Why Lynne Franks is wrong about influencer marketing

"Influencer marketing is just meaningless and will burn itself out," says Lynne Franks in yesterday's PR Week article.

Lynne Franks should embrace the modern era of PR, thinks Scott Guthrie
Lynne Franks should embrace the modern era of PR, thinks Scott Guthrie

Influencer marketing - an industry set to be worth £18.4 billion by 2024 - is later dismissed by Franks as nothing more than "silly" and "a fad".

Lynne Franks: 'Influencer marketing is out of hand'

How can subject matter expertise, third-party endorsement and peer-to-peer recommendation be a fad? It’s the bedrock upon which public relations was founded.

People have always set out to influence other people. This is our industry. To damn influencer marketing as 'silly' is to damn PR, too; an industry Franks helped shape.

Franks ran her eponymous agency for much of the 70s, 80s and early 90s. These were different times. Largely pre-internet, definitely pre-social media.

The media landscape has shifted and shattered since then.

Legacy media is facing an existential crisis. Just this week Marie Claire announced its UK print edition is to cease publication after 31 years.

Social media has democratised the media, enabling anyone with both an opinion and a community to scale that influence.

As communicators, we must adapt to stay relevant and to engage with our important people - be it our customers or society at large - wherever they gather.

Franks helped establish London Fashion Week back in 1984. Today in the UK more than a third of all brand-sponsored content on Instagram falls within the fashion and style vertical. A further one in five brand-sponsored posts is devoted to beauty.

In other words, over half of all brand-sponsored posts from UK-based accounts on Instagram - the B2C influencer marketing powerhouse platform - comes from fashion and style or cosmetics industries.

London Fashion Week understands the power of bloggers and digital influencers. It welcomes them and sets out accreditation guidelines.

Influencer marketing is no fad. It represents a seismic shift in how brands can nurture meaningful, human interactions with their audiences.

The cosmetics industry understands this, too. Last month, beauty giant Estée Lauder explained that three-quarters of its communications spend now sits with influencers.

Franks talks of influencers "buying in audiences".

Yes, influencer fraud is an issue. But before we get too squeamish about the size of influencer fraud, consider how corners of legacy media have gamed audience size through circulation figure inflation over the decades.

Exploiting the system is not unique to influencer marketing. There will always be bad actors in any walk of life.

Tolley’s Yellow Tax Handbook - the bible for UK accountants, runs to 15,500 pages. It explains the intricacies of the UK tax system.

Each new edition gets longer as parliament seeks to close loopholes - whilst a few bad actors seek out new loopholes.

Influencer fraud only works when we, the communicator, fail to undertake effective digital due diligence with our prospective influencers, or when we measure success via vanity metrics rather than with true reach, intent metrics and better yet, impact metrics.

Influencer marketing is important to public relations. Tactics can be fashioned to achieve outcomes beyond selling stuff.

PRs are well placed to help organisations identify opportunities and risks, to determine who is influencing the opinion-forming and to neutralise impact from dissenters - whilst amplifying advocate impact.

Beyond reputation and crisis management, influencer marketing can be harnessed to promote positive social change.

As a doyenne of PR’s past, I would love for Lynne Franks to embrace influencer marketing, an important channel in PR’s future.

Scott Guthrie is an independent influencer marketing consultant

Thumbnail image: influencers Bola Odusina, Gurj Sohanpal, Edmond Kamara, Rashpal Amrit & Mathias Le Fevre during London Fashion Week in June (©GettyImages)

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