+Under the influence

Robert Chalk, Managing Director of Chalk + Ward, continues his series of marketing insights by looking at PR and the nature of influence in today’s digitally obsessed world.

PR and influence used to be simple.

If you wanted people to talk about your business then you were reliant on building a relationship with editors, producers and journalists. That often meant boozy lunches and champagne socials.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? But in truth, it was an important part of the job. They were the gatekeepers to your audience – they held all of the keys to the kingdom, so if you wanted valuable third-party endorsement then you had to get on their good side.

So, the PR industry continued to grease the wheels and everyone had a lovely time. The little black address book was the most valuable tool in all of PR. For some, the connections you had were almost more important than what you actually said.

And then one day this thing called ‘the internet’ happened and the PR industry lost its collective mind.

Okay – I’ve skipped about 25 years of innovation but you get the idea.

In that time, communication has been irrevocably transformed. We have access to realms of new information. We have more soapboxes from which to shout. We even stay in contact with friends and acquaintances who, if we’re being honest, we never even liked that much anyway. The way we interact with the world, changed in a generation.

Before, influence was the currency of the media and their vicelike grip over the airwaves and print. Now, you can reach anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, at any time. We are just as susceptible to the influence of others as ever before, it’s just that where that influence holds sway is completely different in this accelerated world.

Every new digital platform gives rise to a wave of self-made influencers; people empowered with a voice to challenge traditional media. Whether it’s blogs, videos, podcasts, social media – it doesn’t matter. Every single channel or platform is a new way to interact with your audience. Instead of an elite few publications, we have a disseminated army of small-scale influencers at every turn.

The influence our social groups hold over us has been similarly transformed. A bad customer experience used to be limited to word of mouth; now it’s indelibly etched on the internet. Before, reviews were confined strictly to the realm of the professional critic, who traded in sarcastic quips and column inches. Now, the first thing you do before you visit somewhere is check the score on TripAdvisor.

That can sound a little bit intimidating but it shouldn’t be. It just means that we live in an era of transparency and honesty. The value of trust has skyrocketed. The successful brands are the ones that respond to feedback, listen to their customers and adapt. That can only be a good thing – it means better service, better products and better experiences. And that’s what gets people talking.

The fragmentation of the communication marketplace is an opportunity to find your own niche and speak directly to your customer. Getting your message heard is no longer reliant on the whim of an editor or your ad spend. The paradigm has shifted, so if your great idea truly is great, then you can get people talking about it.

Of course, it’s never quite that simple. There’s more to influence than creating a Facebook profile and repeating your sales message, or paying a blogger to do a sponsored post. These are traditional methods in a modern world. One-way communication doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to build relationships and that requires a real understanding of your audience.
Where do they do their research? Where do they talk with their friends? Where can you influence them? You don’t have boundless resources, so you need to focus your efforts where it will have the highest impact. It requires empathy, it requires strategy and it requires expertise. That’s how you can influence people.

Although, we’re all still partial to a liquid lunch every now and then.

If you’re ready to be challenged, contact us today.

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