Sounding Off -Kent Kirschner: Influence Alchemy: Science or Witchcraft?

More and more, as I travel around the periphery of the marketing services universe, I'm finding niche new disciplines entering into the arena.  It seems that with transformational technologies, inevitably come revisions to the kinds of roles that are required to harness their power. Today’s reality stipulates that influence is everything, hence Facebook recently reporting that some advertisers are increasing their spend by tenfold! But who among us truly understands the delicate and mysterious recipe for influence building? Today I’m making a long term bet on PR. And in Latin America, regional experts will rise to the top.

Social media is a hybrid between paid and earned media, and as more and more brands experiment with these new environments, the more they realize the overall impact it will have on their future growth.  But they are also beginning to realize that there is a missing link in that concept of 'media' in the early days of this game. If there isn’t some type of editorial oversight, some form of structure to the conversation, then inevitably efforts tend to be short-lived or lacking in impact.  Who fills this vacuum?

With this question in mind, we have seen the launch of unique new agencies and specialists that perform roles like custom ongoing editorial development, full-service community moderation and management, and grassroots brand activism. Former journalists from traditional media are starting these types of companies, as are former CMOs that recognize the opportunity to bring their message-building talents to a wider pool of customers.  But what about PR? Aren’t the historical masters of influence jumping on this bandwagon in a big way? Aren’t they harnessing the promise of current online behavior to position themselves now as the tip of the spear?

I spoke with Felix Leander, former Latin America lead social media strategist for a big five PR firm  who very much helped to clarify this premise and how it is unfolding in that region. “Our first approach was merely to explain the shift in communications and how it would affect our client’s brands,” Leander said. “This wasn’t necessarily paid work, this was more a warning.   Initially the response was one of ‘we don’t really see it.’ Then, there was an explosion when Facebook opened up for global translations of their site. Since then, you’ve seen an exponential adoption rate around LatAm for all of the platforms that originated here or that are flourishing around the region. And so the companies immediately took notice.” 

But still, who owns the space? Is it marketing, customer service, or advertising/media agencies? Often, the budgets for this were in marketing, and PR was talking to communications departments.  Social media was a question of technologies and technologists. 

Today, however, according to Leander, it is more readily accepted that one of the most important aspects of the whole endeavor is in the content development. In effect, many companies are going to have to become publishers, in a sense, in order to cultivate and maintain a following. If that is true, there will be a greater and greater emphasis placed on marketing partners that understand content development and message management.

PR has the edge as far as community development is concerned. They understand how you integrate into a community. But at the end of the day, it is whichever agency understands an audience best for a particular company. Ultimately, it implies a major shift for all agencies that will need to think of themselves more as content factories. 

The goal of a brand is to position itself as being somehow emblematic of a certain lifestyle or personality type. When I say a name like Quiksilver, for instance, one can immediately conjure up images of surfers and those throughout the world that would like to think of themselves as living the surfer lifestyle regardless of their proximity to big waves. That brand was built over the past 40 years, and it is a great example of the old way of influence building. Today, brands and influence can rise and fall in a matter of months. And so, too, can the alchemists that purport to understand what that means!  

Kent Kirschner is CEO of The Media Maquiladora, a leading Hispanic integrated marketing agency, and executive managing director of TRAFFIQ Latino, the first direct marketplace for premium Spanish language digital media inventory.