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Ireland’s influencer entrepreneurs: ‘I was getting up at half five, working alone. Now it’s a new world’

Ireland’s ‘juggernaut’ influencer sector has become ‘a hugely valuable industry’

In little over a decade, Ireland’s influencing sector has grown from fledgling to a “juggernaut”, as more and more people are carving out a career from curating an online persona, and a growing crop of Irish agencies are dedicated to matchmaking with brands.

“It is a hugely valuable industry,” says Lynn Hunter, founder of one of the country’s largest influencer talent reps, The Collaborations Agency. “Everybody is online now, everybody has a phone, it’s definitely where brands can see results. It’s a juggernaut, let’s put it that way.”

Since starting the agency seven years ago, as a separate entity to her PR firm Hunter Communications, she now has more than 125 influencers on her books, with half making a full time living from social media.

Some brands, she says, could spend up to 60 per cent of their total marketing budget on influencers, with the amount of work going into influencer campaigns rivalling that of producing a TV or radio ad.


“Some campaigns might take six months to get off the ground. Content is a lot of work in any sort of media, and there’s now full time teams working on social,” she says.

Business is so brisk that Hunter has just launched a new agency, Social Content HQ, to provide user-generated content (UGC) made by content creators for brands to use on their own social media pages.

“UGC is a massive for brands. It means that they own content, and it’s exactly where the market is going. If you look at TikTok, that’s what’s performing well,” she says.

Hannah-Louise Dunne, social strategy director with marketing communications group Core, says that while the Irish influencer market hasn’t matured like the US, its growth has picked up pace in recent years.

Last year Goldman Sachs estimated the global creator economy was worth $250 billion (€231 billion), and could roughly double in size to $480 billion by 2027.

Research by Core last year found that in Ireland, 54 per cent of adults under the age of 30 look to influencers as their first port of call for information about a new product or brand.

Dunne says client budgets for a campaign with an Irish influencer could vary from €2,000 up to €40,000 or even higher. She adds that the arrival of TikTok, the short-form video platform which now has around two million users in Ireland, has created more opportunities for brands.

“About a decade ago, influencers we worked with were primarily bloggers, or Instagram-focused, and very skilled at taking evocative imagery and presenting products in a beautifully packaged way,” she says.

“With TikTok, there’s been this demand on the consumer side for content to appear more relatable. We’ve seen the landscape evolve a lot over the past five years, where content creators are more diverse in their interests. There’s much more choice within the market now for brands to work with a content creator who aligns to their values or is really relevant to their audience,” she adds.

As the number of people employed in the sector grows, students in Carlow are due to begin the country’s first third-level degree in influencing later this year.

Irene McCormick is programme director of South East Technological University’s (SETU) new bachelor of arts in content creation and social media, and is eagerly waiting to gauge interest from CAO applications that closed on February 1st – having already had queries from as far away as Iran, Tanzania, and Russia.

A “digital hustle” summer school run by the university in 2021 and 2022 for secondary school students was 10 times oversubscribed, and McCormick says it “touched a lightning rod” in terms of the demand for a meatier course in content creating.

“We began to understand it as a new type of labour, that it was not as frivolous as people thought it was. It’s a legitimate way of making money, and a way of making money that has prospects,” she says, noting that she has spoken to Irish influencers in their early 20s already in a position to buy their first homes.

The range of topics covered in the course is vast, from hands-on training in photography, videography, writing, broadcasting and podcasting, to data analysis, marketing and entrepreneurship – reflecting the fact that influencing generally involves being a jack of all trades, or in this case of all platforms.

“People probably misinterpret how much works goes into it. One agent that spoke at our summer school said that influencers need to have at least eight strands to their income stream,” she says.

While the ability to keep a number of balls in the air might be a prerequisite to making a sustainable income as an influencer, having a multimillion follower count is not.

Claire Feely, deputy managing director of consumer lifestyle agency Elevate PR, says that in a small market like Ireland, “micro-influencers” can be just as important to her client brands.

“It’s very different to larger markets in the UK or across Europe. Narrow-casting is where you work with an influencer that has a much smaller reach, but their audience is really engaged. It’s more authentic content, because the content creators are going to work with you to develop the best content for their audience,” she says.

Feely says that 10 years ago Elevate PR was not doing any influencer marketing for clients. Now, it makes up about 50 per cent of the firm’s income, as it meticulously manages mailing lists of influencers to send different products, with the goal that at least half will like them enough to share them online.

There are no official figures for the size of the influencing sector in Ireland, and how much influencers can earn from social media varies wildly depending on follower counts, engagement, and the number of posts involved in a campaign.

However, Feely says that influencers might take on between two and four campaigns per month, with the price she’s seen companies pay for a campaign varying from roughly €2,000 to €15,000. She adds that influencers on the lower end of the scale might have in the region of 25,000 followers, while those at the upper end would have follower counts into the hundreds of thousands.

Lynn Hunter of The Collaborations Agency adds that a top influencer in the Irish and UK market with a couple of million followers could potentially earn €3,000 for a single Instagram story post (which disappears after 24 hours), or around €12,000 for a reel.

