clients about negotiating, as well as how she helps her roster overcome racist barriers in the industry. 

How did you go from traditional management to such a niche industry—not just influencers, but multicultural and multiethnic content creators, in particular?

What I realized after 10 years of working in the industry was that there were a lot of influencers across the board that were just not negotiating, period. They would accept the first offer that came to them, just ‘cause they were really excited to work with the brand. I also realized that, for whatever reason, hiring diverse creators was a little bit more challenging. A lot of times they don't have representation, so they will just not be picked as often as talent that does have representation. Then even when you're working with agencies that would pitch diverse creators, there wasn't a lot of diversity within those diverse creators. I always look for diversity and not just [in different] races and ethnicities, but skin tone, hair types, hair textures, religion, body types. Diversity in every shape, way, and form. I realized that wasn't really being represented.

I started Society Eighteen just to really make sure that women of color, creators of color, were being valued and had a voice and were getting the opportunities that I thought they should be getting. I started with four or five clients that I had reached out to you like, “Hey, I'm starting my own company, I want to work on the other side.” And thankfully they all said yes. Fast forward to a year later, we have a roster of over 20 now across beauty, lifestyle, fashion. 

So what do you look for in a client? What are some qualities that those 20 creators share? 

A lot of influencers that we work with, 90 percent of them have been referral-based. We haven't even actually been actively reaching out to recruit new talent. But when we're vetting influencers for our roster, obviously reach is super important. I always ask for their insights so we have an idea of what their impression rate is and understand their audience demographics. Their Story views are also super important, any link clicks or conversion data they might have. From an outside perspective, without digging into their insights, we always look at their feed and look at their aesthetics, their content quality. What verticals are they dabbling into? What brands have they partnered with? What is their engagement rate on regular posts versus sponsored posts? Are their sponsorships effective?

“If you get to a point where they're meeting your rates every time, it's time to bring your rates up.”

Once you start working with these creators, do you see any consistent issues that are unique to multicultural and multiethnic influencers?

A lot of the content creators that I've worked with started in the natural hair care space. I think one struggle that I know that they've had issues with is rebranding—not just being seen as a haircare influencer, but being seen as a beauty or lifestyle influencer. Another thing that I see them struggle with is rates, negotiating them and making sure that they're getting what they deserve, but also figuring out where to price themselves. A lot of influencers don't know what to charge.

How do you tackle those things with them?

One thing that we really help with is helping them rebrand and being able to position them so that they're not just getting these haircare partnerships, but also people are considering them for lifestyle partnerships and beauty as it relates to skincare and makeup. I would say do your research. If you're at a place where you're growing quickly and you’re at anywhere between 20,000 to 50,000 followers, depending on your volume, maybe it's worth talking to an agency, especially if you're busy getting a lot of brand deals and you want to focus on the creative side.

I always think it's great to ask your friends and other influencers what they're charging. Use your network of other influencers to see, 'What is the market looking like?' Obviously, with holidays coming up, it's a good time to capitalize on that because a lot of brands have been making a huge push for holidays. If you're negotiating your rates and people are meeting them, maybe bump them up a little bit. Really understand what to charge for base rates and exclusivity and usages and all of these things you can literally upcharge.

Speaking of negotiating, do you have any advice when it comes to that process for creators to make sure they’re appropriately asserting their worth?

There's an Instagram channel called Influencer Pay Gap. Dig into those rabbit holes. Who's talking about rates candidly? What are people paying? Use social media as a tool to figure out what your value is. And also just use previous partnerships to base that off of. If you get to a point where they're meeting your rates every time, it's time to bring your rates up.

Always ask for the brand to provide a budget before you provide your rates. Then they can tell you where they want to stay within the budget. When you're negotiating, always make sure you say you can be flexible and that you're super excited to work with them because if it's over budget, they won't just write you off if they know that you're flexible and you're eager to work with them.

“There's still so much work to be done as it pertains to tokenism and making sure that you're not just hiring a couple Black and brown creators for your campaign.”

When creators are in the middle of that negotiation process, are there any warning signs they should look out for?

My biggest red flag where, like, literally all of my alarms go off, is when [brands] ask for usage in perpetuity. Whenever they want to use your content forever, I would say red flag. Always ask for flexibility in terms of usage. Unless it's a really, really good deal and it makes sense, I typically never give up usage in perpetuity, just because you don't want someone using your likeness forever—especially if they're monetizing it. 

You’ve been in this space for 10 years, so I’d love to hear how you think things have changed. Are influencers in a better spot than they were in 2010? What about when it comes to diversity? 

The influencer world in general, I think we've seen it completely shift. Back in the day, people were really excited about getting a celebrity to endorse their products. The last couple of years we've seen the same type of awareness and maybe a higher conversion with an influencer who we know is very particular with the brands she partners with and anything that you have her name on actually converts. 

With diversity, brands are doing better but I think there's still so much work to be done as it pertains to tokenism and making sure that you're not just hiring a couple Black and brown creators for your campaign, but you're really feeling like you integrate them into your strategy so you're not just marketing to one part of your audience, but you're really making sure that you're talking to everybody. I think making sure that you're not just hiring the same type of Black or brown creator, that you're hiring people with deeper skin tones, tighter hair textures or curls, people with all types of body shapes. Making sure that you're really being diverse in every way is super important. 

And then I think the conversation about pay equality just has to continue to happen because what even I realized only like a year and a half ago is that creatives of color were just coming down lower in rate. A lot of times on the brand side, that's great for the brand because they're like, “Okay, the cheaper the creator, the better.” Even though we can get a better deal, be fair because it's the right thing to do.

What’s one key piece of advice you’d leave us with for a multicultural or multiethnic content creator who is just getting started in this industry?

I would say hone in on your brand and really invest time into creating your content. I think quality of content and making sure that you're providing great content to your audience, that's the advice that I would give to any content creator. And if you really want to take it seriously, invest in a good camera, learn how to use the lens and the lighting, really spend time perfecting your craft. It really does show.