Marketing and PR have always had an odd relationship. While effectively being two sides of the same customer communication coin, traditionally the difference between the two was clear: marketing is ‘paid for’ and PR is ‘earned’.
However, the rise of influencer marketing, along with the prevalence of social media, has blurred the line a little. PR professionals are increasingly adopting marketing tactics as part of their PR strategies. But can the two really work together? And if so, how?
At TopLine Comms, we’re a pretty good example of the two disciplines working together and operate as a B2B PR agency as well as a digital strategy agency. But to successfully merge these skills and services, you first need to understand what influencer marketing actually is – and how it can complement your PR plans.
What is influencer marketing?
In short, influencer marketing is a catch-all term for anyone with a network of followers, and corresponding influence, that could transform your brand’s reputation and impact sales. The personality and medium don’t necessarily matter, it could be a YouTube sensation, Instagram personality or LinkedIn business guru. What matters is their potential influence over your target audience.
Can it work alongside PR?
The truth is, PR and influencer marketing naturally overlap. PR has always had a large part to play in facilitating and directing collaborations, and what is influencer marketing if not a collaboration between brand and influencer?
What’s more, the two both rely heavily on content and storytelling to engage with their audiences and push their messages.
Some practitioners have even gone so far as to label influencer marketing ‘shareable PR’. While this is slightly reductive for the two have plenty of differences in approach, it is true that they share some common foundations such as:
The core of good PR is building and maintaining trust in a brand. Put bluntly: if your audience doesn’t believe what your brand is saying, then you’ve failed. Likewise, influencer marketing leans heavily upon credibility and trust. Most influencers spend years cultivating a relationship with their followers and put in the hard-yards to become a trusted authority in their field by being relatable, accessible and honest.
The inverse is also true: without transparency and the trust it generates, influencers not only risk alienating their followers but also falling foul of regulatory bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that penalise influencers who don’t clearly label paid content.
Reliance on trust is much of the reason influencer marketing has the potential to deliver such success. In a nutshell, what you’re asking an influencer to do is give their opinion on your products or brand to an audience who view them as the place to go for advice on that subject.
Like trust, authenticity is crucial to both PR and influencer marketing. Human beings have an impeccable instinct for anything contrived or insincere. In the same way, your PR campaign showcasing your brand’s stance on a set of values won’t fly unless you’re known for standing behind those values when it counts. Influencer marketing that’s too obviously selling something, whether brand, product or person, is unlikely to work.
3. Audience engagement
Both marketers and PR teams focus on finding and developing a message that truly engages with the intended audience. In the case of PR, it’s all about using the right mix of channels to ensure your brand connects in the best way possible. For influencer marketing, it’s a case of finding the right influencer to promote your brand in the most natural and engaging fashion.
When should you use influencer marketing?
Obviously, influencer marketing isn’t going to replace your usual PR channels. But it does offer a handy alternative or worthy addition to your strategy – particularly when more traditional methods are unlikely to cut the mustard. For instance:
1. The ‘no news’ scenario
A publicist’s job is to communicate news about a brand in a way that inspires the audience or media to either foster a connection with the brand or write about it. So, what do you do when there’s no news?
One of the most frustrating moments in PR is when you’d like to generate awareness but don’t have the ‘news’ to hang it off, or at least nothing likely to inspire people to write about you.
This is where influencer marketing can be very useful.
An influencer can provide an independent endorsement to get the conversation about your brand rolling, without the need for the pretext of ‘news’. Although it’s important to note, influencer marketing won’t get you completely off the ‘news’ hook — an influencer will still need something to get the conversation going whether that’s a piece of content or product for them to review.
2. Accessing younger demographics
We’re constantly being told that print and traditional viewership are in decline, particularly among younger demographics. Brands need a way to reach the increasing portion of the population who don’t read magazines, watch TV, or listen to the radio. Social media stars and podcasters can give your brand the ability to get information in front of an audience that would otherwise be out of reach if you relied on traditional methods alone.
3. Reaching a wider audience
Influencer marketing is a great platform for communicating your message to a wider audience. Many social media influencers draw the attention of tens of thousands — in some cases, millions — of followers. This means a message promoted by an influencer has the potential to reach a huge audience without the increase in spending that comes with traditional methods such as TV and print.
What’s more, influencers have the added benefit of often being seen by their followers as the authority on the subject in question. This often means the audience is already receptive to hearing your message and your job is more than 50% done from the get-go.
Influencer marketing is a great tool that, when used well, can give your PR strategy a real boost. However, it’s certainly not something you should jump into without careful planning. Nor should you pick the first influencer you come across, no matter how many followers they might have. Picking the right influencer with a clear idea of how their endorsement can help generate awareness is vital.
At the end of the day, your influencer marketing efforts must support and enhance your PR strategy. If you need help figuring this out, please give our