Why the PR industry should be the big winner from influencer marketing

In the latest of our #FuturePRoof guest blogs, Sam Oakley from Stashmetrics, looks at influencer marketing and the opportunity for public relations. 

PR  has a golden opportunity when it comes to influencer marketing, but the industry needs to learn from its mistakes.

I worked through, and saw first hand, the way the industry’s eyes lit up when social first became a thing – it was new area of practice that was all about relationships and dialogue, (stuff we were good at), and there was real budget available.

However, while I’ve seen some fantastic social media work delivered by PR agencies, broadly speaking the bulk of budget for owned social has gone elsewhere and looks like it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Stay upbeat

I don’t see this as a reason for despondency though, there’s a ton we can learn from how the explosion in owned social channels brought value into agencies and a lot we can apply to other growth areas.

I’m going to focus on influencer marketing for the sake of this post simply because it’s the only area I’m even vaguely qualified to talk about. That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that broader lessons will be applicable to other growth areas.

What is the opportunity, and is it worth going for?

Whilst it’s hard to put an exact figure on the size of the influencer marketing opportunity, it’s safe to say it is both significant now and growing fast.

Only a couple of weeks ago a PRCA / YouGov survey showed that digital budgets were up 9% on last year and that influencer outreach was the most commonly requested digital PR service by brands (12%).

With regards to whether the opportunity is worth it I’d argue that, whilst it’s hard to find numbers that definitively make a case, it’s very easy to argue that it can’t be ignored.

Why can’t it be ignored?

A lot of behavioural factors are coming together on this. I don’t need to talk about shifts to online consumption here, but combined with ongoing media fragmentation we are left with an inescapable equation.

More media titles / the same number of people = fewer eyeballs per title, and in a business where the bulk of junior – mid-level work is spent on leveraging those media, it means the same amount of work takes place, but with lesser gain.

The third factor to really play into the PR industry’s hands is the rise of ad-blocking. The PR mindset is built around earned media; if you’re earning your reach then it won’t get blocked.

Finally, there’s the evolution of search. Google is getting really good at helping people to find what they want to find, and as a result the defining lines between individual publishers and media titles are blurring.

How can the industry position itself to capitalise on the growth in influencer budgets?

We work with some amazingly smart agencies who are already make great, organisation-wide steps to do this and it’s been fascinating over the last 12 months to see how best practice begins to coalesce around a few key principles.

1 – Measure better than anyone else. PR measurement frameworks are much more easy to adapt to influencer work than ad / digital measurement. Influencers are generally reticent to share their measurement data but are much more likely to do so if they’re part of a targeted, relationship-driven campaign, than if they’re one of 500 people whose audience has been bought through a marketplace. The Barcelona principles need pretty much zero adaptation to work well in an influencer marketing context. 

2 – Don’t be afraid to push back against a bad brief. There is a lot of ambiguity / confusion around what influencer marketing is and how it should be delivered – this can lead to inappropriate briefs that you know will go nowhere. If that’s the case, ask yourself “should the first time this client is exposed to this kind of marketing take place in the context of a flawed project?” 

3 - A bad brief is also one where there’s no money for measurement. If this is new for the client then measurement is doubly important - without it you’ll find it hard to make a case for ongoing influencer work.

4 – Recognise that influencers can fulfil a multitude of roles. We’ve seen staggeringly good results from campaigns using influencers in a wide variety of ways - everything from using massive celebrities to start a waterfall effect (with smaller, related influencers amplifying the celebrity content to brilliant effect), down to a company that uses micro-influencers to create a constant flow of authentic UGC for the brand’s owned channels. It’s not just about paying someone to make you a YouTube Video

What are the pitfalls the industry has to avoid?

The main areas where we’ve seen people struggle are all linked to a lack of self-confidence amongst PR agencies. The industry can’t afford to get caught in echo-chamber debates, there simply isn’t the time. Nor can it afford to get sucked into the “innovation bubble” where campaigns are pitched based on innovative delivery over and above sound strategic work. The winners in the space will be those who get on with delivering brilliant work and who prove its brilliance with smart measurement. 

When it comes down to it, the opportunity is reasonably clear – behavioural shifts in consumers are creating an industry that dovetails almost perfectly with PR skillsets.

Yes, we’ve been here before but if we learn from mistakes this could and should be a major driver of value for the industry in the years to come.

Stashmetrics is a tool that helps agencies and brands find and collaborate with brilliant people online. Before co-founding the business Sam worked in digital PR for brands ranging from Sony Mobile to Unilever.