The Rise and Growth of Influencer Marketing

Recently The Prime View got a unique chance to sit down with Bryan Pedersen, Chief Innovation Officer at MSL Group, the largest PR agency with over a hundred offices across forty countries.

Check out our discussion about the growth of digital media, the winners and losers of the COVID-19 pandemic. We talked about the reason why influencer marketing becomes an essential part of a brand’s marketing strategy, and how its effectiveness can be measured and attributed with the help of technology.

Listen & Watch to the Full Interview Episode

Bryan, hiring, retaining, and motivating top talent in PR and Communications becomes more and more difficult. What does your organization offer to onboard the top talent?

It is a challenge because agencies don’t have a monopoly on talent anymore. Startups, digital companies, and tech companies are pulling in so much of the skills. Though, once you get those talented people on board, you don’t have to motivate them. They naturally want to try new things. 

One of the things that we’ve done well is we’ve given the talent exposure across all of the Publicis Groupe. We’ve built a bit of a hybrid model where we work closely with startups and embrace a lot of the startup mentality and working style. By the same token, we have a lot of scale – Publicis Groupe is the biggest buyer of all media on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We can access new products, new tools, work very closely with enterprises, and change how PR strategies affect hundreds of millions of people. That skill and that ability to have a considerable impact have been one of our ways to attract talent.

Bryan Pedersen,
Chief Innovation Officer at MSL Group

When it comes to the competition, how do you challenge your organization to truly be innovative?

We’ve embraced technology across the board with the acquisition of Epsilon, one of the biggest data providers in the world (Ed. Publicis Groupe financed the acquisition of Epsilon through the successful placement of 2.25 billion euros bonds in three tranches on June 5, 2019). There’s a lot of movement towards a platform world and a digital-first world and a lot of our offerings are starting to circle that to a future.

It’s important to remember that not every impression is created equal. You can pay your way into millions or hundreds of millions of impressions but do those impressions influence that particular person to buy your product? Now, we’re taking effective methodologies, the multi-cell studies, and bringing them to influencer marketing, and saying that we want to measure this like digital marketing. That’s ultimately where we want to move brands. 

What technologies do you leverage at MSL to show to prove the effectiveness of your PR strategies? 

The most significant change in the marketing world has been the massive growth of digital media, mainly because it’s measurable, it’s attributable. While you don’t get that with the traditional marketing, whether it’s TV commercials or events. Therefore, all this money has shifted over to the digital world because you can count every click, count every impression, count where every dollar is going. Now you can target people more deeply with many audience segmentations. 

It has been tough to measure when you’re influenced by something externally, when an expert or someone you trust or respect tells you that this is something that you should try, but that has tremendous value. Therefore, we’ve worked a lot on getting accurate data into this world by taking the best practices from the digital media world, bringing them into PR. Now we’re using a lot of ad tech repurposed for PR—things like understanding who’s reading what and how deeply they engage with the content. We’re combining the realms of the core digital human behavior and using that to show the effectiveness of that content. 

Marketing strategies and tactics continually evolve in response to advances in technology. What are the most innovative marketing strategies that you are aware of?

If you as a consumer see an ad for something, you might buy it, but you’re probably going to research it. You compare everything flights, hotels, restaurants, food. You want to see something that will help you decide, probably a piece of earned content, PR content, a user review, or rating. And the influencer plays an important role here that’s going to convince you. Then eventually, the advertising should come back again and retarget that person after they’ve been convinced after they’ve consumed this content. That should convert them at a higher rate. In theory, this should work together to drive someone from complete unawareness down to conversion.

There’s no such thing as a linear consumer journey anymore. We have so much information at our fingertips, and everything from a major purchase, like a car to table salt, is carefully considered. Therefore, we need to rethink how we’re effectively driving people when they control their decision journey. Our job is to convert them by being in all the places they’re going to look for advice.

Data analytics is deeply integrated into marketing. What data analytics tools does MSL use to track the effectiveness of PR campaigns?