A survey by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) last year found that just one in 10 Irish consumers have trust in influencers’ posts, while 51 per cent say they are concerned by the lack of transparency in influencer marketing.

In October, the ASAI and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) jointly published the first guidelines for content creators marketing brands to their followers.

They outline how influencers should clearly tag content where they have benefited from mentioning a brand, including through monetary payment as well as being gifted products or experiences.

In November, the ASAI set up an anonymous online form for people to report social media influencers who may be breaching the new guidelines. Just over two months since then, the ASAI said it has received 1,089 informal complaints.

A spokesman for the ASAI says that a “transitioning period is appropriate for users to adapt to the new guidelines”, and that the ASAI has informally resolved complaints where appropriate, reminding those involved about the need for disclosure and transparency.

An unlikely influencer by his own definition, 29-year-old musician and comedian Garron Noone has in recent months left behind gigging in pubs and teaching music production, to focus full-time on his social media career.

“It’s a bit of a weird one, it’s definitely not the career path I thought I’d be on,” he says.

In just over a year, the Ballina native has gained more than a million followers across TikTok and Instagram, for his comedic reviews of everything from food to Irish towns.

About six months after he began posting regularly to TikTok, agents were contacting him about advertising campaigns and signing him as a client.

“That was the first time I realised that you can do this for a living. Until then I had no intention of dropping anything [playing in pubs or teaching]. I had thought I might just do the odd ad if I like a project to make an extra few quid, and sure isn’t that great,” he says.

Now working full time as a content creator, Noone says that when promoting brands to his followers, it is key to keep the content as authentic and entertaining as his regular posts.

“I have to actually like it, and I try my best to look into it to make sure I’m not the sponsor on something really unethical or something like that. Then the other concern obviously is whether or not I can make an entertaining video related to it,” he says.

Only 24, but already with seven years of content creating under her belt, Limerick influencer Chloe Koyce is part of a generation that always saw social media as a viable career option.

Almost 160,000 people follow Koyce on Instagram for her beauty and fashion content, and close to 100,000 more on TikTok, a following she’s been growing since she started her first make-up artistry page at the age of 17.

Let go from her job as a make-up artist with MAC in 2020 because of the pandemic, by 2021 Koyce was signed with agent ICON Management and registered as a self-employed influencer.

“Between 2021 and now, I can’t believe how much money you can actually make in this business – also how much hard work goes into it – but it is crazy. It’s not like your regular job,” she says.

Koyce says that the main chunk of her income comes from sponsored ads and collaborations, with the most coveted being longer-term partnerships, such as her six-month contract as ambassador for Turkish make-up brand Flormar.

“A month like December can be huge, and then January is like ‘oh god am I broke’ – you have to get retainers to make sure that you’re definitely getting a wage each month,” she says.

While Koyce says she is currently enjoying the influencer lifestyle, including being taken on “crazy brand trips” to everywhere from Madrid to New York, she is keen to use her platform to eventually start her own business.

“I 100 per cent want to put my full focus into a brand in the future, I don’t see myself sitting down creating ads as my main income,” she says.

Having decided against studying fashion at third level, Koyce said that, for her, building an online audience was an alternative career path.

“School was not for me, so I definitely knew college wasn’t for me. Fashion was always something that I wanted to do, but the points were so high. It’s good that I could take a different path,” she says.

While Koyce hopes to pivot from influencing to starting her own business, professional rugby player-turned-baker Jonny Murphy has found that using social media to promote a small baking business opened up a world of opportunities in the influencing space.

The 31-year-old from Co Down, who has played for Ulster, Rotherham Titans, Connacht and Ireland, was forced to retire from rugby about a year-and-a-half ago due to a concussion, and has since grown a community of 166,000 followers on Instagram under the alias The Hungry Hooker.

He started the page to share his love of baking instilled in him by his grandmother, Mamie Beckett. After retiring, Murphy was supplying his bakes to local cafes in Galway and, as he puts it, just posting on Instagram to “sell more buns”.

As his follower numbers snowballed in recent months, Murphy is now on the cusp of moving to influencing full time, working on an e-book of recipes with his granny, and having made his first sponsored post with Supervalu before Christmas.

“I was getting up at half five, and working by myself in the bakery until five in the evening. It was a lot of work for what I was getting out of it. Now with this influencer space, a new world has opened up. It’s exciting that it could be a full-time job,” he says.

“I’m getting recognised more now as The Hungry Hooker than I did when I was playing, and I sort of joke that it doesn’t say much for my rugby career,” he laughs.

There are parallels between professional sport and influencing, he says, not only in terms of having an agent to help progress your career, but also in the need for consistency.

“Obviously they’re not exactly the same, but it’s about discipline and showing up. Last January I said I was going to put up a video every day for a year and see where it goes, and I received nothing for that but the videos evolved and got better,” he says.

“It’s crazy what can happen, not even in a year but in a month. It’s quite exciting and daunting, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what can come of it.”