Stay curious: Michael Djan on partnerships, people, and the Metaverse

We sat down with Michael Djan to discuss forging connections between talent and brands, adapting to new platforms, and his work at TikTok.

Can you share how your experience at TikTok shaped your understanding of how public figures connect with audiences?


Joining TikTok back in 2020, right as the platform was exploding, gave me tremendous insight into how public figures could leverage it to engage with new audiences, particularly Gen Z. Many public figures were already stretched across multiple platforms, so there was fatigue around joining yet another new platform and creating content. A big part of my role was crafting narratives and strategies tailored to each talent that would justify the investment for them and their team.


Rather than treating it as just another space to amass followers, I worked to show how TikTok offered a unique creative opportunity to share different aspects of their brand and personality. The short-form video format allowed talents to be looser, less polished, and reveal more natural sides of themselves not suitable for something like Instagram. So my time at TikTok was all about education — conveying what made it stand apart from other platforms.

“Siloed thinking just doesn't cut it anymore.”

With needing to provide training and guidance at such a huge scale to lots of public figures and their teams, how did you approach that?


It was definitely an education in itself! Most talent management comes down to one-on-one relationships. But with TikTok exploding seemingly overnight, I suddenly needed to condense our knowledge and best practices into training materials and resources that could speak to hundreds of talents and their teams at once. The priority was equipping them with everything they needed to get off the ground successfully. From breaking down the nuts and bolts of crafting content that pops on TikTok, to guiding on daily time commitments and content calendars, to providing benchmarks for follower growth — it was comprehensive. Because these individuals operate like brands, our training had to clearly show the ROI so that the time spent creating for TikTok made sense business-wise. Not everyone jumped in open-armed at first. There was lots of scepticism and hand-holding needed. But by educating through an ROI lens, I was able to get most on board with how TikTok could fit into their overall strategy.


You've spoken about the importance of joined-up thinking when managing partnerships between brands and talent. Can you expand on why that holistic view is so critical?


Absolutely. With the digital landscape expanding more and more fragmented by the day, siloed thinking just doesn't cut it anymore when orchestrating talent partnerships. There are so many potential avenues and formats to leverage now when connecting talent with brands — TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, podcasts, live streams, brand ambassadorship, etc. So strategic partnership development needs to happen across all areas of their management and business — marketing, PR, touring, policy, you name it. Every stakeholder has to work together to identify the formats and narratives that align best to the talent's strengths and the brand's goals. Otherwise, without that cohesion, any partnership activation risks getting lost in the noise. A coordinated effort also makes the messaging itself stronger, with the talent and brand operating as one. I've learned you can never over-communicate when attempting to sync so many moving parts. But the payoff is worth it when everything comes together seamlessly.

Over your career, how have you seen the actual management of talent evolve and change?


If there's one constant, it's that talent management inevitably comes down to managing human emotions and personalities. No matter the level of celebrity, there are invariably ups and downs when collaborating creatively. One day they'll enthusiastically agree to an idea, then the next have a change of heart or get cold feet. A big evolution I've witnessed is that the teams surrounding talent are larger and more specialised than ever before. In addition to the talent, you now often have to sync management, agents, PR reps, touring personnel, and more. So the job becomes about spinning a lot of plates, making sure every stakeholder feels heard and impactful. The line blurs significantly between strategic brand partnerships, content creation, touring, merchandising, and everything else under the talent "ecosystem." 


When all those pieces operate cohesively, with trust and open communication, that's when magic happens. But it's certainly not as straightforward as just managing a single direct relationship between talent and manager. There are a lot more cooks in the kitchen now with celebrity management, for better or worse!


You've worked across entertainment, sports, and lifestyle — can you shed some light on the value of strategic partnerships spanning those industries, and how they drive innovation?


We're seeing those once disparate industries intersect more than ever before. Star athletes are launching fashion brands, entertainers are buying sports teams, models are starting book clubs or podcasts. The old siloed categories don't apply anymore. From what I observe, for younger generations it's all about the story, experience, and meaning created. They don't care as much whether it originated from a "sports property" or "entertainment property."


