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Is the PR industry missing the boat with influencer marketing?

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For years, the PR industry had an intense love affair with “influencers.”

Or, I should probably use a more accurate term: bloggers.

Go back to the early 2010s and that was the name of the influencer game: Engaging and working with bloggers.

All kinds, really. Mom bloggers ruled the roost. But other types of bloggers also were also regular targets of PR outreach (tech, travel and food to name a few).

This was all working–and it felt natural for many PR folks–because it was (mostly) organic. PR folks were pitching and working with bloggers much like they did media. No money was exchanging hands. They might give out some free product or a unique experience here and there, but for the most part, there was no big dollar signs.

Then, in the mid-2010s everything changed.

Instagram blew up. YouTube became more of an actual channel vs. a place were people dumped useless video content. And, as a result, a whole new slew of influencers started popping up.

And, they were different from the bloggers–they wanted money. They saw what bloggers had done years earlier and they were determined to use their newfound “celebrity” to make much more money.

And, this is where things got weird for the PR industry. They started to resist.

Largely, I believe it’s the “pay for play” concept that turns PR off. For decades, the PR discipline has been based on forging mutually beneficial relationships based on trust–not money. And here comes this new influencer marketing and it’s all about the dollars.

PR wasn’t having it. And, apparently they’re still not having it, according to comments I read in a recent survey from long-time blogger, Frank Strong.

Just take a peek at some of these comments from that survey:

“Influencer marketing is riskier.”

“Influencers aren’t reporters. Most of them expect to be paid by us. There are more of them than there are reporters. And, they’re even less accountable if you’re not paying them.”

“Let’s not Kardashian this, too.”

“While still based on developing relationships, influencer marketing tends to be more transactional in nature.”

“Influencer marketing is paid–influencer communications is organic, and doesn’t actually involve gatekeepers or editors. There’s a need to make the influencer mutually accountable–so the two sides benefit. Influencer marketing is transactional–pay for play.”

What’s most disappointing about the comments above is that they show a lack of understanding about where influencer marketing is headed.

Two of the comments lament that influencer marketing is transactional.

Sure, in many ways it is–right now. But, that’s changing. Smart companies are starting to partner with influencers using long-term contracts. Influencers are starting to become spokespeople. They’re showing up in ads. They’re showing up at employee events.

This is the next evolution of influencer marketing.

And PR seems determined to miss out on it.

PR clearly has a huge opportunity here. Influencer marketing–even if it is a paid relationship–is still rooted in the relationship and content creation, two areas PR people typically excel at.

But the lack of foresight and creativity I see in these comments leave me to believe PR may be missing the boat.

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Is the PR industry missing the boat with influencer marketing?

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