The Influential Power of Relationships: Interview with Strategic Objectives

The increased focus on influencer engagement not only highlights the continuing convergence of PR and marketing, it is a testament to the power and value of thought leaders and their ability to drive action within their communities. To disrupt and persuade with broadcast messages becomes even more challenging as consumers look to trusted, familiar voices for advice on buying products and services instead of traditional sources of advertising and marketing. According to McKinsey, “word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.” Public relations has a long history of working with influencers to leverage their passion and knowledge on a particular topic, develop relevant and meaningful content, and engage them to become advocates on behalf of a particular brand.

At the World Public Relations Forum in Toronto, our digital correspondent Deirdre Breakenridge (@dbreakenridge) met with thought leaders to talk about the evolving trends in PR. From Toronto-based PR firm emptyStrategic Objectives (@SO_pr) co-founders Deborah Weinstein, President (@debweinstein), and Judy Lewis, Executive Vice President (@JudySLewis), shared their thoughts about the impact of technology on building relationships and the rise of influencer marketing. You can watch highlights of Strategic Objectives interview here and read a summary of the conversation below.

How do you build and maintain healthy, strong relationships?

Deborah embraces the wide variety of ways that technology allows her to stay in touch with people without having to be in the same room, from Google hangouts to Twitter chats to email. Close relationships are at the heart of Judy’s personal and professional well-being, and she highlights the importance of face-to-face communication in building and maintaining good relationships – even when it’s made possible by technology instead of an in-person conversation. Too often, communication is lost through text because it doesn’t have the tone that we are able to integrate through voice and face-to-face conversation.

What are the benefits and challenges of building relationships through technology?

When it comes to communication, Judy appreciates technology because it allows us to “segment relationships between professional and personal relationships.” On LinkedIn she maintains a professional profile whereas on Facebook she can express her creativity and keep her information private. Being able to segment messages and make them appropriate for the community that you are speaking to is a great benefit of technology for PR. Deborah has cultivated a worldwide network on Twitter that she turns to daily for news, information, feedback and guidance. She says social media is a tremendous addition to PR because even though there is nothing more important than face-to-face communication, sometimes we don’t get that opportunity. So we default to technology and can still form sincere, genuine, relevant, credible relationships.

How are you setting expectations for your influencer programs with your clients, internal teams and your influencers?

Influencer programs should start by identifying the client’s target audience and finding out where they’re getting their information, says Deborah. Employees, customers, partners and consumers are part of that audience, and so are influencers (both micro and macro influencers). The corporate social responsibility (CSR) community is important too, and Deborah emphasizes that businesses are expected to participate and deliver social good to the community which includes recipients of this social good and people affiliated with the message of the campaign. That is what PR has always been about, says Deborah, “Building bridges from one community to the next.”

When looking for influencers for a particular campaign, Judy starts by clarifying what she wants to achieve and making sure there is alignment between the campaign, the influencer, and the influencer’s channel(s). For example, a program that she would do with an influencer on Instagram would involve beautiful, inspiring visuals, but from a blogger, she’s looking for a connection with the messages, words and stories. She evaluates each relationship differently and specifically; not only the influencers and their communities, but the platform where the influencer is strongest, and whether or not it will fit and drive success for the campaign.

What does a successful influencer marketing program look like for your clients?

A successful campaign starts by setting specific objectives with each client and defining success for their particular campaign, says Judy, because success can only be measured against what the client wants to achieve. When it comes to metrics, it’s important that clients understand that “influencer marketing is not about impressions; it’s about action, change of behavior, and very frequently, purchase.”

Another key, according to Judy, is to share what success looks like on a particular campaign with your influencers “so you both have the same goal when doing your work.” She underscores how important it is for public relations professionals to be more sophisticated in matching their influencer relations activity to business objectives.

Measuring the direct impact of PR activity on purchasing behavior has become more important to clients, says Deborah, and although “PR can only lead the horse to water; we cannot make them (consumers) drink.” Public relations is becoming more and more and more accountable for that bottom line result.


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