Is there a fight for the microphone when it comes to leading influencer marketing programs? Lauren Bowden Chief Content Creator at The Comms Crowd suggests it’s the work of the whole band.

bokeh photography of condenser microphone

I first heard the term influencer marketing at a conference a few years ago and my mind instantly pictured feuding marketing and public relations departments arguing over who ‘owns’ relationships with influential journalists, analysts, bloggers etc. Or, to go back to Uni-speak, who speaks to who’s ‘publics’.

Now, I quickly found out when I received my PR degree the term ‘publics’ is not often used in the world of work, but it turns out the Chartered Institute of Public Relations definition – which I can pretty much recite verbatim (thanks, Bournemouth Uni!) – remains the same: “Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics”. The types of publics often associated with this definition can include employees, customers, the general public, government, shareholders, competitors, suppliers, and the media.

So, what about influencer marketing? The CIPR’s counterpart, the Chartered Institute of Marketing says: “[Influencer Marketing focuses] on a particular individual or groups as a means of influencing the ultimate target audience”.

That’s that cleared up then. *Insert blank face here*.

To be honest these official definitions make it sound like influencer marketing is a cover version of PR. Or at least a remix.  

A little more digging reveals the difference could be all about money and control. One article suggests that Influencer Marketing involves strategic, typically paid, collaborations between bloggers and brands. The most successful collaborations result when influencers are genuinely enthusiastic about a brand, which can make Influencer Marketing look much like PR, but compensation and brand control are important differentiators. OK, slightly clearer now.

But that doesn’t clarify the issue of relationship ownership. In fact, it makes it all the murkier. When should marketing make a move and when should PRs pounce? As with most things these days there are handy pieces of MarTech kit that can help the situation. Companies like Onalytica, Traackr, and Nimble have CRM capabilities that can help track and sort these relationships on top of other tools that can help uncover new influencers, analyse their behaviour and more.

But as the great Depeche Mode once sang ‘people are people’ and call me cynical but conflict around ownership will still brew if clear lines of engagement are not drawn up and adhered to. A new report  shares a handy matrix to demonstrate the creative industries’ opposing ethos to influencer marketing. The report also proclaims that in many ways the battle of influencer ownership has already been lost to the marketing industry, but PR should have a role because the bigger opportunity is to establish long term relationships.

I don’t know many marketers who would agree to the statement that marketing is short term and tactical while PR is long term and strategic. But that could be down to the nature of my industry niche, B2B FinTech, with its long sales cycles and marketing campaigns to match.

Which brings up another point. Can the B2B world adopt influencer marketing in the way its consumer cousins have? Seems like an obvious statement to make but surely, the more specialist the company and its offering, the smaller the pool of people that can authoritatively and authentically talk about the market, and therefore be classed as influencers.

The comparatively small pool of influencers in B2B makes MarTech on offer relatively redundant. We don’t need tools to seek influencers out, we just need to continue to foster our relationships with them and keep track of how they are packaging up their knowhow. The journalists and industry analysts I’ve known for 15+ years, have moved beyond the traditional trade publications and reports and morphed into podcasters, bloggers, YouTubers, etc. under their new influencer monikers. Some of their new offerings may still be earned media opportunities, some may be paid for – which means the balance of control vs. credibility is much more precarious and PR and Marketing need to be almost symbiotic in the pursuit of fruitful influencer marketing campaigns.

Niche B2B industries also have an opportunity to think more laterally about the sphere of influence in which they operate. Seek out different types of influencer within the buying cycle. A good starting point is to go into the field and get to know customers and prospects. Not just those who hold the purse strings on sales deals, but those who influence the decision-making process. What do they look for? What do they read? What makes them tick? That will require teamwork beyond marketing and PR. As the Futureproof report says influencer marketing should be integrated across all areas of organisation from R&D, new product development through to acquisition, and after sales. Let’s just hope there’s minimal fighting over the microphone when it comes down to ultimately taking the lead.

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