It’s almost noon, and Loni Edwards’s client is drooling on the carpet in the lobby.
Chase, an 8-year-old pitbull mix, is large and stout, with a smooth, gray coat that makes him look more like a seal than a dog. He plops onto the carpet with a hmph, and glances slowly around the room. He’s quiet and laid back, with a disposition that makes his giant frame seem more dopey than intimidating. His tongue lolls out of his mouth, forming a sweet grin under his big, yellow-brown puppy dog eyes.
This dog’s a star. Or, at least, that’s what Edwards is betting on.
Edwards is the founder and CEO of The Dog Agency, a New York City-based management agency that caters exclusively to “pet influencers.” The popularity of pet accounts on social media has exploded in the last few years–particularly on Instagram, where #dogsofinstagram has more than 124 million posts and the most popular dog account, Jiff the Pomeranian, has more than twice as many followers as Hillary Clinton. Edwards’s 160 clients also include a few cats and monkeys, though her primary focus is still canines. She advises their “humans” on growth strategies and brand management, and books for paid posts, ad campaigns, and in-person appearances around the country.
“We help them think about how to grow their brands,” Edwards says from the midtown Manhattan WeWork she’s based out of. “We help them think about what makes sense for them to do next, whether it’s getting a book deal or starting a merchandise line.”
Edwards’s entry into the pet influencer world began in 2013, when she got a French bulldog named Chloe. At the time, the Harvard Law-graduate was running a fashion technology business in New York City, and got a dog to keep her company as she managed a hectic schedule. When she started posting Chloe’s photos on Instagram, she amassed tens of thousands of followers–and with them, offers to begin posting paid content.
“Chloe was getting all of these opportunities to work with brands, and I was meeting all these other pet influencers and their humans at events,” Edwards says. With her background in law, Edwards began advising other pet influencer owners on contracts as a favor. When a buyer expressed interest in her fashion technology company, she took the opportunity to make advising a full-time gig with The Dog Agency.
“There was no central hub pulling together this new pet influencer space,” she says. “Brands were sending direct messages to hundreds of pets and hearing back from a fraction of them. These humans a lot of times have full-time jobs, they’re not checking their dog’s email regularly. So there was a definitely a need to kind of pull everything together.”
Today, Edwards’s portfolio includes both superstar influencers–like @tunameltsmyheart, a chihuahua-dachsund mix with 2 million followers–and up-and-comers, like Chase, whose account @sometimescarl has a still-impressive 85,000-follower reach. Her clients have worked with plenty of pet supply companies on product placements and ads, but also book gigs with human brands like Dyson, the Ritz Carlton, and Ralph Lauren.
Dogs are becoming more popular with advertisers, Edwards says, because they’re a safe alternative to controversy-prone humans. “Pets are universally loved, they make people happy,” she says. “And they’re safe. They’re not going to say politically charged things or get drunk at a party. So they have all the benefits of traditional, human influencers with all these extra plus factors.”
For her clients, Edwards is an essential go-between for managing their pets’ careers with their own. Sigrid Neilson, a corporate lawyer in New York City, says The Dog Agency has helped her dog, Sprout (@brussels.sprout, 115K followers), get work with companies including Facebook, Google Pixel, and Shutterfly over the past two years. “I have a full-time job, and the thought of how to try to manage all of that was really overwhelming to me,” Neilson says. “So working with Loni made a lot of sense, because they help take care of all of the logistics and make life so much easier.”
In order to be considered for The Dog Agency, Edwards requires influencers to have at least 50,000 followers on Instagram and good engagement on their posts. But beyond numbers, she says, an important part of her job is also vetting the human-pet relationships in potential clients. “[We have to] make sure that they’re in it for the right reasons, that they love their pet and they love that they’re able to spend this extra quality time with their pet,” Edwards says. “It’s more prevalent now than when I started the agency, but now that people know that you can make money from this, there are people trying to force their pet into this.”
That’s not surprising, when you hear Edwards’s estimates on how much money pet influencers can bring in: her average client, with 100,000-200,000 followers, can bring in “a couple thousands dollars per post,” while dogs with one million-plus followers can charge $10,000-16,000 per sponsored post.
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But beyond Instagram, Edwards sees an even larger market for pets owners, influencers, and followers in the future. In 2017 she launched PetCon, a two-day conference that blends pet products and animal behavior informational sessions with meet-and-greets and panels featuring her most influential clients. For $75 a ticket (or $300 for all-weekend VIP access), attendees and their dogs could meet Edwards’s clients, take photos in brand-sponsored backdrops, shop high-end pet products and, hopefully, learn a trick or two for starting their own pet influencer channels. The 2018 convention took place at the Javits Center in New York City, and brought in a few thousand attendees. For 2019, Edwards has already added an L.A. convention, to reach pet lovers on the West Coast.
“People’s love of pets is not going anywhere, I actually see it expanding and growing,” Edwards says. “We’re going to see more companies in the travel space working with pets, because people don’t want to leave their pets at home. New fashion companies are popping up, because similarly people want their pets to be stylish, just like themselves. People want whatever they want for themselves for their pets.”
Including, it seems, their own influencers to make recommendations.