Are PR agencies telling their clients the truth about their ‘blogger influencers’?

I’m fascinated by the response I get when I talk to senior marketing folk within US corporates. I met with one last week – a >$10bn consumer goods co. – and after a while our conversation moved, inevitably, onto ‘blogger influencers’. Immediately the execs in the room distanced themselves from any interest in courting them. They said they’d implemented a policy of not working with ‘pay for play’ bloggers, that they agreed those people had no credibility with their audience, and certainly didn’t want to subscribe to any blogger database. I was pleased to hear it.

But I keep reading about the “growing success” of several of these ‘blogger influencer’ database companies – the ones that marry up ‘pay for play’ bloggers with vendors willing to commission them. I looked a little deeper the other day – looking at who those companies claim to be their clients. Their client lists showed few brand-name vendors but plenty of PR agencies. And there’s the distinction. Agencies are their market.

Brand-name vendors can immediately see through the folly of these database trolls. I’ve written several times on this. Any blogger signing up for ‘pay for play’ is signing away both their credibility and any previous influence. The fact that almost none overtly acknowledge their paid endorsement is proof that the bloggers realize this too. But most PR agencies don’t seem to care. They can tell their client they’re increasing their reach, that they’re trying new channels, that they’ve forged new relationships. In many cases I’m sure they’re not even telling their client they’re having to pay for each blogger’s posts.

Clients may not have asked their agencies these questions, or at least done so only superficially. I think those questions are being asked more forcefully now. And agencies will start to get uncomfortable without better answers than they currently have.


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