Have influencers eclipsed journalists as brands' primary pitching targets?

Powerhouse Factories' Meghann Craig and Pulsar Strategy's Joseph McKeating proffer opposing viewpoints to this month's Gloves Off prompt.

Meghann Craig
Word of mouth marketing senior producer, Powerhouse Factories
Experience in corporate comms, digital, b-to-b, and nonprofit PR

When it comes to amplifying your brand, influencers and journalists are both beneficial pitching targets. However, influencers provide unique benefits for brands and need to be pitched differently. Influencers are outpacing brands as content creators and publishers.

And consumers are listening. If a brand is looking to instill trust and sway a purchase decision, influencers are the way to go.

According to a recent study by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, online word of mouth drives one-third of measured business impact and $6 trillion dollars of annual consumer spending. Blogs especially are key in purchase decisions since they’re being tapped for new trends, inspiration, and product reviews.

The general public trusts advice from bloggers because of satisfaction from past purchases based on blog recommendations. Influencers are also relatable and share personal elements of their lives. As a new mother, I trust other influential moms’ points of view on child development, baby food, and toys. I can relate to what they write about. Therefore, I feel a deeper connection to them than journalists.

There is a science to finding and pitching the right influencers and journalists. While the same basic principles apply – know your target, make sure your pitch is relevant to their content, and be personable, each requires a slightly different approach. With journalists, you must be mindful of hard deadlines and the various news angles a brand can take. With influencers, you’re inviting them to share their experience with a brand or product, to make a case as to why it will benefit them and their readers.

It starts with building the perfect outreach list. It’s often time-consuming and tedious, but it’s crucial for success. If you miss the mark here, everything else is a wash. To truly nurture an authentic relationship, take the time to do your homework.

When pitching key influencers, you should know everything from the name of their pets to their favorite food. This shows that you understand how the brand or product you represent fits in with their blog and will be meaningful to their readers.

Joseph McKeating
President of Pulsar Strategy and opinions editor, Editorial IV
Works with companies including early-stage startups and tech sector up-and-comers

PR and marketing should, above all, be strategic. If my client is an equities analyst and the goal is to boost their profile, part of the plan might be acquainting them with folks from Bloomberg or CNBC.

However, if my client sells lipstick, I’d prefer to have Kim Kardashian Instagramming about it than a blurb in Vogue.While I can come up with hypotheticals to show the strength of either side, journalists still wield more power. Not just the power to enhance a company’s image, but also to destroy it. Or at least accelerate its demise. Look at the ousting of American Apparel’s Dov Charney last year. The media played a pivotal role.

A proactive media relations strategy traditionally served two purposes: awareness and credibility. Smart companies can now raise awareness on their own. To complement those efforts, coverage from reputable outlets still lends credibility – more so than most influencers. Especially since everyone knows influencers are usually paid sponsors, whereas media attention, in theory, is organic and impartial.

At the end of the day, it depends on how you define media. Members of the press are responsible for mass communicating information the public deems useful or entertaining. Access to a large audience was historically the main differentiating factor between a journalist and a fool with a pen or a camera. When we refer to someone as an influencer, we either mean a celebrity or an individual – likely a Web sensation – who figured out how to reach a large audience from scratch.

Take nine-year-old Evan from EvanTubeHD, for instance. He reviews toys online, makes $1 million a year, and his videos have been viewed more than a billion times. He fits the influencer mold, but by definition, Evan could be considered a journalist as he has three times the amount of YouTube subscribers than The New York Times. Therefore, the gray area that exists between journalists and certain influencers has never been less defined.

Find what works best for your business and execute. Maybe it’ll be a combination or maybe you won’t need either.

PRWeek’s View: Both journalists and influencers have their strengths, and the pitch should depend on the particular brand. But many journalists still have a gravitas that influencers by and large do not.


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