The power of positive influence

Gleam Future’s Managing Partner Melanie Kentish is on a mission to drive a new era of positive influencer marketing

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


Close your eyes and think of an ‘influencer’. The chances are the stereotype that first comes to mind is a world away from the reality of today’s vibrant creator economy. We may have moved far from the time when traditional media owners described influencers as ‘detestable freeloaders’ but nonetheless there remains a great deal of misconceptions surrounding the ‘influencer market’. 

For Melanie Kentish, who joined Gleam Futures, part of Dentsu Creative, in October last year, breaking down the barriers surrounding influencer marketing is at the very top of her agenda. 

“86% of influencers are female and influencers are breaking down a whole multi-billion industry,” she explains. Breaking down the stereotype that the influencer ecosystem is something of a ‘wild west’ for brands, Kentish underlines that it is in fact ‘one of the most regulated industries out there.’ She points to the fact that traditional journalists and consumer magazines would not have to disclose for a year that a product had been gifted in a print article, unlike influencers and creators. 

Sharing her experience of media execs scratching their heads at ‘kids in their bedrooms creating content’, Kentish’s authentic passion for her often misunderstood or misrepresented industry is clear. “Creators have become so much more than the stereotypes surrounding them. There is a real understanding and respect for their communities,” she explains. It is clear that this is not just an empty statement; Kentish believes that the creators Gleam works with aren’t following culture but actively creating it. 

This desire to do things differently is an ethos which is reflected in her own squiggly career. Having joined Dentsu from Sky, where she was Group Director of Influencers, Kentish not only has that much-coveted mix of brand marketing and agency experience, but she has also earned her experience as a founder. Her lifestyle and entertainment marketing business Flock + Flurry counted Johnson’s, Samsung and Sky amongst its client roster.

Creators have become so much more than the stereotypes surrounding them. There is a real understanding and respect for their communities.

Melanie Kentish, Managing Partner, Gleam Futures

The power of difference

Kentish is refreshingly honest about the bumps in the road that come with navigating a fulfilling and successful career in the wake of a global pandemic. “The pandemic impacted women in the workplace,” she shares, lifting the lid on her own challenges of combining work and motherhood. “Flexible working is so important, mums have led the way in multitasking and different ways of working,” she says. 

Yet the brutal reality remains both as a society and an industry we still have a long way to go in recognising, rewarding and elevating these skills. “Being underestimated is the biggest superpower,” explains Kentish. “I’ve been told so many times I didn’t have enough gravitas but it is about finding yourself the right environment and reaching your potential,” she continues. In short, you can be a brilliant leader, or wonderfully talented at your craft but if you are in the wrong environment you simply cannot flourish.

It is clear that Kentish is embracing the depth and breadth of her new role. “Having daughters I wanted to show them that anything is possible,” she shares. Notably that desire to forge ahead has not come without the ever-present judgement from others but her confidence in both her role and innovative working pattern is clear. 

“Of course, I was really nervous but I do two long days in the office and I really show my children that I am happy about my work,” she adds. Her rapport with her colleagues is clear, as is the fact that parent company Dentsu Creative is putting the structures and processes in place to ensure that diverse talent can thrive. 

Having daughters I wanted to show them that anything is possible.

Melanie Kentish, Managing Partner, Gleam Futures

Positive influence

Kentish’s positive mindset extends to her approach to how creators and brands can be a force for good. “Positive influence is about allowing audiences and communities to be properly represented. There is not just one model of influence and the lack of diverse creators in the industry is self-perpetuating. We have a really distinct role to play.”

To help realise this change Katie Ray, previously talent director at Gleam Futures, stepped up to the role of head of talent, with a remit to build greater diversity and inclusivity across Gleam’s roster. 

There is no denying that the impact of social media and our visual diets more broadly on consumers’ mental health is rising up the agenda. A fundamental shift is afoot as the generation who grew up alongside the narrative of ‘that great life you aren’t living’ on their social channels, becomes increasingly cognisant of the cost of a constant diet of ‘compare and despair’.

“The internet is increasingly being seen as a lot for our mental health,” says Kentish. Yet it isn’t black and white in the wake of a pandemic which forced physical disconnection. The power of digital connection is difficult to overestimate. Kentish points to the ways in which brands and consumers alike can connect with seemingly niche areas of interest on social media channels. From a commercial or community perspective that power of being seen and feeling less alone is significant.

Moving beyond the influencer stereotype

The tendency to see influencers in one dimension is holding the industry back. Not only are these creators multifaceted in their thinking and interests, but they have effortless impact across media platforms and traditional demographic segmentations.  

Kentish points to the example of Gemma Styles. Her podcast Good Influence with Gemma Styles was in the top 1% most shared globally. She has 3.8 million followers on Twitter and 9.2 million followers on Instagram. Yet there is so much more to say about this self-confessed ‘outfit repeater and meat-free eater’ than the numbers alone. As Kentish explains: “Gemma has used her platform to talk about mental health and sustainability in a really accessible way that is really helping people.”

Gleam is not simply amassing brand partnerships for Styles; there is a clear focus on the long term creative evolution. “Our job is to protect and grow our talent,” explains Kentish.  A focus that means that creating their own IP such as podcasts and books is vital. “This isn’t about achieving overnight fame, this is about real long term and sustainable careers.”

Notably from accounts such as broadcaster, author and content creator Suzi Grant’s Alternative Ageing to the original YouTube sensation Zoe Sugg who now has a family, the creator economy eschews the traditional age-based focus of traditional media. “Brands recognise that you can’t just chase one demographic anymore. What we are seeing is that more and more communities have so much influence over a wide range of demographics,” explains Kentish. 

There is not just one model of influence and the lack of diverse creators in the industry is self-perpetuating.

Melanie Kentish, Managing Partner, Gleam Futures

Cost of living creativity

Of course it is impossible to discuss influencer marketing without recognising the strain of the cost of living crisis on the average consumer. Kentish points to the rise of more economically conscious partnerships with brands such as Aldi and Primark investing heavily.

Notably, the creators themselves are acutely aware of appearing out of touch or out of reach from their communities. “They get immediate feedback through their comments and have an increasingly important role to play in driving conversation as there is more scepticism towards brands than ever,” explains Kentish.

Creators and brands alike are increasingly aware of backlash and the level of criticism that appears online is no secret. In line with this, some creators edit their channels with a growing financial sensitivity in mind and will choose, for example, to not show the car that they choose to drive. In the midst of a cost of living crisis brands and creators alike must walk a tightrope between aspiration and alienation. 

Doing things differently

For Kentish, it is clear that as an industry we are yet to realise the true potential of positive influence. As she explains: “The Gleam brand really helped create the influencer market and when I got approached by Dentsu it was the opportunity to really take it forward as pioneers that genuinely excited me.”

There are no January blues on the agenda for Kentish as she focuses on making that opportunity a reality. “The next era of positive influence will see brands contribute with ambassadors on a long term basis,” she says, sharing her belief that under-represented voices will come to the fore. 

“This is the next generation of the media’s best job in the world and it's amazing to tap into so many different media platforms. There is so much more to learn and so much more to grow.”

There is no denying Kentish’s enthusiasm and ambition for both Gleam and the broader industry. Her honest leadership style underlines the power of planting not just an idea, but the nuts and bolts practical reality of doing things differently. An approach which drives not just growth, but the kind of people-focused generosity that drives long term sustainable change. 

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