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Scott Guthrie Q&A

Scott Guthrie is a professional advisor on influencer marketing, a conference speaker, guest university lecturer, top 10 PR blogger, host of the Influencer Marketing Lab podcast and media commentator.

He is co-chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations‘ (CIPR) influencer marketing panel, a Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) member, and an editorial board member of both Talking Influence and Influence publications.

Scott has written chapters for five business books on the subject of progressive public relations and influencer marketing plus over 175 blog posts devoted to influencer marketing.

Scott, do you want to give us a quick rundown on how you got into the industry? 

Scott: So, I guess to do that we have to scroll back in time to, I suppose, the early 2000s. I was a Newswire Product Manager across Europe, Middle East and Africa for PR Newswire and I noticed two things. One, clients were increasingly buying access to the newswires, but having that content populated on websites and online databases. So, they bought the wire, as in the satellite news feed, but actually what they really wanted is to get their content onto online databases and websites. And the other thing I noticed was that press releases were increasingly being written for the end-consumer rather than for the intermediaries, such as journalists and analysts. So, there was a shift in power from brand to the consumer and that adage of “we make it, you take it” was suddenly outmoded. Now, a brand was no longer what firms told the consumer it was, it was what consumers told each other it was, to rework a line by Scott Cook. That was fascinating, the intermediation of the media and consumers having a voice. We’ve always had opinions, we’ve always shared opinions down at the pub or while watching sport, but now all of a sudden, our opinions and ideas could be shared globally, at scale.

I got into influencer marketing was around 2014 when I was living in Sydney, Australia and I started following progressive PR practitioners in London, New York and Los Angeles. One of these progressive PR practitioners was Stephen Waddington, who is one of my key influences. He at the time was the Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum and he was also the president of the CIPR, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. I started commenting on his blogs and agreeing and disagreeing, and I became part of the community. When I returned from Sydney to London he suggested I apply for a role at Ketchum as the Digital Director of Influencer Relations, that was 2016 and that’s how I got into it. They liked my CV because I had never worked in an agency before, so I didn’t have that preconception of what other agencies did and what they didn’t do. I had an MBA and came from a management consulting area and was sort of a change catalyst. If they had got someone internally to do an audit, then everyone would be thinking that there was a policeman involved. I was able to come in, see the best practices within Ketchum and see the different verticals. Some were embracing influencer marketing really well as you’d expect, like the beauty desk were all over it, while others were just trying to catch up.

How do you think that the industry has changed over the last 12 months with the impact of COVID-19? 

Scott: Well, that’s a great question and you may have listened to my podcast episode with Dominic Smales who set up Gleam. We asked that very same question as he set up Gleam in 2010, so we scrolled back 11 years to what it was like then. So, what’s changed in the last year? Well, there’s that line from Vladimir Lenin, that you get decades where nothing happens and then there are weeks where decades happen. We’ve certainly seen that within influencer marketing in the last year. We’ve seen influencer marketing legitimised as a communications channel. We know that the United Nations or the World Health Organisation or various governments around the world using it to carry important messages about social distancing, about washing your hands and about covering your face, for example. We’ve seen the Finnish government reclassify influencers as key workers because of their ability to tap into that section of society that no longer actively engages with traditional media, so that’s one thing we’ve seen. We’ve also seen this race down the sales funnel from purely an awareness, or even consideration, to now instead seeing it in terms of purchasing. We’ve seen that before but last year we saw social media platforms dig into shoppable areas within Instagram, Facebook and all the other platforms.

So, there’s a race down towards creating content to bring awareness and discovery towards actually keeping it in the walled garden of an application and creating the sale from it. Also, we saw that because of the logistics of the COVID-19 induced lockdown, that the other channels of marketing or advertising couldn’t access talent. TV commercials couldn’t be made because they couldn’t access front-of-camera talent and they couldn’t access behind-camera talent. But we know that influences are adept right throughout the workflow, from writing to producing to filming to editing to distribution and promotion. There’s an element of influencer marketing, which kind of aped TV and movies, and last year there was a shift towards TV and movies aping influencers. A great example is the L’Oréal advertisement with Eva Longoria promoting hair dye. She reportedly filmed that using two iPhones and the influencers staple the light ring. The content style wasn’t a glossy TV commercial, it was vulnerable, she was openly talking about her grey hair. Lastly, in the last five years influencer marketing has grown, it’s 20 times the size it was in 2015. According to Business Insider, taken from Mediakix data, in 2020 the industry was worth $10 Billion and by the end of 2022 it’s going to jump to $15 Billion. They’re still small numbers in comparison to other channels, but it’s growing at a colossal speed. And with it, there are lots more platforms and lots more dedicated influencer marketing agencies ploughing their furrows. In 2015 there were 190 agencies and platforms dedicated to influencer marketing and last year that grew to 1360, according to Influencer Marketing Hub data. 

We have seen advertising bodies attempting to police the industry but there are wider aspects of regulation, whether that’s fair payment to influencers or fair budgets for brands. So, I wanted to get your thoughts on whose responsibility is it to set those rates, to set the standards within the industry and who are the people that are leading the way in that area? 

