Marco Bertozzi, the former Publicis Media executive and head of European ad sales at Spotify, has joined influencer marketing agency Whalar, Mediatel News can reveal.
Bertozzi has been appointed president of EMEA for Whalar, reporting to CEO Rob Horler, and will take up the role on 25 October.
After leaving Spotify in January, Bertozzi launched his own consultancy and one of his clients, Whalar, has now decided to retain him in a full-time role running its commercial operation in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
He told Mediatel News: “While I was consulting I realised I was always like, ‘just let me in there and do this stuff!’ Rather than just give advice, I just wanted to climb in and get going. My instincts are always to be in the thick of it.”
Chasing high growth
Whalar, which describes itself as a “dating service” because the site’s algorithm helps brands find creators for collaboration, has been chaired by Sir John Hegarty since 2017 and its board includes R/GA founder Bob Greenberg. Whalar has been backed by Hegarty’s incubator The Garage Soho and was a beneficiary of the R/GA Ventures programme in 2017.
After launching Publicis Groupe’s programmatic trading desk for VivaKi (now Publicis Media Exchange) in 2010 and, before that, Zenith Interactive Solutions, Bertozzi says he has “always gravitated to new things” – specifically high-growth businesses because he is allergic to “managing decline”.
“If you’ve grown up with growth from almost the start of your career, you don’t have this negative reaction having to constantly hit big growth targets, that’s where your expectations sit,” he explains.
Bertozzi will take on duties handled by Emma Harman, who has moved to chief client officer as the business expands. It is understood the business is on forecast to grow by 300% this year, although the company has not disclosed revenue figures.
Whalar, which was founded by James Street and Neil Waller in 2016, is on a hiring spree this year. Waller announced on LinkedIn last month that the company had 85 open roles, having already recruited more than 80 people this year in the US and EMEA.
Bigger advertiser deals
Bertozzi’s first focus in the role is to assess the needs of the sales team and to ensure the business is geared up to handle much bigger advertiser deals.
“We need to not just go from one piece of work to the next – how do we go to that next level of a proper partnership, so that we can lean in and do our best work and you can realise the benefits of it. So, I’ll be working on the team around who are going to be our clients, what sort of clients should we be going for, how we how we bring the best of Whalar together, to put that into action.”
“It’s fine, when you’re asking advertisers for 30 grand, you can deliver a certain level of service. But if you’re asking them for multi-million budgets, you’ve got to be able to deliver on that in terms of your service and your strategy.
“If you’re going to realise [the founder’s] ambitions, you do need to start to put structure around it, you need to have a focus about how the teams are operating, and how they’re thinking about the marketing industry, how they’re going to market and what they’re saying and presenting.”
The company is one of only three influencer marketing agencies, along with Captiv8 and Influential, that TikTok has allowed to tap into its new creator marketplace API. This allows brands to pay influencers directly through the platform (as well as use measurement tools), while the influencers can tap into an achieve of first-party data and find new work.
At the heart of the business is the Whalar platform, which “makes everything sing,” Bertozzi added. While there are opportunities for brands to work with big names with large Instagram or Twitter followings, Whalar has also pushed advertisers to work with so-called “micro-influencers” who have much smaller followings but are extremely engaging among niche fanbases.
“If a brand really wants to take a message to market in that space, then they’re going to want to work with these people that are very authentic, very genuine and will be able to deliver a real match in terms of what they’re looking for,” Bertozzi said.
‘They’ll know exactly where they stand’
The majority of Whalar’s business is selling directly to advertisers. Bertozzi insists the company is open to working with ad agencies but recognises many of them are creating their own in-house influencer divisions.
Whalar also operates a separate talent management division that is focused on content creation. It has recently launched creator houses, such as the Los Angeles-based Crib Around the Corner, for influencers to collaborate on content creation.
During his tenure at Spotify, Bertozzi expanded the music streaming giant’s operations, after the audio platform had previously made short-lived leadership appointments in the UK.
Bertozzi had previously spent two decades in agency roles at Publicis Media’s Zenith, Starcom and Performics, in the UK and globally.
He describes himself as a frank but fair leader who prioritises empathy and support for colleagues, but insists “they’ll know exactly where they stand at all times”.
“Our obligation is to our clients to do the best job we can, and I just expect them to treat people with respect and speak in a straightforward fashion, I don’t care who they are.
“I run my teams like that. I’m clear with people if things haven’t been going the way they should be going. I started using the term ‘speed back’ [two-minute feedback] ironically recently but it’s sort of caught on. I never let anything build up – everyone I works with will know exactly where I stand at all times.”