At the same time as McDonald’s shut down its ‘influencer’ fronted YouTube channel for the yoof due to lack of interest, PR Week was zealously promoting its 50 HOT INFLUENCERS. The gist – embrace them or face being left behind.

Something doesn’t add up.

If you employ an ad agency, media buyer and PR agency, the chances are you’ve been pitched an influencer strategy by all of them. The agency scramble to make money out of digital has created an influencer bubble and McDonald’s has joined others in the US as an indicator the bubble is going to burst.

The problem is the fact that every agency sees influencers as an answer; the latest way to advertise to millennials; the best route for social media engagement; part of the buying plan; a fresh alternative to media relations.

For ad agencies and media buyers, their advice is determined by their business model; they can provide great insights and data for their strategies, but fundamentally they sell paid-for executions. So when they recommend influencer activity it’s really just an ad or good old celebrity endorsement in disguise, and apparently, we’re all bored of that.

For lots of PR agencies, the pitch comes from a different angle, but usually still amounts to paid-for advertising as they are seeing influencers as a strategy in-and-of itself rather than part of a wider comms plan.

This is where the PR agency is getting needlessly caught in the paid-for influencer bubble, even though we’re the only ones with the advantage of not being constrained to paid-for executions due to the nature of our business.

The influencer bubble is going to burst when the experiences of the big players like McDonald’s filter down.

Organisations either need to look at influencers as an advertising route – and be transparent about it – or one possible channel which might fit into the overall comms strategy as a genuinely earned way to communicate with their audience.

And when it comes to the latter, it isn’t a ‘defining opportunity or an existential crisis’ as PR Week put it – it’s just part of the job. After all, influence is earned, not bought.

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