That’s the verdict of panellists on The PR Show, PRWeek’s new podcast that dissects the major topical PR and comms issues.
The first episode – which featured The Romans co-founder Joe Mackay-Sinclair, Karmarama influencer lead Katie Hunter and YouTube star Joshua Pieters – looked at whether influencer marketing was worthwhile. It was produced by Markettiers.
In the past year, there has been a spate of scandals, non-transparent practices, and cringeworthy executions that have placed the spotlight firmly on influencer marketing.
The most high-profile of these was a campaign to promote the Fyre Festival, exposed in two recent documentaries.
"The one thing that went right was influencer marketing – they sold out. It was all of the other shit that got in the way," Mackay-Sinclair told The PR Show.
Pieters, who has more than a million followers on YouTube and his own Comedy Central show, said it was unfair to blame influencers for an event that was spearheaded by convicted fraudster Billy McFarland.
"If you go to Starbucks and order a coffee and get poisoned by that coffee...you wouldn’t really blame the barista, you’d blame Starbucks and where they get their coffee beans from," he said. "Having said that, in the current climate it is important to do as much due diligence as possible...although he fooled everyone. If you can fool Ja Rule, you can fool anyone."
‘No harm in apologising’
Hundreds of influencers were sucked in to the Fyre Festival hype, including Kendall Jenner and model Bella Hadid. Very few apologised for misleading their followers, with most simply deleting their original Fyre Festival posts.
"I don’t think it would have done any harm for them to come out and admit they were misled and apologise to followers," Hunter added. "People really respect honesty and authenticity on that front. But they were not consciously duping anybody."
Mackay-Sinclair said influencers sometimes get a rough time compared to other marketing talent, explaining that it’s not the job of a voice artist on a TV ad to verify claims that a brand makes in the script.
The panel discussed the good, the bad and the ugly of influencer campaigns that they had encountered. In one instance, Pieters was asked to promote an unusual product that involved smoking and drinking into a single device – something that might not have been appropriate to his young audience.
"The worst campaigns – and we’ve all seen them – are where the product doesn’t fit in any way, shape or form with the influencers that have been chosen," Hunter said.
"[This happens] because influencers have been approached as a media buy, a quick fix, a quick way to get reach or borrowed audience or because people are just lazy."
The panellists agreed that influencer campaigns done properly can be ‘a lot cheaper’ than the production and media buying costs associated with TV advertising.
Listen to the podcast to find out which categories (if any) are beyond the pale of Pieters, Hunter and Mackay-Sinclair, and what they think about current efforts to improve transparency and ethics.