From a social listening perspective, I would recommend NetBase (Ed. The company provides social intelligence solutions that enable brands to publish, monitor, and engage with customers in real-time). They’ve been outstanding when it comes to customization, understanding the space. Another great company is News Whip (Ed. the largest engagement database, giving customers an understanding of their audience’s interesting right now). This company helps you understand how stories go viral and brings that data to marketers.

Social influencers are a huge opportunity, and many brands are remarkably successful in leveraging the impact through influencer marketing. We’ve taken those tactics and built one of the most powerful influencer marketing platforms in the world, Fluency (Ed. a business-to-business digital advertising platform provider). We’re scaling that out across all the platforms, whether Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, or Twitch. 

Tell us more about Fluency, an influencer marketing platform. How successful is the project and what are the major challenges in driving measurable impact for customers through the influencer marketing channels?

Influencer marketing is essential for brands today and you want a solution that will allow you to scale and measure beyond just impressions, just likes. At Fluency, we’re pushing PR into the digital realm – we’re tracking all the data points around cookies and clicks, attribution, and machine learning. If you want to make everything smarter, you need someone who will bring it all together, so all your marketing efforts, everything that’s data-driven, is connected at the core.

When it comes to Fluency, we’ve incorporated the best platform. Partnering with market leaders, like IRI (Ed. Information Resources, Inc. is a data analytics and market research company) allows us to measure and connect many data points from marketing tactics. Moreover, we’re not just hiring influencers, but we’re bringing back insights into what works and what doesn’t work. We’re using those insights to fuel other marketing efforts, whether paid social or traditional paid across the board. We’re bringing all the great pieces of content and repurposing them into other channels. That could be the brand’s channels; it could be programmatic, or it could be paid social. All of this amplifies the influencers’ content directly to their audiences, and we get greater reach there. 

From a scale perspective, we index over 250 million influencers worldwide, every type, every country from the smallest to the largest.

Now, the industries like healthcare or insurance that you typically wouldn’t expect marketing in the same way as consumer brands are blending their traditional marketing efforts with going directly to social media and influencers. In fact, during the COVID-19 crisis, we saw governments worldwide, organizations, everything from the World Health Organization to the CDC, paying influencers to talk about the pandemic because they thought that was the most effective way to get a healthcare message out to the masses these days. 

Due to COVID 19, many businesses changed their business models. Did the crisis have any impact on how you execute marketing campaigns? 

There were a lot of winners and losers during the COVID pandemic in 2020. We have some clients that specialize in selling home goods, cleaning materials, or home improvements, and they all did tremendously well. On the flip side, travel companies, or luxury experience type companies, immensely struggle. Even so, all of these companies uniformly started thinking about the acceleration of digital transformation because they suddenly understood the trend of direct to consumer. 

The pandemic opened up clients’ minds to being more direct to consumers, building community, understanding a data-first approach. Because you can’t just hope people will walk into a Walmart and pick something up off the shelf. After all, it didn’t happen during COVID. 

From a marketing channel perspective, it did change a lot of spans across the board. Cord-cutting is at an all-time high, and we see fewer and fewer TV commercials. Many big advertisers who have spent a lot of money in that space started to change their opinion about where they should be spending the marketing dollars. And because we’re all on Disney Plus, Netflix, and HBO Max, and none of those places run advertisements, there’s been a lot of money pouring into emerging social channels. 

The adoption of new platforms has been tremendous. We saw a significant increase of engagement and content influencers on Tik Tok (over 20%) and Twitch, the gaming platform. We also saw the diversification of the media as there were boycotts around Facebook and Twitter. We saw clients experimenting with new platforms like Pinterest, one of the biggest winners coming out of the pandemic. It worked so well for Pinterest because it’s a place where you go for inspiration. They were a perfect fit for that time. And they’re not considered controversial when it comes to political messaging. 

Did you build any totally new strategies tailored for businesses affected by the lockdown?

A good example could be Invisalign. We completely switched their strategy over to Tik Tok and had some of the biggest influencers in the space working there. After that, they saw a 10-year record quarter during COVID.

Bryan, thank you for enabling brands with innovative tools and solutions perfectly aligned with the needs of your customers.

Stay tuned for more great interviews coming your way!