In Age of Influencers, P. Allen Smith Faces Pay Cut

P. Allen Smith may have 350,000 Facebook followers, but has recently received only a $10,000 contract from the state.
P. Allen Smith may have 350,000 Facebook followers, but has recently received only a $10,000 contract from the state.

Instead of boosting his state pay for promoting Arkansas from $200,000 to $845,000 a year, gardening and lifestyle star P. Allen Smith appears likely to get 95% less than his previous contract provided — or perhaps nothing at all.

CJRW, the state’s tourism marketing firm, recently sent Smith a media influencer contract worth about $10,000 for a single project, state officials confirmed last week. That's a far cry from the $200,000 a year the public TV star and author had been getting and a pittance compared with what he sought.

Arkansas Parks, Heritage & Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst said last week that Smith had not responded to the offer, which is more in line with what the state pays other social media influencers. “Similar to our other influencer engagements,” Hurst told Arkansas Business, it is “reasonably priced, fairly specific, and measurable.”

Meanwhile, Arkansan Cyrene Quiamco, called a "Snapchat princess" by,” is pulling in big bucks — she confirms $500,000-plus a year — making art and promoting brands like Walmart and Disney via viral posts seen by her 100,000-plus followers. (See CyreneQ Commands Up to $75K Per Project.)

It was Smith, though, who made big headlines this year with his play for more pay. In the process, he spotlighted the exploding social media marketing industry. Quiamco, known online as CyreneQ, is just one Arkansas example.

Social influencers are rapidly seizing a bigger share of the advertising pie, an estimated $8 billion this year out of a total U.S. spend of $150 billion.

Growth of 40% a year is expected over the next five years as brands go for audiences tracking their favorite influencers on Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, according to ad executives. Fashion icons, foodies, makeup mavens, do-it-yourselfers, travelers and product testers lead the parade, they said.

Influencer marketing could top $15 billion in value by 2022, according to Business Insider, and 40% of Americans say they've purchased items online after seeing influencers with them on Instagram, YouTube and other social platforms.

Carving Out a Niche

Much of the national attention (and money) goes to stars like Kim Kardashian, but more modest and local influencers have carved out a niche.

Smith, who has 350,000 Facebook followers and 75,000 YouTube subscribers, is no small player. But Arkansas marketing pros like Bill Stanton of Acorn, the Influence Company, say influencer marketing runs the gamut from hobbyists getting free merchandise to professionals making millions a year from their feeds and channels.

Brands prize the ability to put their products and services in front of specific audiences, said Stanton, senior vice president for sales at the Fayetteville marketing agency. One big task for agencies, he said, is matching brands to influencers. “We ask which influencer is a good fit for the brand. They get the brand in front of their audiences with content that’s in their own identity and own voice, but within the guardrails of what’s acceptable to the client.”

Emily Reeves Dean, director of brand and social strategy at Cranford Co. in Little Rock, said influencers often lend authenticity to campaigns. “We use influencers to introduce products and services, demonstrate the product in action, reach audiences that are engaged with social media in a place they are already spending time, and to get honest reviews and feedback on products.” She said social media users generally react well to influencer marketing because it comes “from someone they are already engaging with,” someone “they are likely to trust.”

Acorn tracks the results and reports them to clients, Stanton said. “We show the brand what return they’re getting when they invest a marketing dollar. If they pay X amount in their marketing spend, we’re able to say, OK, you reached Y number of people in a certain time frame.”

Resistance to Smith’s Raise

That’s where P. Allen Smith hit resistance to his pay raise idea, and indeed doubts about the $200,000-a-year deal he already had. Hurst said the $10,000 offer, sent to Smith two weeks ago, had drawn no response as of last week. Smith, whose Moss Mountain Farm near Roland is an Arkansas gardening mecca, was offered a proposal that “centers on urban gardens and is modeled similarly to our other influencer contracts,” Hurst said.

Reached Wednesday morning, Smith, 59, said he had not seen the proposal and was in a business meeting, unable to talk. He did not call back Wednesday or Thursday.

He had appealed directly to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and several state lawmakers in his bid to up the contract earlier this year.

The power play fizzled after CJRW concluded that, “based on analytical data and metrics,” the money Smith was seeking “would not sufficiently benefit tourism in Arkansas.”

