Suggesting that paid-for influencer content is the wrong approach for the PR industry ‘full stop’ is quite simply outdated.
Comparing influencers with journalists is a red herring. Journalists get paid a salary to write for the publication they work for, an influencer does not.
Yes, some would argue that the fees these influencers demand are way more than a comparable salary. However, this is a comparison that is in the same vein as trying to compare kangaroos to spaceships, or questioning why the fee Man United pay Rooney far outweighs what Sunderland pay Jermain Defoe.
This view stating that sponsored influencer content is a con is under the faux filter that money always corrupts.
If all influencers took cash and promoted whatever they were asked to, their channels would be full of irrelevant products and quickly become obsolete. If a gaming influencer started shouting about nail varnish, or a fashion vlogger started to celebrate sugary soft drinks, their audience would smell a rat.
The successful influencers have an editorial filter, regardless of money; they only work with brands or products that relate to their audience or in which they genuinely believe. If they didn’t, their channels wouldn’t exist, as yes, their influence would disappear as their audience would backlash.
Many vloggers have a cap on how many sponsored videos they will create in one month to ensure their audience don't become blasé about the content they are viewing. Money doesn’t remove the editorial filter and as a result, the influence remains.
Sponsored content isn’t the same as advertising. It is right that payments are declared to their audience but no piece of content would be worthwhile if the influencer didn’t have some form of affinity with the product or brand, and in turn believe this is also relevant for their audience.
The content would be crap, unengaging and pointless. This equals a waste of money for the brand and is detrimental for the influencer's credibility with their audience. So why on earth would anyone do that?
Influencer content needs to be approached as a collaboration, very different from advertising or celebrity endorsement. It is where brand, influencer and their audience intersect. In this space, any skilled PR person should be able to collaborate to ensure it is true to the influencer's beliefs (like we do when working with media), while working with the brand's ambitions. If these don’t intersect, it is simple – you’re working with the wrong influencer. This again equals bad content that is terrible for the influencer and the brand.
Brands and agencies will be hard pressed to find influencers with an engaged audience who will readily accept branded work for free, under the guise of ‘we’re doing PR’.
They're not dumb; most have agents or managers and suggesting they recommend your product to their audience for free is like a brand asking an agency to do their PR for nothing.
Just because there is payment, it doesn't automatically make it evil or wrong. In contrast, it facilitates the collaboration and ensures that it works for both parties.
Dan Neale is co-founder of PR agency Alfred