Influencing the influencers

Written by Vicky Hayden

I’ve been thinking, in the public sector is there still a tendency to think of coverage in traditional media, and increasingly social media, as the most effective way to galvanize people to do or feel something positive about your brand?

Most of us, in the field of marketing and communications at least, are likely familiar with the concept of ‘Influencer Marketing’, i.e. more direct communications with individuals rather than a target market as a whole. It’s the practice of identifying the people that have the power to affect the hearts and minds of others – through authority, knowledge, position or relationship and orienting your communications activities around them on a more personal, informed level. It’s hoped that they will in turn influence the target market as a whole.

I think it’s a strategy that needs employing more often in PR, too, particularly in our field of technology and public sector communications.

Why take an individual approach to PR and influence?

Here’s an example – you’re looking to increase your sales into STPs (NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships). There are 44 of these, and therefore at least 44 leaders that need to hear more about your business. Why trust your level of influence over them solely in the chance that they are all reading the same article about you? Why not work on a strategy to communicate with them more directly, in PR, or relationship terms, not just by marketing.

Our clients will often ask: “who reads that?” While we can share a readership profile and circulation, we can’t name the individuals that the business is ultimately hoping to reach. We can’t be sure that those responsible for purchasing on our clients’ prospects wish list have read their case study, news or opinion article. And that’s the problem, or limitation, of the traditional approach.

When we secure an opinion article in Computer Weekly or the Health Service Journal, we are reaching a wide and often hard to define set of people. So, why adopt that model as the main vehicle for communications? How valuable is that press coverage or LinkedIN post without the means for ensuring that the people we want to see it have or will see it?

How we influence individuals for our clients

At Mantis we take a different approach with our sights increasingly focused on influencers. With our expertise and experience in working with technology suppliers to the public sector, often our clients are looking to influence policy makers and shapers known to us – be that NHS Digital, Government Digital Service (DGS), Crown Commercial Services (CCS), MPs, industry associations, etc. Beyond that, influencers might include our clients’ existing customers where it is hoped the relationship could be extended and, of course, decision makers in new business prospects. They might also seek to target influencers in new market sectors. Basically, influencers should comprise of senior figures within any groups on your stakeholder map. And that’s really the best place to start when it comes to identifying who those individuals might be.

We have a pretty good idea of who those influencers are, but we work closely with our clients to help identify individuals within stakeholder groups (it’s usually a mixed bag), agree the ultimate objective and only then determine the right communications strategy. It’s important that the objective be set by the client at a business-level rather than it simply being about achieving a communications goal, i.e. secure a pilot with XYZ company rather than securing a meeting or developing joint content – that’s the tactical delivery. Communications is of course only part of the mix but, with the right strategy in place, it should reinforce the sales and marketing efforts of the organisation as a whole.

Why it works long term, alongside media engagement

But, for influencer engagement to be truly effective, it’s important that it’s not a one-way relationship. As the saying goes, ‘you only get out what you put in’. The influencer needs to feel that they too are gaining something of value from the interaction, whether that’s raising awareness of an issue, supporting an initiative that they are passionate about, providing them with information and/or resources to help them do their job or achieve their goal. By truly understanding the influencer and what makes them tick, and carefully aligning that to our clients’ business goals, at Mantis we’re able to develop and maintain long-standing and valuable relationships that have a real impact on our clients’ business in the long term.

 

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