P. Allen Smith Garden Home was a media vendor partner with CJRW under the state’s $15 million-a-year tourism marketing contract for several years, but the firm said it had more efficient ways to reach potential Arkansas visitors. Smith, citing an analysis of social media posts through Social Bluebook, a tool that assigns value based on audience engagement, said he had “delivered $1.3 million in marketing value to Arkansas Parks & Tourism” between April 2018 and April 2019. The current offer from the state is tied to specific “deliverables that can be provided within a year, or earlier," Hurst said. The state is open to “other engagements with Mr. Smith” if the state sees them as good investments, she said.

She called Smith an ambassador for Arkansas, but said “analysis does not indicate an $800,000 vendor agreement” with him would pay off. The $200,000 Smith reaped last year represented nearly 3% of the state’s total $16.9 million tourism marketing “spend,” officials said.

Kirkpatrick Creative of Little Rock was a pioneer in the use of agriculture influencers in marketing farm implements for clients like RhinoAg. Wisconsin farmer Ryan Kuster, with more than 100,000 subscribers to his How Farms Work channel on YouTube, was a top performer, showing off tractors and tools that sponsors provide for tryouts. Manufacturers get clicks, and Kuster gets to use advanced new equipment constantly.

There’s no-one-size-fits-all influencer strategy, said Whitney Burgess, director of strategy and client services at TeamSI of Little Rock. The key, she says, is “researching the right influencers for the campaign,” often with a grassroots approach. “Someone may have under 3,000 social media followers but their followers are very engaged and are the right target audience.”

Joshua Ang Price, director of development at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Tech Foundation, is an influencer for fun and freebies, even though his Hybrid Gent account has 20,000 followers on Instagram. “I don’t make money off it, but I do get a lot of cool swag,” said Price, who models dandified — but tasteful — men’s wear. Expensive suits and custom shirts fill his closet, testifying to his philosophy that the business suit is the modern suit of honor. And to fit Price’s aesthetic, it needs to have a feather in the helmet.

“I love accessories,” he said. “And I can’t remember the last time I bought socks, a necktie or a pocket square.”

Joshua Ang Price is a social influencer by hobby, not getting paid but reaping free men's wear.
Joshua Ang Price is a social influencer by hobby, not getting paid but reaping free men's wear.

CyreneQ Commands Up to $75K Per Project; This Month She’s Doing 4

Cyrene Quiamco quit her job at Verizon for Snapchat stardom.
Cyrene Quiamco quit her job at Verizon for Snapchat stardom.

Arkansas’ best-paid social influencer is almost certainly former Verizon web producer Cyrene Quiamco, 30, who was written up by as a “Snapchat princess who earns up to $30,000 per gig as a brand endorser.”

Quiamco, who goes by CyreneQ on Snapchat and elsewhere, was at No. 85 on Vanity Fair’s 2016 New Establishment list, promoted as the magazine’s “annual ranking of Silicon Valley hotshots, Hollywood moguls, Wall Street titans and cultural icons.”

Born in the Philippines, Quiamco moved to Arkansas with her mother at 7. After discovering Snapchat in 2014, she chased her dream, quitting her 9-to-5 job in Little Rock to promote brands like Walmart and Disney and share viral art with her 100,000-plus followers.

Now her life is a global swirl of travel, celebrities, socializing and creating art for web, print and social media. When Arkansas Business reached her Wednesday, Quiamco was creating new content in Seoul, South Korea.

“I’m so proud I was one of the first few people who created an influencer career on a brand new platform,” she said. “Snapchat was just a picture messaging app when I started. Not many people knew its storytelling potential.” Brands and influencers there were few.

“It was through using the app outside its intentional use that I got attention,” Quiamco said. “I used it to not only take pictures, but quickly draw on top of them to create art. With that, I was one of the first people on the app to draw an audience and get brands’ attention and sponsorship.” One early success was drawing celebrities into her own selfies.

Social media is the way people today communicate, she said. “It’s where you connect with friends and family, and it’s where most people get their news,” she said. “Without it, does your brand even exist? ... So my job is to take my art, since art is often an icebreaker, something that can speak to millions of people, and help brands connect with their audience.”

And about those reports that she makes $500,000 or more a year?

“Nowadays I can make up to $75,000 per project, so yes!” she replied. “Right now, I’m working on four projects this month."