In 2017, shortly after the YouTube star Tana Mongeau, now 21, was arrested at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and charged with underage drinking, she sent her talent manager Jordan Worona a picture of her mug shot, requesting he turn it into a shirt for her to sell to her followers.
Worona told Business Insider that, at the time, he thought it was a bad idea.
"I thought that was a terrible idea, and I didn't want to promote that," Worona said. "She told me I could either do it with her, or she'd do it with someone else."
Worona eventually agreed, and he said the T-shirts earned $40,000 in two days.
"The audience was not only watching the drama but buying the drama, wanting to be a part of it," he said. "Other managers, and most representation, don't want controversy, bad press, or anything negative. That's made me different."
The business behind controversial content
Worona started his career in traditional entertainment as an assistant to a talent manager at Agency for the Performing Arts. He worked at the social-focused companies Fullscreen and Studio71 before he eventually decided in 2013 to build his own talent-management firm, We Are Verified, where he manages Mongeau, Trisha Paytas, Sarah Baska, and about 11 others.
"It was really obvious to me that some of the kids who were on the platform that were the loudest, attention seeking, those guys were the ones who were doing really well in numbers," Worona said. "I wanted the personalities, and the people who could be authentic and really original, and the people who enjoyed making their own content."
He said his day-to-day work starts with two things: how to grow his clients' revenue streams and how to help them grow a following.
"I try to simplify it as much as possible," he said. "I think a lot of this industry is about speed too."
Talent managers like Worona help their clients diversify their online brands and build lasting partnerships with companies through influencer marketing campaigns. They also often assist their clients in developing consumer products and merchandise, which has been popular among influencers in 2019.
Worona is known best for managing Mongeau, who has 5 million subscribers on YouTube and has built an empire off her authentic, and sometimes controversial, story-time videos.
This summer, Mongeau "married" the YouTube star Jake Paul in an event that led to traditional media coverage and people speculating whether the marriage was real or fake. Mongeau has continued to make headlines for extreme photo editing, her changing relationship status, and her general candor with her viewers, like this recent 17-minute-long lingerie-haul video in which she explains why she turned down a $2 million sponsorship.
Throughout her four years on YouTube, she's engaged millions of young teens who just can't seem to look away. But her antics can sometimes mean trouble for her brand.
"There's definitely times when it goes too far, and I'm usually really honest with my clients about that," Worona said.
'They are not necessarily Google Preferred, in terms of making advertisers happy'
Mongeau is a self-proclaimed "struggling demonetized influencer," which means she barely earns any revenue from her YouTube channel through ads.
On YouTube, creators who are a part of Google's Partner Program can earn money directly through ads placed by Google on their videos. But videos that contain swearing, copyrighted music, or generally controversial material can be flagged by YouTube and demonetized, earning hardly any money for the creator (or none at all). Google Preferred is the company's group of the top brand-friendly creators on YouTube, picked by Google, like Michelle Phan and "Good Mythical Morning," which are recommended to advertisers for their desirable ad-friendly content and demographic.
Despite their reach, Worona's clients often have trouble making money from Google-placed ads and its Preferred program.
"Some of them definitely have an issue with brand safety," Worona said of his clients. "They are not necessarily Google Preferred, in terms of making advertisers happy."
But that doesn't mean they don't work with brands.
Worona said his influencers work with brands on sponsorships in which they promote the brand on Instagram and YouTube through timed video mentions or in-feed posts. His clients, like Mongeau, have worked with brands like Fashion Nova, a brand that doesn't care if an influencer is controversial, he said.
His other clients, like Paytas (known as blndsundoll4mj online, with 4.9 million subscribers), earn revenue through books (Paytas has two books sold on Amazon), merchandise, affiliate marketing, and through products like monthly subscription services (Paytas has a "Glitter Bitch Box" that she sold over the summer).
Losing brand deals for the sake of authentic content
Still, controversial content can hurt the bottom line — but only in the short term, according to Worona.
"We definitely see a decrease in ad dollars from brand-safe companies, or companies looking for brand-safe influencers," Worona said. "But, I think, for what we lose in terms of brand safety, we make up for in terms of authenticity."
In general, Worona said he tries to stay out of the content, only occasionally stepping in to advise, or help with handling "the aftermath."
"I really try to stay out of the content game in terms of what they are trying to create, especially when it comes to drama," he said. "When there's a huge situation, and we want to talk about the best way to handle it, or if they actually did something wrong, I'm usually the guy who will tell them if they did something wrong, and if they need to apologize or how to handle it."
For more on the economics of an influencer career, according to YouTube and Instagram stars, check out these Business Insider Prime posts:
- A TikTok star with 880,000 followers explains the ways she earns money and how much she makes: The 22-year-old college student Salina, known as "Salinakilla" online, began uploading videos to TikTok about four months ago and now has 882,000 followers. She broke down how she earns money through the app.
- How much money a YouTube video with 1 million views makes, according to 4 creators: Business Insider spoke with four YouTube creators — Marina Mogilko, Kevin David, Austen Alexander, and Shelby Church — about how much each of them earned from videos with 1 million views.
- An Instagram influencer with 166,000 followers breaks down how much money she earns from a sponsored post: Katy Bellotte, a YouTube creator and Instagram influencer, broke down how much she earns per sponsored Instagram post.