Flexing Your Earned Influencer Muscle

Influencer. Has any word caused more excitement, agency land grabs or demand from CMOs in recent memory?

Influencer marketing – currently understood as engaging online personalities on behalf of products and brands to create content that can be shared, explored and consumed – is all the rage.  It seems like every advertising, digital, public relations and creative agency on the planet is packaging and selling it. And it has an important place in the rapidly shifting media landscape to reach key consumer audiences.

But paid influencer marketing programs are just one aspect of influencer outreach. There is much more that brands need to think about when it comes to “influencers.”

Amid all the excitement, there is a compelling question for the public relations profession: are we turning our backs on earned influencer work? PR and earned influence means working at building earned relationships and showing how and where your actions match your words.

Earned influence moves issues, creates public acceptance of new innovations, and tells an organization’s story in ways that can’t be captured in a 10-second video or a series of social media posts.

Earned Influence Has the Right Stuff
More questions for PR pros: Where are our innovations to create dialogue around tough issues? Why aren’t we leveraging the power of reputation-building to create a differentiator from the other marketing disciplines? How should our discipline be leading our society out of a world of echo chambers, bipartisanship, online ugliness and fake news?

Now is the time for the public relations profession to take back leadership around earned influence and show the world, in measurable ways, why and how reputation shapes the future of successful business.  Public relations is better suited to handle earned influence efforts than other marketing disciplines as PR does not view everything through a paid prism. As PR leaders, we must spark a conversation around the value of reputation and illustrate how investing in it will pay long-term dividends.

PR pros need to help brands, companies and organizations build long-term reputation via trust and permission from stakeholders. Companies must be able to navigate toward true earned influence in a visual, streaming, 140- or 280-character world. We need to be talking about how to measure the real value of this type of work in its power to create the freedom for businesses to operate ethically.

Ketchum’s Influencers by Permission is a unique screening tool and methodology that reaches the influencers who hold an organization’s reputation in their hands. Our approach goes beyond online influencers who create captivating content about a product or service. Instead, we work to engage the people who spark dialogue about key societal issues, new innovations, government regulation and the future of our society. Influencers by Permission is earned influence at its core, distinctly different from paid influencer marketing. And, we can measure it.

In the world of earned influence, there are two important influencer groups:

  • Direct Decision Makers: The 20 to 200 opinion leaders, pundits, analysts, NGOS, government regulators and C-Suite partners whose words and actions directly impact a company’s ability to do business.
  • eVangelists: Influential consumers (not activists) who control the conversation – online and off – in key sectors like healthcare, food and the environment. They influence what the media covers and what Direct Decision Makers do.

Direct Decision Makers and eVangelists work in a symbiotic way to influence long-term reputation, but brands must earn their trust and permission first. Ketchum has a screener for identifying these people and a strategy for engaging with them.

The hottest thing in the reputation and influence world should, can and will be helping companies align their deeds with their words to build long-term reputational value. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me here or leave a comment below.


Melissa is partner and North America portfolio leader for Technology and Food, Agriculture & Ingredients, specializing in corporate communications, issues management, business-to-business branding, corporate branding and strategic philanthropy/CSR.