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PRSA Tri-State Panel Recap: How Influencers Are Changing the Way Brands Tell Stories

Post by Tom Kirkham, International Account Director, Kite Hill PR

Today we headed over to the PRSA 2016 Tri-State Conference for a day of education, inspiration, a ton of coffee and a spot of networking. PRSA’s Tri-State district has form for putting together an awesome annual conference (it’s in their mission statement), and with a raft of top PR and marketing pros on hand, the event was packed to the rafters as we got stuck into the central theme of modern PR: engaging in a digital world.

The first session we caught was a panel discussion on how influencers are changing the way brands tell stories. It featured plenty of practical advice from the panelists; particularly useful was the chance to hear from both the influencer perspective (Girl Without A Job, Snapchat) as well as those responsible for running influencer campaigns on behalf of brands (Univision).
We garnered far too many insights to share them all here on the blog, but here are a few useful tips and perspectives that comms professionals can take onboard when planning future influencer campaigns.

Carolina Valencia at Univision explained that knowing the creator and having a personal relationship is really important to campaign success, particularly as and when things don't go quite to plan (for example, at live events). She explained that influencers will "be more willing to go extra mile and improvise and create extra content if needed," if the relationship is well-established and strong.

From an influencer perspective, Claudia Oshry, founder of Girl With No Job explained to achieve success, "I need to understand the brand's goals and set realistic expectations. Brands need to know what they want!" Sounds obvious, right? But, Claudia gave plenty of examples of brands failing to set clear campaign objectives.

Snapchat journalist Frankie Greek noted that transparency is super important on all levels. She explained that brands and influencers should " about money sooner rather than later - it avoids wasting time." She also noted the balance to be struck between brand goals and influencer authenticity, telling the conference, "As an influencer, you have to figure out what's best for your audience and what you're comfortable with doing for brands."

Carolina Valencia picked up on this point, noting that from a brand perspective, "You need to understand what the influencers are best at creating content-wise. Don't get them involved in stuff they're not comfortable with."

The panelists were then asked about mistakes brands make when reaching out to influencers. With a wry smile, Oshry compared it to "A game of poker. Sometimes influencers overplay their hand and get too cocky.  But brands are guilty of doing this too."

Greek cited the bugbear of "Brands being over-friendly and complimentary when they actually know nothing about you or who you are. We want to work with people we like - so be nice and personable and don't just approach strictly as a business opportunity."

Valencia raised a really interesting point about approvals and her experience of brands requesting to approve content even when the content is supposed to be delivered in real-time. She explained that "We can give brands examples of the type of content they should expect, but brands need to be able to go with the flow, particularly when live events are involved."

All the panelists agreed on the importance of collaborative campaigning. Oshry explained that "While budgets should be different, if you're asking the influencer to create their own content, rather than the brand just handing over some content, it's always better to get the influencers creative input on campaigns."

She concluded with perhaps the most insightful error brands make, "... The misconception that this is a hobby! This is a full time career. The content is my livelihood - brands need to get this if they want to understand more broadly how and why social marketing works". Smart advice that we can all heed.