We received an interesting question about PR firms and their relationships with prominent bloggers:

“Does it bother you that many bloggers see PR as a way to get free stuff to review or to get paid to review?”

The short answer is: not at all. But the long answer is a bit more nuanced than that. Bloggers – and any influential personalities by extension – aren’t asking for free stuff, nor are we in the business of simply giving it out to anyone who asks. Influencers are ostensibly making a trade of equal value to PR firms and the clients they represent. When a company sends a free sample, a Klout perk, or any of the other ways to submit items or services for review, they’re aiming ultimately for access to that influencer’s audience and their positive recommendation to that audience.

That’s built on two very powerful assumptions: first, that the influencer is, in fact, influential, and second, that the audience is the right audience. Both are solved by extensive research that a good PR firm will do before ever starting an influencer outreach campaign. At SHIFT, for example, we start by building out a set of personas for the audience that a client wants to reach, then building out audience profiles for where those audience members spend their time and attention. Once we’ve ascertained that information, only then do we proceed with actual outreach.

We extend not only free stuff, but early access to the leaders of the communities we’re trying to reach. In return, they give us value in one or more of the seven core metrics categories that bring value to our clients:

If our clients don’t see the needle moving in any of those categories after working with an influencer, then we know that person’s influence has diminished and may not necessarily be part of future campaigns, or at least not the first person we call. On the other side, if we see an outsized positive impact from an influencer and their audience, we know to approach that person again and provide even more exclusivity or even more stuff in exchange for more value from their audience.

No one, not the influencer, not the brand, and not the PR firm, is giving away anything for free. The best relationships are ones in which everyone provides fair, equal exchanges of value.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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