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Public Relations: Marketing's Canary in a Coal Mine

August 14, 2017 | By Julie Ogilvie

  • Third-party influencers (journalists, analysts, bloggers) can make many valuable contributions to marketing campaigns
  • Sometimes public relations teams resist becoming involved in marketing campaigns, which frustrates marketing leaders
  • Follow these five tips from public relations leaders to ensure your next campaign is “influencer ready”

I occasionally talk to marketing leaders who complain that the public relations team won’t support their campaigns. Those guys in PR are so uncooperative! They say they have their own plan! They won’t play ball!

Coal mine

It’s true that PR (and analyst relations and all the functions responsible for engaging third-party influencers) often seem to be marching to the beat of a different drum. Sometimes this is because they report into a different function – about half of the corporate communications teams we talk to report into a function other than marketing. Another reason is that PR may be more focused on stakeholders – audiences other than buyers – such as investors, government and communities. But mostly the reason they are hesitant to engage in marketing campaigns is that the campaigns themselves are not something they want influencers exposed to, or they are worried about influencers being over-used, thereby placing the relationships they have developed over a long period at risk.

It’s true that some PR and comms leaders simply “don’t get it.” They don’t believe they have a role to play in marketing or driving revenue. They prefer to think of themselves as above the fray, focused on more so-called strategic issues (i.e. CEO pet projects). This is unfortunate, because it negates their ability to show how PR/AR tactics can have impact on revenue and deals – which would help to prove their value and guarantee their continued employment. Integrated marketing campaigns can be a win-win for marketing and comms people

But the hard truth is that many marketing campaigns are not true campaigns in the SiriusDecisions mold. Disciples of the SiriusDecisions Campaign Framework know that a campaign is a set of carefully choreographed activities that are united by a theme based in audience need.

Pay attention to those last two words. The magic ingredient that is missing in many, if not most, marketing campaigns is audience need. These so-called campaigns are simply a bunch of product-pushing tactics dressed up in campaign clothing. And when PR people see that, they go as fast as they can in the other direction, because product-pushing and influencers do not mix well.

So when PR says “not interested” the next time you ask them to get involved in one of your campaigns, you need to ask yourself if they are actually giving you some useful information (on the order of “your fly is open and there is toilet paper stuck to your shoe”). The information is hard to hear, but ultimately useful if it saves you from engaging in a campaign that is ineffective.

In this way, PR functions as the canary in a coal mine, telling you when your supposedly “audience-centric” campaign is actually suffocating buyers under a load of product-pushing gibberish that no one, least of all influencers, wants to hear. Marketing folks, take note: If your PR team is running in the other direction in an attempt to shield influencers from your campaign, this is not going to interest buyers either.  

Fear not. It is possible for communications and marketing to play in the campaign sandbox together. Here are five tips for marketing campaign leaders from your friends on the communications side that help ensure third-party influencers have a place in your next campaign:

  1. Give advance notice. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are influencer relationships. Get PR/AR involved three to six months ahead of the campaign. PR often has great insights into what will intrigue influencers (and by extension, audiences). They can also begin to seed the key campaign concepts with influencers so they will better understand what you are saying when the campaign begins. PR is also managing relationships for other parts of the company, so they can help you avoid collisions with other initiatives.
  2. Take feedback. Influencers are not your employees. They are independent professionals, and their response to your campaign ideas is a valuable indicator of what audiences may think. If PR tells you that the campaign theme is going over like a lead balloon, find out why and incorporate that feedback.
  3. Give PR your input. It is a great idea for marketing to brainstorm all the influencers who could possibly be relevant to a specific audience. Think outside the box and consider all types of influencers using The SiriusDecisions Influencer Framework. Incorporating a wide range of influencer types ensures that your buyers will be surrounded with relevant information and opinions to help them make their decision.
  4. Let PR prioritize the list. The wish list of influencers generated by marketing is a starting point, but it needs to be winnowed and prioritized around what is possible in the near term. The PR team will consider all the factors, including the existing relationship with the influencer, availability of budget, relevant customer case studies and business proof points. FYI: SiriusDecisions has a tool for this.
  5. Leave influencer engagement to the professionals. Influencer relations is really the art of developing a marketing plan targeted at a single person. It requires a deep understanding of the influencer’s preferences and requirements. Let PR take the lead in contacting influencers and driving the engagement.  

Want to learn more about how to build a winning influencer strategy? Watch the Gaining Leverage Through Influencers webcast or contact us to find out more about becoming a client of our Brand and Communications Strategies service. 

Gaining Leverage Through Influencers: The Next Frontier

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Julie Ogilvie

Julie Ogilvie is a Senior Research Director of Strategic Communications Management at SiriusDecisions. She has held a variety of leadership roles in marketing and communications in her 20+ year career, for both B2B and B2C companies. Follow her on Twitter at @julieogilvie.

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