By Dalene Heck and Stephanie Yoder
Let’s be clear: HMI is NOT a PR firm.
Instead, we refer to ourselves as being in IR because we are experts in Influencer Relations.
While the two pursuits are often lumped together, and often complement each other in overall marketing strategies, they are totally different tracks with different focuses, goals, and methods.
So we wanted to take a moment to clear up the primary differences between influencer relations and public relations, and illustrate why you need to invest in IR even if you already have a solid PR team.
The most obvious difference between the two professions is who they primarily work with.
Influencer relations specialists focus narrowly on working with influencers: bloggers, Instagrammers, YouTube personalities, etc. At HMI, we’ve built up relationships with influencers big and small, and it’s our job to know who would be a perfect fit for each project. We know how to tell stories using online mediums, find the best talent, and design projects and press trips that help create amazing content.
Influencer relations is a growing field, but there aren’t that many of us out there yet with specific expertise on how to get the very best out of an influencer relationship.
Public relations executives have been trained to work with traditional media: newspaper, TV, magazines etc. These days, they may also run your social media channels or generate content for your blog. However, while PR may still deal with new media on occasion, they typically do not have the training or insider knowledge to truly understand the complexities of working with influencers. That’s why you sometimes see old-school PR types using old-school methods on new media personalities that can range from annoying (spamming them with press releases), to insulting (expecting large amounts of work with little or no compensation).
A steep learning curve is present, and some PR professionals have done well to embrace it. More often than not, however, from the point-of-view of these influencers-turned-IR-consultants, an obvious disconnect still exists.
Traditional PR strategies are usually focused on the long game: building up goodwill and public image over months, or even years. Long lead times required by conventional media can especially dictate this.
In contrast, influencer relations strategies are often very quickly actionable, and can potentially show results in a very short time frame. It can take a little time to plan the best campaign possible, but once the plan goes into action, you will see audience feedback and interaction almost immediately.
Spin Vs. Autonomy
The underlying missive of PR is to control the narrative around your brand. You create an image and then you go about convincing the public of that image. They shape your image the way a sculptor does, chipping away a little bit here and there to form a larger picture.
This more rigid directive can sometimes put them at odds with IR, where the autonomy of the influencers means that the message is more open-ended. While you can certainly often push a certain narrative to influencers (especially if within a paid marketing campaign), you generally cannot dictate their opinions or the ways they express them. If PR professionals are sculptors, then influencers are more like musicians: they know how a song will generally sound, but there’s always room for improvisation.
Some brands find this scary, but in many ways, an influencer’s autonomous nature is their greatest strength. Their online voice and persona is why their audience follows them in the first place — trust must be given to allow them to operate within their own parameters. In turn, this level of demonstrated confidence can lead the consumer to connect emotionally with your brand in a new way.
Earned Media Vs. Pay to Play
The traditional PR model relies heavily on the concept of earned media: persuading publications and outlets to feature your brand for journalistic reasons.
This occasionally puts them at odds with influencer marketing, where influencers often expect to be compensated for their coverage.
While some brands are put off by the idea of “pay-to-play,” it actually makes a lot of sense once you understand the new media landscape a little better. Unlike journalists, most influencers are sole-proprietor businesses. They often spend long unpaid hours building up their platforms and authority, some of which rise to the same level of influence as your favourite newspapers or magazines. The payoff comes at the end of the process when they can leverage those networks into work with major brands.
Paying for exposure to their audience can also give you much more than an advertisement in that favourite magazine, and with a message that is authentic and presented via a greater variety of channels. Think Instagram stories, an engaging Twitter storm, or an interactive Facebook post that is shared multiple times — versus a glossy page that can quickly be passed over.
So Which is Right For You?
It’s best not to think of PR and IR as an either/or choice. Most likely your brand will want a strategy that includes elements of both. You may need a PR firm to manage your overall media strategy, but engaging an IR organization with the experience and know-how to handle vetting influencers and designing great campaigns can be extremely beneficial. A good influencer marketing firm can also help with handling legal details, ensuring deliverables, and compiling results post-campaign.
Every brand needs some sort of PR strategy, but the reasons to work with influencers are more specific. Working with influencers opens up all sorts of creative avenues that aren’t available with traditional media. The limit is really your imagination.
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