“We’re all influencers now” is the title of a webinar that I joined today, featuring Sarah Waddington, Stephen Waddington and Andrew Terry, three of the authors of the “#FuturePRoof guide to influencer marketing governance for public relations”. It’s an invaluable guide and point of reference for PR practitioners giving the ‘nuts and bolts’ of working with influencers.
Still a nascent area developing its rules of engagement, whether you’re a PR, a marketer or social media specialist, you can’t afford not to be in the know. Particularly, as the guide points out, when a global brand like Estee Lauder is spending 75% of its marketing budget on ‘digital social media influencers’.
As an industry, PR practitioners have been somewhat slow on the uptake. Working with influencers is akin to working with print journalists, building relationships and trust, so it should come naturally. It’s just that there’s certainly some confusion when it comes to working with influencers in terms of whether it’s advertising or PR or to put it another way paid-for or earned media. For example, invite a journalist from a glossy magazine to visit your business and experience your offer and the resulting article is definitely editorial, even if it includes a giveaway. However, if you’re doing the same thing with an influencer and anything is given free of charge, the resulting social media post is deemed to be an ad by the regulatory authorities namely the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) and the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority).
When reputation is at stake, it doesn’t take much to tip the scales. So, being aware of regulatory requirements will protect your brand in the long-run. As the guide points out, the ASA are the ones to keep an eye on, as they regular publish guidelines on influencer requirements. From a PR perspective, the main thing to take note of is that if you’ve gifted a ticket to an event or a prize for a giveaway, then the influencer is obliged to mark the post #ad or #advert, even though it needn’t be marked as an advertisement in a magazine.
From my own experience with clients, the traditional media relations form of PR is becoming less critical, which means you risk being consigned to the irrelevant pile! Clients have their own social media platforms and customer communications media now, so they’re not so reliant on media communications. Nowadays, the fragmentation of the media through online means we must include influencers alongside print and broadcast and we must play by the rules and not be put off by the #ad.
If anything, PR has a more long-term and critical role to play in the arena of influencer marketing. The #Futureproof guide has a great diagram showing the correlation between control and trust for PR via earned media with influencers versus advertising via paid-for media. It comes as no surprise that PR initiated work with influencers will have greater credibility but little or no control. Conversely, paid-for ads raise the control stakes but are more cynically received by the audience.
What’s more, we can build relationships with influencers that do so much more than simply providing content opportunities. We can partner with influencers to deliver concrete business benefits through these long-term relationships e.g. we might use our trusted influencer to improve customer service or even shape our future business. I for one am excited about the potential of influencer marketing and my clients are already reaping the rewards of influencer relations.
So, to answer my original question: is it PR or advertising? Well the answer is both, however – and I may be a tad biased - I believe that the PR approach has greater depth and longevity for brands and influencers alike.