How Public Relations Pros Influence The Influencers


Remember the time you emailed Bill Gates and he agreed to speak at your office luncheon? Or the tweet you sent to LeBron James and he wrote back promising to wear your new brand of sunglasses on national TV? Or the Instagram post that convinced Katy Perry to sing backup for your bar band?

Wait … what? It never happened? But there are so many books, blogs and podcasts promising quick strategies to reach influencers. It’s easy! They have nothing better to do, and your request is so unique, they couldn’t possibly say no.

To splash a waterfall of reality on the hipsters, hype-sters, hopers and wishers, I found a real influencer, Kevin Akeroyd, the CEO of Cision. I asked him for advice on how to reach, meet, and convince important people, for free.  Often called “Influencer Marketing,” the practice needs a healthy injection of reality. The CEO of a giant media database, monitoring and media intelligence company who deals with PR pros, agencies, large corporations, universities and communicators of all kinds, is the right person to administer this medicine.

Rob: What is an Influencer?

Kevin: Influencer has taken on a much wider meaning in today’s digital, mobile, social world. The industry has historically used “influencer” synonymously with “journalist.”  To be clear, traditional media reporters/journalists are more important than ever. However, to truly cover all the influencers, we need to widen and take into account academics, bloggers, social (all flavors/channels), communities, policy makers, employees and peers! If they influence a meaningful cohort of your target audiences, they are an influencer.

Rob: What are the best ways to reach them?

Kevin: The “traditional” ways of mobile, email, and good old phone call, as well as alerts based on their preferences. However, now, it’s more than just reaching out to the narrow few we have relationships with. We need to scale outreach across hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of influencers. AND, we need that outreach to be DATA-DRIVEN. Influencers get non-contextual, non-relevant, non-targeted, poorly thought out “pitch and pray” input from most communications pros. They get thousands on thousands of inbounds a year, so it’s no wonder that the coverage is slim or not at all, and a lot of it isn’t that impactful with the end user audience. Just like Paid, Commerce, and Owned media have adopted the discipline of data-driven, relevant versions of the content/story for each audience, and getting it to them in the right channel, with the right version, at the right time… Earned Media/Comms has to follow suit.

Rob: Why do books and articles claim it’s easy to contact them? What specific advice do you offer?

Kevin: We believe that’s not true. The fact that so much of our profession takes that attitude, and per above, bombards them with un-relevant, un-targeted inbound makes them tune us out. Per the above, we’ve got to make it relevant, timely, right channel, and value added. We need to leverage the data we have on them, the history we have on them, and be focused and hyper-relevant, and then we can get through. The batch and blast email is no longer best practice but targeted email is!

Following up on Akeroyd’s advice, Event Manager offers some very targeted, specific advice.  “When it comes to identifying a top blogger, influence on audience is more important than sheer numbers. It doesn’t matter if the person has 20,000 followers if no one shares her content….There are a few ways to isolate top bloggers in your association’s niche:

– Take a look at industry hashtags on Twitter. Who’s the most vocal?

– Search industry magazines and publications to find top influencers.

– See who your members are retweeting and sharing.

– If you have a private online community, look to your most vocal participants.

– Talk to your marketing staff.

– Place a call on social media for industry bloggers the way you would speakers.

– Search topics in your industry on Quora.

Once you’ve found people with engaged followings, take some time to read their about page/profile, most recent posts, and tweets to get a better idea of who they are and what they do. Narrow that list down to those who are most closely aligned with your industry and your mission.”

There are some good free tools to find and analyze influencers including followerwonk. For example, this is what it says about Natalie DiBlasio of Wired and Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone, two of my favorite journalists, on followerwonk which monitors Twitter. Natalie DiBlasio, Head of Social Media @Wired. 23001 Tweets, 3195 following, 15,977 followers, Social Authority 59 (out of 100). @ndiblasio. Mikal Gilmore, Writer, Rolling Stone. 2998 Tweets, 1597 following, 2304 followers, Social Authority 27. On the site, my social authority was 53, which is very kind. (With all due respect, Mikal Gilmore is much more influential than me. And a better writer than most people on the planet.)

On Seer Interactive, Lauren Grabowski posted a giant list of free influencer marketing and PR sites from anewstip (search tweets from over 1 million journalists and media outlets, set up Twitter alerts, create media lists) to buzzsumo (great for content research) to the hilarious and necessary Cliché Finder. Some of these might waste your time, so it’s best to spend an afternoon and try them out first.

Akeroyd reminds us that no matter how much technology we can exploit, it’s important not to forget the human touch.“The root of influencer relations is precisely that – relationships,” Akeroyd says. “Constantly giving rather than asking and remembering that quality influencer endorsements don’t happen overnight is useful for managing the expectations of influencer programs within your organization. Developing these relationships from the ground up, without buying their endorsement is also an additional layer of protection against choosing the wrong influencer (which can cause a crisis as we have seen recently) because the influencer is more likely to pay more attention to brand messaging and how they communicate with their communities (they won’t share unless they have a deep connection with the brand, and feel comfortable sharing it with the followers that trust them). These types of relationships the influencers hold a bit closer to their hearts because they are truly invested in something they believe in, and don’t want to break this sacred trust with their audience.”

Our firm creates events each year where journalists show up to meet and greet PR pros, and we’ve learned the most important treasure for these influencers. They see it as a time saver, meeting important representatives from universities, schools and hospitals, in just 90 minutes. If you want to Influence the Influencers, you have to make your cause, event, speech, blog, concert or anything else valuable to them. Be a Giver.  LeBron James might not take your call, but a few others might join the party.

This article first appeared in

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About Author

Robert Wynne

I’m a public relations professional based in Manhattan Beach, California with a specialty in higher education. I write about public relations and marketing with targeted advice on how to contact reporters, how to make your story attractive to the media, how to produce events and how to work with PR firms to increase your profile.

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