Influencer marketing: sometimes it's no pay, no gain

PR professionals might principally trade in earned media, but in the world of influencer engagement, paid relationships do play an important role.

Clifford French took YouTuber Spencer FC behind the scenes on video game FIFA 16
Clifford French took YouTuber Spencer FC behind the scenes on video game FIFA 16

A recent piece by W founder Warren Johnson in PRWeek argued that influencer marketing should never be paid for, as it results in the relationship being a commercial one, rather than value-in-kind.

He raises an interesting point around what we mean by ‘value’.

As an industry, we have to offer value to influencers regardless of whether that is financial remuneration, or less tangible, such as access to talent or experiences that will deliver strong content opportunities.

Sometimes, brands simply don’t have access to those assets, and must use payment to ensure they can get their stories told by influencer channels.

But you have to offer an incentive to engage, regardless of what ‘value’ is offered, and how it is offered. This is what we’re good at, as an industry; understanding the needs of the gatekeepers – be it influencers or more traditional editorial channels – and how to help them deliver content that will appeal to their audiences.

Because their relationship with their audience is natural, and we don’t demand editorial control of the content, it doesn’t always sit within a paid advertising space – but when it does, we ensure that it remains authentic and relatable.

And that will deliver a commercial benefit to the brands we represent, because the fee level will be far lower if the content we’re creating sits naturally on an influencer’s channel, rather than appearing to contain blatant brand messaging.

The tricky bit comes when we’re asked to prove that benefit, especially when we’re benchmarked against paid social advertising, with controlled messaging and incredibly detailed metrics.

From an industry grounded in soft metrics like pieces of coverage, messaging, even the dreaded AVE (advertising value equivalent), we’ve learnt quickly and benchmarked our campaigns using view-through rates, valued views, cost per engagement, even direct ROI.

As an industry, we have skills that are unique and sorely missing from the big media houses.

We know how to package up a set of assets to create editorial value or content for different media publications that appeals to their audiences.

We know how to identify and build relationships with emerging media channels before they become mainstream.

We even know how to work with influencers to create content that is strong enough to place in further media channels.

The big challenge for our industry is to talk the language of paid media experts when it comes to evaluating our influencer campaigns, and ensuring that access to analytics is negotiated as part of any influencer partnership.

Once we’re able to start telling this story, we can unlock the bigger media budgets, which in turn leads to ownership of wider, more integrated campaign briefs.

And ultimately, that should be the objective for the PR industry as the boundaries between media disciplines become increasingly blurred.

Tom Stroud is a senior account director at Clifford French

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