Short answer: No. But read on anyway to find out why…
Influencers have rapidly become an established part of the media landscape, so much so that it’s led to questions of whether they are a replacement for more traditional forms of PR. Ever quick to adapt, our friends in PR, have for the most part established their own influencer programmes for clients. Thus for clients, it’s often less a choice between agencies, than between media tactics offered by the same agencies. The space has, predictably, proliferated and now clients can choose whether to engage the support of a single macro-influencer, or a bunch of micro-influencers to make up the numbers. Media is fractal, after all.
As a phenomenon, influencers are not especially new. Years ago, literally, the golden age of the silver screen afforded more than the occasional star and starlette the opportunity to make a fast buck, shilling for some or other product. If you’re a fan of “Old-Time Radio” (why?) you’ll be familiar with hilariously stilted monologues from stars of the day reading out some paean of praise to a potato chip, patently penned by the sponsor’s ad-man.
Ronald Reagan. The reason cigarettes became so big. Probably.
One of the most endearing early examples of influencer activity was provided by comedian Will Rogers for a brand of pianos (pianos… comedians…?) he had never in his life played: “Dear Sirs, I guess your pianos are the best I ever leaned against. Yours truly, Will Rogers.”
Never work with animals, children or comedians.
Will Rogers. The original influencer?
Our two cents as detached onlookers and veterans of many a media feeding frenzy? Influencers and PR are different. They have different roles, rules and, perhaps unsurprisingly, different results. For the rest of this article, we focus on roles and rules. Results… watch out on LinkedIn for that.
You can be forgiven for lumping them together in the media plan. If you stand at a distance and squint your eyes, they do look kind of similar. However, they are only really similar in a very general way, that they are both media for carrying seemingly unpaid-for messages. The crucial difference lies in the repository of trust, whether that is an individual or a newsbrand. And, we would suggest, that varies by the category you’re in. For some categories, the nature of the product means that, as a consumer, are willing to be talked down to from a height. For others, you want to be talked to on the same level, person to person, by someone relatable, who is “just like me”.
Thus, the key question, as with all media choices, is “What are we trying to achieve?” To use two polarised examples, are you looking to give your product some top-spin by showing it in action by some likeable individual, or are you looking to build your brand through frequent, softer mentions in the refined company of the quality press? They’re not the only uses of either tactic, but they are as different as uses get and serve to make the point: influencers and PR they have different roles from each other.
Two things follow from this truth. Firstly, if they have different roles, they are not necessarily substitutes for each other and, therefore you might want to consider having both (or, in the interests of neutrality, neither) on your plan. Treat them as separate channels. Start with the media job that, you think, needs to be done, and see where that takes you – to influencers, to PR or even paid media.
Secondly, just because one works for you, does not at all mean the other will. We can’t emphasize this enough. Ok, we probably can, but a bit of justifiable hyperbole helps us make this point, which is the one that we, as measurement guys, worry about most.
For the avoidance of overreach, we should say that the unwritten ‘rules’ of influencer and PR activity are really not our bag. That’s a pity because it tends to be breaches of those rules that produce the most egregious examples of influencers-gone-wrong that result in the Twitter pile-on of people doing what my primary schoolteacher, Miss Tawse, politely used to refer to as ‘making fun of others’.
From our perspective (the measurement one), what tends to drive performance in this space are the following:
- Reach – our old friend, without which there is little point to anything. But it’s worth asking: how many people are actually going to see whatever it is we do?
- New news – where PR sometimes falls down, i.e. actually having something to talk about
- Relevance/interest – need we say more?
- Influencer fit – where this is weak, people just don’t buy it. Poor fit is responsible for some of the more hilarious influencer gaffes of recent years.
We’ll have more to say about measurement challenges in our accompanying LinkedIn article by my colleague, Sam Watts, which follows shortly, so keep your eyes peeled for that. But for now (warning: contains spoilers) we model categories where influencers trump PR, that is influencer programmes have a greater tangible ROI than PR, and – guess what – other categories where PR trumps influencers (ditto, mutatis mutandis). They are not at all the same things.
That’s all for now, but, as ever, if this has whetted your appetite for more measurement, look out for Sam’s piece on LinkedIn and, of course, feel, free to get in touch to talk about how you can get some measurement of your own influencer and PR programmes.