TikTok links up with Horizon Media in first U.S. agency partnership

The arrangement is a nod to the platform’s growing importance to U.S. brands.

For social media platforms, signing a big agency partnership is a sign of growth and influence.

TikTok got that recognition from Horizon Media on Tuesday in a first of its kind partnership between the Chinese social media app and a U.S. agency.

The partnership will allow Horizon Media to get first looks at new ad products and to score incentives on TikTok media, as well as the opportunity to influence its ad product roadmap based on client needs.

TikTok will also offer “white glove” service and support for Horizon Media clients and in new business pitches, as well as expanded learning and development opportunities for Horizon employees. The partnership will be renewed annually.

“Since the pandemic [began], we've seen significant growth on TikTok from a reach standpoint,” said Michael Dobson, VP of social media strategy and buying at Horizon Media. “TikTok allows brands to connect in creative ways other platforms don't.”

Horizon has worked closely with TikTok this year, most notably through Blue Hour Studios, a joint venture between the media agency and Group Nine Media. Blue Hour was behind Little Caesars’ TikTok Super Bowl campaign, which extended the buzz of its in-game spot through the #BestThingSince challenge, driving more than 7 billion views on the platform.

“Horizon has really embraced the creative element and building first for TikTok,” said Sandie Hawkins, GM of U.S. global business solutions at TikTok and parent ByteDance, who joined to head up TikTok’s ad sales business from Adobe in July.

As Horizon’s work with TikTok increases, a formal partnership will allow the agency to take better advantage of the platform for clients. In addition to increased client support, TikTok will develop a learning agenda for Horizon’s employees across planning and buying, measurement and creative and influencer partnerships.

TikTok will help Horizon educate clients that dropping the polish and taking risks on the platform pays off, especially when working with influencers.

“Brands don't have to be perfect,” Hawkins said. “When you're authentic and real, the community sees the content as content, and not as advertising. We’re trying to help Horizon help brands build meaningful presences on TikTok.”

On the media front, Horizon will get access to bundled discounts across creator and media programs on TikTok as well as direct access to product leads building its self-serve ad platform. “We sliced and diced this agreement to be really incentivized for growing brands all the way to larger brands that are investing more on the platform,” Dobson said.

Horizon, the largest independent media agency in the world with over 2,400 employees managing over $8 billion in billings, anticipates more advertisers will increase their investment on TikTok, especially as the platform grows among older demos. Horizon eventually plans to develop vertical-specific best practices with TikTok to meet client needs on the platform, Dobson said.

“The relationship will only strengthen as more brands are interested in exploring the platform from an influencer and direct auction standpoint,” he said.

For TikTok, the Horizon partnership is a test case for how the platform seeks to develop agency relationships going forward. Despite ups and downs from a policy perspective in the U.S. this year, TikTok has grown its North American workforce to 1,500 people strong as it looks to grow its business with U.S. advertisers.

“Our goal is to have partnerships with all of the major agencies in the U.S.,” Hawkins said. ”This is a new strategy for us. Agencies are critical to the growth of our business.”

Still, TikTok’s future remains precarious in the U.S. After a proposed ban earlier this year, the Trump administration seemed to forget about the fast-approaching Nov. 12 deadline in the wake of the 2020 election, leading TikTok to file a petition last week to ask for a review of the administration’s actions, and prompting Trump to extend the ban by two weeks. 

It’s unclear how a Joe Biden presidency will change the government’s approach to TikTok and Chinese tech companies writ large, leaving uncertainty for TikTok’s U.S. operations.

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