When Sara Koonar co-founded Platform Media in 2016, it was one of the first Canadian influencer marketing agencies on the scene.
Back then, influencers were more commonly known as bloggers and the whole industry was in its infancy.
“Recruiting influencers was so hard in the beginning,” said Koonar, who started the Toronto-based company when she was 29 years old. “Convincing people to take a chance on me was challenging.”
Today, Platform Media is known as Canada’s go-to agency for top-tier social media influencers. Its roster is a collective of strong, vibrant voices reflecting the country’s diverse, creative and empowered culture.
Behind the scenes is a robust team of women who have a pulse on industry trends and pair their clients with the right companies to make marketing magic.
Entrepreneurial roots: how it began
There’s no shortage of entrepreneurs in Koonar’s immediate family.
Being the youngest at the table, Koonar listened, absorbed the language and pushed ahead with her dreams.
“Everyone in my family thought that I’d be a journalist or an editor,” she said. “No one thought I’d start my own business. When something is so ingrained in you from such a young age, it just comes naturally. I found myself, in every job that I had, being interested in how the business operated, more so than the job I was there to do.”
While Koonar was working as a magazine editor, she had a manager who showed her the ropes. She learned how her salary was paid through advertising and even though it wasn’t her job, she followed the sales team to pitch meetings with advertisers.
It was there that Koonar noticed that advertisers were becoming curious about establishing partnerships with influencers, but didn’t completely understand how to navigate this new space.
First to market
Entrepreneurs know better than most that being first to market has its advantages, and Koonar, armed with innate business acumen, swiftly spotted an opening.
Every company needs a brilliant creative pro, and Koonar found that in Daniel Ocean, founder of Ocean & Co Collective.
He was Koonar’s idea guy and was monumental in building the brand, coming up with the company name and the design of Platform Media’s GoDaddy website.
“Daniel co-founded Platform Media with me, and was essential to starting this endeavour,” she said. “As the company developed, we realized that a lot of what we do is admin and contract negotiations. Daniel thrives on-set, in a creative environment. When a client needs content produced, he’s our guy. Our companies work together.”
One of the benefits of being first to market is having the opportunity to establish the framework for industry standards. Koonar noticed early on that companies didn’t know how to navigate the influencer landscape. At the same time, influencers didn’t really know how to tackle pricing.
“When I came into this industry, there was no standard pricing or standard contract,” she said. “Every brand did it differently. We built our own contracts and an algorithm for determining rates. So many people have adopted it that it’s now kind of the norm.”
A roster of top-tier influencers
Influencers like Matt and Omar make snackable content creation look easy. In the past year, their TikTok followers have swelled to over 900K. One might assume that they’re an overnight success, but the reality is quite different.
“People always ask, what investment do I need to make to become an influencer?” said Koonar. “It’s time.”
If you want to make a full-time income, you put in full-time hours like Matt and Omar.
People think influencers don’t work very hard, that it’s this glamorous life. It’s stressful and they have to be on, in front of people all day long. These days, everything they say, everything they do, is looked at with great detail.”
An eye for diversity pays off
Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world and Platform Media’s roster reflects the country’s multiculturalism. Recruiting diverse talent was easy because Koonar’s in-house team is diverse. When she looks at Platform Media’s roster, she wonders what slice of Canada is underrepresented and what voice can be included in the fold.
In the summer of 2020, following the death of George Floyd and the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement, brands became hyper aware of inequalities in their companies and marketing. Platform Media, with its inclusive roster, became the agency-of-choice for collaborations.
“It was difficult to see BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) creators get passed on campaigns for years before this finally happened,” she said. “I wanted to send an email to our brands to paint the picture.
Someone who is white gets booked four times more often than someone who is black and they have the exact same reach, the exact same type of content.
“I’m just so happy to see things change, because it was really heartbreaking for a long time.”
A platform for mentorship
Koonar has been using GoDaddy for website development for years – everything from:
- SSL certificates
- Domain registration
When the pandemic shifted from in-person events to virtual spaces, it impacted PlatForum, an educational workshop where Platform Media meets with clients to help them:
- Grow their audiences
- Monetize their content
- Get up-to-speed on social media trends such as snackable videos and shoppertainment
“We decided that we needed to make our workshops on-demand so that someone can visit our website and purchase our workshops instantaneously,” she said.
It’s super easy to use and it will help us expand our product offerings. We’re looking at media kit templates and image presets, assets that influencers need to be successful.”
Nothing but blue skies
As Platform Media continues to grow and adapt, finding more remarkable talent and adding underrepresented voices to its roster, it’s on course to do what it does best; helping its clients create their businesses and work with their dream brands.
“I just really want to make their dreams come true,” said Koonar. “That’s what we’ll always do. I fully believe in doing what you know, and this is what I know. We’re going to keep pivoting, expanding and being an educational resource leading the way for Canadian influencers.”