PR Pitching PR – an Influencer Twilight Zone

In July I gave a presentation at T3PR titled, “Driving your online footprint: PR experts as influencers.” My focus was on how a new breed of PR experts have fast become influencers in their own right through the power of social media and personal brand building: why it matters, how it’s indicative of our changing industry and how the reputation of today’s PR executive matters more than ever.

While PR executives are traditionally the man behind the curtain, the invisibles, the ones who quickly put the right person/product/client in the spotlight – in front of influencers like the media – and then get the heck out of the way, the rise of social media has allowed PR executives to become influencers themselves. Companies aren’t just hiring them to do PR, but to be their web-celeb spokespeople, red carpet correspondents, marketing analysts, brand-to-customer ambassadors or even video/TV stars.

PR executives in general – most of whom may never be on BravoTV – have both an opportunity – and a risk – to show how we really think. It has always been my belief that if you simply talk to reporters and hold your own in a conversation (that is, not just pitching when you want something but rather, an overall practice of sharing thoughts and insights on the products you promote, the industry you’re in, the articles reporters are writing, or business in general) – you will gain a greater amount of respect and ultimately, be more successful in working with them. And over the last few years, several of our industry colleagues have paved the way for “Flaks with Brains.” Some are newcomers, some are veterans – but their use of social media has raised awareness of public relations executives as strategic thinkers – sharing valuable insights beyond the confines of a client’s boardroom.

And that’s great. But what does it mean for the traditional list of influencers that a PR team might compile and pursue? These days, the lines are blurring. A lot of business people blog – especially PR and marketing executives. Every day a new list comes out of marketing influencers, top PR blogs or “Most Powerful Twitter Users.” And even if the folks on those lists are PR industry colleagues, they might be important to your client because of their social media clout.

I know because I’ve experienced this phenomenon from two sides in the last six months. On one side, we had a client who asked us to connect with, promote to and otherwise engage industry influencers on their behalf. A handful of these influencers were people who own PR or social marketing agencies that we often compete against, but whose founders are building powerful personal brands – writing books, speaking at conferences, topping every social media power list – that they are now seen by many brands to be as influential as reporters and analysts. Suffice it to say, our strategy in such cases is not to pitch these folks in the way we would pitch a reporter. It takes a different approach, one that’s just as thought out and maybe even more personable than pitching media. (In an honest side note – sometimes having a client ask you to pitch fellow PR colleagues feels a little bit like The J. Geils Band lyrics in “Love Stinks.”)

I’ve also been pitched by PR reps lately – but usually it’s a very personal approach by a fellow industry colleague that doesn’t feel like a pitch, so much as someone asking for a favor (smart). More recently, I was pitched by a well-known, global PR agency, citing my influence in the blogosphere and asking me to interview their client to help raise awareness of an upcoming show. The pitch “encouraged” me to write about the event and interview the CEO on my blog (which one, btw? #PRtip).

My first thought: “That was a long and impersonal pitch.” My second thought: “That was weird.”

But maybe it’s not so weird. Had the pitch been more specific, I could probably better understand why this firm thought I was worth pitching as a blogger for this particular client. And I might even have found interest in writing something.

All that being said, I’m sure this is happening more and more – PR pitching PR. I can see more clients wanting agencies to pitch marketing and PR influencers who actually work for other agencies but are also strong voices in the social marketing sphere. If you have a client who sells to PR and Marketing audiences, it’s bound to happen.

So how are you building your influencer lists? Do you include PR and marketing bloggers – those who are also industry colleagues – in your outreach? Do you approach them differently than you would a journalist? We’d love your thoughts – and advice to PR pros looking for the best way to break into this new foreign territory.


I Know You, I Know You

At last week’s PRSA T3PR conference, one of the audience questions to me was whether or not today’s “marketing celebs” overshadow their clients. The question was asked with the comment, “I know a lot of the marketing ‘Twilebrities,’ for example, but I don’t know any of their clients.”

My reply was that I didn’t think it was an issue – that maybe you are not the client’s core audience and therefore the marketer hasn’t promoted any of his or her client news to you. You may know the marketer because he or she talks about marketing, business, PR, social media – all things you would want to be paying attention to as a fellow marketer. But, if their client sells widgets and you don’t buy widgets, it makes sense that you wouldn’t know the client. In fact, dare I say the marketer might be doing a bad job – over-promoting his or her own work to the wrong audience – if you did know all of his or her clients. Wouldn’t it get annoying if they talked so much about their own work – instead of promoting to you what you find valuable, such as shared insights, experiences and – when the time or circumstance is right – client news, products or services?

Here’s an example. A year ago I had a conversation with Jason Keath, founder of SoFresh, a social media conference for marketers. At the time, he was consulting for several companies on marketing and social media. I paid attention to Jason because he’s a fellow marketer and I was interested in his posts about marketing. I learned about some of his client work as well – but to this day the only client of his I remember is one that I was personally interested in (because it involved shoes). Likewise, I follow other industry colleagues and competitors because I’m interested in their marketing and PR insights, not necessarily because I’m interested in their clients’ products and services. I remember the ones that do apply to me – something I would buy or use – but I pay attention to the marketers because I think they have smart things to say about marketing, PR and social media opportunities and challenges.

Some, like Kelly Cutrone of People’s Revolution, I learned about and began listening to because she’s a PR veteran and I am interested in learning from her. Now, as a lover of fashion, I also happen to pay attention to her client work. But even if I weren’t a fashion fiend, I’d follow what Kelly does because I value her stories and experiences in PR.

What do you think? Are today’s influential marketers overshadowing their clients?

PS – Just for fun, my headline’s a nod to an SNL skit. Who knows which one?

Photo Credit: Michael Halsband