So having those thoughtful intersections, where we see celebrities organically branching out into new spaces relevant to them, makes an impact. For example, when a high-profile athlete launches a clothing line rooted in themes of empowerment — their credibility as an inspirational figure elevates the fashion brand's story. Or when a celebrity known for comedy unexpectedly starts a book club, it creates a fresh angle. As long as the connections feel genuine, I've found strategic partnerships spanning lifestyle areas excite audiences and allow both the talent and brand to grow in innovative ways.

Building on that, in your experience what makes for truly successful partnerships between brands and public figures?


It always comes back to trust and relationships nurtured over time. Things will inevitably go wrong, speed bumps will arise. So having an unshakable foundation of trust at the core — between the talent, the brand, and their associated teams — is crucial. From there, it's about being a trusted advisor who takes the time to understand the brand's objectives and the celebrity's goals, then find that overlap where a partnership makes sense for both sides. 


Part of that is approaching every talent as the unique individual they are, not as a monolithic brand. The data has to back up recommendations, but so does the creative thinking tailored for who that talent is at their core.d Things land better when the advice and strategy feels like it comes from a place of really knowing them. And when difficulties surface, trust gives you the runway and goodwill to work through challenges smoothly. Without that mutually built trust, any partnership loses lift.


For someone aspiring to work in this space managing strategic talent partnerships, what are some of the most vital skills and qualities needed to be successful?


A few come to mind that I think are foundational. First is empathy — this is a business of managing emotions and personalities, after all. The ability to see things from the talent's perspective goes a long way. Second, resilience when hearing "no." That happens more often than not! Third, creativity and imagination to brainstorm solutions. Fourth, impeccable communication skills and diplomacy to navigate complex relationships. And lastly, a networking mindset to build relationships across entertainment, brands, technology, and more - connections are invaluable. Aside from abilities, I'd say curiosity, integrity, and a passion for people are personality traits that help tremendously in bringing strategic partnerships to life. You have to care about the humans at the core.

You've had the chance to encounter and observe many inspiring figures in the industry. Who are some standouts who influenced or impressed you along the way?


There are too many to name! But a few come to mind...Carolyn Everson, formerly the VP of Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook, always impressed me with her poise and eloquence anytime she spoke. I didn't report to her, but observed her address rooms of hundreds, inspiring with her words and vision. In general, seeing people succeed through being unapologetically themselves motivates me. There are too many admirable figures to name!


For those aspiring to grow their careers in talent management, marketing and partnerships, what advice would you offer?


First, resilience. There is so much rejection and so many hurdles, you have to be able to power through the nos. Second, relationships are invaluable — build your network, nurture connections in the industry, seek out mentors. Show you can add value to others' work. Third, stay curious — about culture, people, brands, this business. Consume varied content across entertainment, technology, business. Draw connections. Fourth, don't be afraid to reinvent the playbook — companies and consumers need fresh ideas. And lastly, remember your worth isn't defined by any one job. Staying grounded, focused on growth, and trusting your own vision will help you stay the course in an unpredictable industry.

“Minds need breathing room for creativity to flourish.”

As someone on the leading edge of digital content and partnerships, what emerging technology or platform do you have your eye on? Where do you see the biggest potential?


Without a doubt, the Metaverse and Web3. I know some people are sceptical of bulky VR headsets ever going fully mainstream. But as the technology improves and becomes more integrated into everyday life, I believe we'll reach an inflection point. Just like with social media — it started with a limited few engaging, then exploded seemingly overnight once the utility became clearer. The hardware needs to evolve and the experiences need to become richer. But the core appeal is there — brands and consumers both want deeper, more immersive engagement. The metaverse promises that; it's the logical next step when you consider how we interact with content and each other online today. There are challenges to solve, but I'm excited to see how the metaverse unlocks new creative possibilities for talent partnerships. The potential is sky-high.

Lastly, a fun one — where do you find you get your best, most creative ideas? Any routines or practices you'd recommend?


My own best ideas tend to arrive when I'm not laser-focused on any one task. Taking a walk and letting my mind wander, having an energetic debate with friends over dinner, travelling somewhere new - that's when my best concepts often emerge. Essentially any change of pace that allows my subconscious to take over. Meditation is also hugely helpful to quiet mental noise and open myself up to new angles. But in general, I'd advise building in time and practice to pull yourself away from constant work demands and let inspiration strike more organically. Minds need breathing room for creativity to flourish!


Thanks Michael!




Michael Djan

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