How PR firms are driving influencer marketing for brands

Industry players say with the heralding of the festive season, brands will look to create influencer marketing campaigns and PR firms will be key in vetting of influencers

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Sep 28, 2020 8:44 AM  | 8 min read

Tapping into the influencer network seems to be the new normal among brands to connect with consumers. The overhaul in the digital world and social media influence has increased the role and importance of influencer marketing. And, thereby, has brought into the picture public relation agencies who handle the reputation of these brands.

According to the World PR Report 2020, influencer marketing will witness an upsurge in PR investment followed by multimedia content creation. According to a recent survey by influencer marketing platform Zefmo, nearly 92% marketers will turn to influencer marketing campaigns this year. This brings in a huge market to cater. So, the obvious question is how are PR firms fulfilling brands’ need for influencer marketing and why are brands betting on their PR firms for more engagement and value creation.

As per the Edelman Brand Trust report, seven out of ten people have used one or more strategies to avoid advertising, with a five-point increase in the last two years. Moreover, 49 per cent said they have changed media habits to filter advertising out with 48 per cent using ad blockers.

However, the report also says 63% consumers trust what influencers say about brands far more than what brands say about themselves in their advertising. “Given the rise in the relevance of influencers marketing over the last five years, the landscape has also evolved rapidly over the last decade with consumers saying influencer content has impacted purchase decisions and their trust and advocacy of brands.”

Ashutosh Munshi, Executive Vice President – Brand, Edelman India looks at influencer marketing with the lens of trust and authenticity, with a strong focus on earned-centric ideas that are social by design. He said, “Our Trusted Influencer solution helps brands create influencer marketing campaigns that look at integrating audience insights, with intelligent vetting of influencers to arrive at the best suited individuals to help deliver a message. Our proprietary tools help ensure real impact targeted to the right TG. Our ability to co-create campaigns with influencers by achieving equilibrium between brand message and the creator’s voice, delivers campaigns that are memorable, authentic, and speaking to consumers with authenticity.”

Focus on content creators

The democratization of branding and marketing space due to the rise of digital media began in the early years of the last decade, say experts. “With the world pivoting more and more towards digital, these content creators have a head start in their digital reach and engagement. With the shrinking size of newsrooms, there is an opportunity for influencers to produce engaging content,” says Archana Jain, Managing Director & CEO, PR Pundit. “Influencers are very accomplished in publishing attractive photo and video features. The world is snacking on video content at present and influencers make snackable, bite-sized content almost effortlessly. Shorter attention spans make these very effective for new product announcements, for reviews, and for ‘DIY’ guidance. They are able to grab the attention of readers, adding a layer to relatability and authenticity.”

Speaking of the Gen Z connection, Kunal Kishore, Founder, Value 360 Communications & Co-Founder said, “The Gen Z is able to relate to these content creators more than, say, a film star or a sports star, simply because they are not out of their reach. These young content creators have a personal connect with their followers, and their content has originality attached to it. This originality is the key to success for any brand campaign. Another factor that has made influencers really popular with brands is their ability to influence the young generation, which has the actual power to influence big-ticket purchasing decisions at home.”

Increased reliance on PR firms

The influencer marketing industry has been valued at $9 billion and is expected to reach $25 billion by 2025. “If you look at the revenue and reach of some of the top influencers, they earn more than many mid-size branding and marketing companies through endorsements. With scale comes the need to organize one’s reach and image. In this industry, it’s easier to become an influencer than staying one, because the cut-throat competition is ever increasing. All these aspects make it necessary to have professionally managed PR in the industry,” explained Kishore.

Talking about mandatory points that PR firms keep in mind while catering to influencers, Dolly Tayal, Managing Director, Sports & Entertainment Practice, BCW Asia Pacific and Senior Director, Brands, Sports & Entertainment, Genesis BCW, India, said, “How ‘real’ is the influencer’s content? What are the values and attributes they reflect and do they match with the brands? Secondly, we need to make sure that the influencers we choose match the client’s needs. It is not always about the number of followers. Sometimes you need to prioritise specialty or type of followers or even language over reach. It depends on the objectives of the campaign you have designed for the brand.”

“Over the years, influencers and PR firms have worked in absolute synergy since the communication space has forayed into newer media. It’s a win-win situation as PR brings to the table a wide portfolio of brands and content creators delivering unique content that exponentially elevates brand loyalty,” said Komal Lath, Founder, Tute Consult.

Festive season sphere

For brands, festive season is the time to push their sales and brand awareness through discounts and innovative campaigns. On an optimistic approach, Kishore said, “Given the kind of setback our economy has received due to the pandemic, the upcoming festive season has a lot more significance now. Brands would want to utilize this opportunity to win back their customers and attain the growth that would make up for the lost business due to previous and ongoing nationwide lockdowns.”

Putting the spotlight on the essentiality of influencers for brands, Lath said, “Influencers (advocates/ KOLs etc) are to a brand what SEO is to website visibility. One can be off-railed by the sheer plethora of smart phone users who have presence on multiple social platforms. It is not to be confused with someone who has "influence". The role of the agency hence is to be able to consult, identify, create relationships and blend in organic and paid means with these content creators who ultimately help create/shift perception which is the ultimate goal for using public relations.”

Tayal believes that this year brands will move away from the regular click-bait modules and create content that has impact and adds value to a consumer’s life.

“In the integrated approach pursued by PR Pundit, influencers are a key stakeholder for all campaigns. We adopt a channel-agnostic approach to address all communication challenges. We have a pulse on the evolving influencer landscape; and expertise in KOL (Key Opinion Leaders) outreach across auto, beauty, fashion, F&B, tech, etc. We have the proven capabilities in creating compelling and award-winning influencer campaigns that have engaged these stakeholders to tell our brand stories to make a lasting impact and change the conversation. We have also been fostering collaborative partnerships to help brands optimize their communication goals across genres,” added Jain.

Influencers as responsible ambassadors

According to Tayal, “There has been an explosion in the influencer space. There are those who have been around for a while and understand that influencer marketing is a two-way street. Their content says as much about their credibility as it does for the brand. And they understand that in the digital ecosystem, reputation is a tough thing to protect and nurture. So they are quite self-aware and mature about how and which brands they agree to work with. Some of them even have long-standing relationships with brands and both sides understand each other quite well.”

She further said, “BCW’s Trufluence methodology is one such tool to measure the reach, relevance and resonance of influencers to arrive at a list of the best suited influencers for a brand and its campaign.”

According to Jain, “As they say, you are only as good as the brief, so if we identify the relevant influencers and pitch a relevant story line, there are minimal chances of tripping.”

Upcoming trends

Nitin Mantri, Group CEO, Avian WE, encapsulated the upcoming trends that the influencer marketing space will witness in the times to come. According to him, “Brands and influencers will need to produce more solution-based and personalised content as people want useful and relatable content that will make their lives better in these dark times. Since people are craving for a connection online, live content will become even more popular.”

“The demand for spontaneous content has given rise to relatable micro-influencers who have smaller follower count but are experts in their niche. Given the current sentiment towards celebrities in our country, micro-influencers will do a better job in motivating audiences and driving engagement. Purpose-driven influencer marketing will gain more momentum,” added Mantri.

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