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Inside UTA's deal with TikTok star Charli D'Amelio and how the talent agency plans to expand her influencer business

Dixie and Charli D'Amelio Dixie and Charli D'Amelio
Dixie and Charli D'Amelio.
Bryant/UTA

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  • TikTok has become one of the hottest social platforms among Generation Z, and Hollywood's top talent agencies have recently shown great interest in signing its biggest stars.
  • Agencies can offer digital clients access to top brands, celebrities, and help in entering the world of traditional entertainment (like movies, music, and television). 
  • United Talent Agency recently signed Charli D'Amelio, who is perhaps the most recognizable TikTok star with more than 23 million followers.
  • We spoke to two execs at UTA, Kendall Ostrow and Greg Goodfried, about signing D'Amelio (along with her family), and what the agency looks for in a TikTok creator.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Hollywood's top talent agencies are at war over the entertainment industry's newest stars: TikTokkers.

Among TikTok's homegrown influencers, Charli D'Amelio is perhaps the most recognizable, with more than 23 million people following her on the wildly popular short-form video app – a number that continues to grow at a rapid pace.

In July 2019, the 15-year-old from Connecticut posted a dance video to TikTok. That video went viral, launching her on a path to stardom. Since then, she has become one of the most popular teens online known for her choreography and dance videos. These videos appear on TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance and has become one of the hottest social platforms among Generation Z.

As TikTok creators like D'Amelio have built massive followings, top talent agencies have taken notice. United Talent Agency and William Morris Endeavor – which each have departments dedicated to working with digital creators across platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and now TikTok – have recently shown great interest in signing the platform's biggest stars. 

UTA first signed TikTokker Brittany Tomlinson (known as "Kombucha Girl" online) in late 2019. In January, UTA signed D'Amelio, along with her sister Dixie and two parents. 

That same month, WME signed the 17-year-old TikTok star Chase Hudson (11.9 million followers) along with his creator collective, Hype House (a collab group and physical house in LA). It also signed TikTokker Addison Easterling (known as Addison Rae with 14 million followers) and her parents. 

But UTA was looking at TikTok well before it signed Tomlinson.

"TikTok has been on our radar for a very long time," said Kendall Ostrow, head of client strategy at UTA's IQ department. "I think we started to double down on it around spring, summer last year."

Beyond signing TikTok stars, UTA has sought to help its other clients — from music clients to traditional celebrities – leverage the new platform.

"There are memes that are taking off about traditional talent where the talent are becoming insanely culturally relevant," Ostrow said. "With songs from back catalogs all of the sudden coming up, where they've never had a Gen Z audience, or even a millennial audience, and all the sudden there's this massive attention around them." 

The skills UTA looks for in a TikTok creator, from longevity to cross-platform success

UTA represents creators across YouTube (like Rhett & Link, who have 16 million subscribers, and Shane Dawson, who has 23 million subscribers), Instagram, and other emerging platforms like TikTok.

It looks to sign creators who are making interesting and relevant content, and are building a fan base that is highly engaged and growing with them, said Greg Goodfried, cohead of UTA's digital talent department.

If a creator checks off those two factors, the company will meet with them and find out if they are going to put in the work. Goodfried also wants to know if a creator will be professional, will show up on time for the commitments that they sign up for, and if they are going to be able to sing, dance, or act.

"As agents, we're not necessarily looking for somebody who's a TikTokker, or even someone who is a YouTuber, or any one specific thing," Goodfried said. "We look at people who we think are incredibly talented."

Why is this important? 

Cross-platform reach will help a creator sustain a long-lasting career and build out their revenue streams across major platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and in podcasting. UTA wants to know if the creator can transcend a single platform.

For instance, D'Amelio is known for her dance videos on TikTok, but she's proven to be successful across any platform she's active on.

"Instagram was an amazing indicator of that," Goodfried said. On Instagram, D'Amelio has amassed 6.2 million followers. Her engagement rates are "astronomical," according to Ostrow, and on average, she receives about one million likes per photo.

D'Amelio launched her YouTube channel in November and it already has over 800,000 subscribers with just one video. In general, Goodfried said YouTube has proven to be an important platform, and he wants to know if TikTok creators can engage an audience with 10-plus-minute videos as opposed to the short ones on TikTok.

D'Amelio Family
The D'Amelio Family
Bryant/UTA

So why do creators like D'Amelio want to sign with talent agencies?

UTA can offer its digital clients access to top brands, celebrities, and it helps them enter into the world of traditional entertainment (like movies, music, and television).

The company works with digital creators to help grow and expand their businesses in publishing, releasing consumer products, and in high-profile brand endorsement deals between clients and brands including Nike, Universal, Amazon, and Samsung. Agents earn revenue by receiving a cut of the influencer's earnings, which typically ranges from 10% to 20%, depending on how much the agent does for the client, according to industry insiders.

For someone like Tomlinson, UTA can work to expand her career in comedy by introducing her to producers, casting directors, and writers, Goodfried said. 

"Charli is just so popular right now in mainstream culture, so making sure she's at all of the right events," Goodfried said of D'Amelio. "There's tons of brands that she loves, so making sure she's connected to those brands and getting those opportunities."

Expanding the career of a digital creator depends on what they want and their skills, Goodfried said. 

D'Amelio, for example, is a dancer, and Goodfried said she could plan a tour — similar to the 16-year-old YouTube personality JoJo Siwa, who has gone on multiple live concert tours with Nickelodeon – or she could expand her business through YouTube, brand campaigns, acting, or with a podcast. 

So far, UTA has already checked off one of Charli's career goals: dancing alongside her idol Jennifer Lopez. Before the Super Bowl, Charli got to meet Lopez and dance beside her for a "Super Bowl Challenge" video Lopez posted on her TikTok account.

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