Scott: I suppose the mainstream media likes to, for various reasons, which we may come onto later, portray influencer marketing as the Wild West. Without going into doctorate-level stuff about film studies, I have an idea that the Wild West, or the Western, was a fabrication of Hollywood and I think that influencer marketing being portrayed as the Wild West is a fabrication of mainstream media. I think it’s wrong because as you’ve identified, there are rules and regulations within our industry. You’ve identified that at the top you’ve got the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), as a government body, underneath that you’ve got the self-regulators, the Advertising Standards Authority and below that you’ve got various professional bodies. I’m a co-chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Relation’s Influencer Marketing Panel, for example, and we have codes of practice, we have codes of conduct, codes of ethics, how we work with clients, how we work with influencers that are laid down within the code. I was a council member of the Public Relations and Communications Association and we had a similar deal there.

So professional bodies have their own codes of conduct. Then beneath those, you have agencies and they have their values, they have behaviours, either codified in writing, in their employee handbook or instilled in their culture. So, it’s not right to say it’s the Wild West because as I said, right from law-making, right down to an agency’s organisational culture, there are these rules, behaviours, ethics and moral codes of practice. You asked a great question about who should be setting the pay, who should be making it equitable and building diversity, inclusion and representation. That’s going to come from top-down and bottom-up, so it’s meeting in the middle. Adesuwa Ajayi from the Influencer Pay Gap, for example, has found a voice from the bottom up. You’ve got great practitioners like Rahul Titus from Ogilvy and I was lucky enough to have him on the Influencer Marketing Lab Podcast a few weeks ago and Ogilvy are doing a lot in this area. You talk about fair pay, but then you say, how do you get the fair pay? Fair pay comes from better diversity, inclusion and representation and that’s not an output, that’s got to be ingrained in your company’s DNA. There are great proponents like Ogilvy, The Fifth, Whalar and Fourth Floor, a smaller Bristol-based Agency, that are also doing great things.

So, I think that it needs to be top-down and bottom-up. The tagline for my podcast is the growth spurts, but also the growing pains of influencer marketing. There are some bad actors that inevitably the mainstream media will pounce on but we’re finding our way. I think we have to realise that, ultimately, in a purely marketing lens, if we’re trying to sell products to existing customers and prospective customers, we have to create content that they’ll like. We have to represent them when we are creating this content. So, whether it’s through a moral obligation or a civic duty or whether it’s because you want to count more pound notes in your back pocket and are therefore driven by a commercial imperative – the outcome should be the same: to create fairer pricing and content that better represents your target audience.

A lot of brands are very sceptical of influencer marketing, which may be due to this perceived lack of regulation. What do you think the biggest challenge is in convincing these brands to be less sceptical about influencer marketing?

Scott: There are a couple of things there and just to latch onto the last bit, there are these existing rules and regulations. For example, a few weeks ago the ASA upheld a case for filters being used in influencer marketing because it exaggerated the claim from a product. There’s nothing new there, that’s been there for 10 years, for example. Interestingly, the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland had a similar case 3 years ago against a product. Nothing is new, it’s just either a new interpretation of it, a growing awareness of it or the regulators really enforcing their existing regulations.

So, again, I was talking with the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland yesterday and awareness is growing within Irish consumers – 73 percent of people asked knew about influencer marketing. That’s high but it’s not as high as the rest of digital marketing understanding. Why are clients sceptical? I think possibly that goes back to what I was saying about mainstream media. When I was researching for my podcast with Dominic Smales, I found that if you look back five years to the sentiment of column inches in newspapers about influencer marketing it was all quite positive. It was a new thing and they wanted to get behind it. Now the sentiment has definitely shifted and I think it shifted possibly because there’s a phenomenon of – you build up and then knock down – it’s an example of the tall-poppy syndrome. I think possibly with mainstream media there’s a conflation between influencer advertising, or reality TV stars with a large Instagram following, and born-on-digital creators that have honed a craft over the years and nurtured a community, I think there’s a conflation of terms there. I think there are some bad actors, I’ve had a lot of problems with getting a plumber in Peckham, but there are good plumbers and bad plumbers and there are good influencers and there are bad influencers. We’ve seen a few that have made probably less than optimal decisions by going to Dubai, and again, that feeds the machine for mainstream media.

Also, I think there’s increasingly a disincentive for mainstream media to write wonderful stories about influencers because they’re vying for the same ad spend. So outwardly and editorially it’s kind of boo hiss to influencers and inwardly and commercially I think a lot of mainstream media outlets are trying to determine how can they create influencer marketing teams internally to capitalise on their photographers, podcast creators and journalists. So, I think brands are sceptical because they are relying on mainstream media and that’s colouring their ideas. I also think that there’s a misunderstanding that influencer marketing can’t be measured effectively and of course it can be measured effectively. But that always comes back in surveys – the Interactive Advertising Bureau did a survey at the end of 2019 which said that lots of marketers found that as an issue, that they couldn’t effectively determine ROI. And that just shows you, I think, that this is a specialised activity within marketing and that you need to go to a specialist, someone with specialist knowledge, to understand how you can set up the objectives and how you can measure the performance of those objectives. The IAB survey said that over half of the marketers interviewed or questioned, were looking to do the influencer marketing themselves rather than going to a specialist. You might want to bring in elements of the influencer marketing workflow in-house once you understand what it is, what you’re trying to achieve but I think whilst you’re finding your feet it’s best to go to a specialist, someone that does this on a daily basis, and we work together on elements of the workflow.

Following on from that, what advice would you give to brands about how they can implement influencer marketing if they haven’t before? Maybe you can speak to what practices that they can implement to bear fruit from what is a hugely effective industry when, as you say, done correctly?

Scott: Well, the question is why should brands use influencer marketing as a channel? And I think the answer to that is, what’s the alternative? As a society, that goes back to legitimising influencer marketing as a communications channel. What’s the alternative? There’s a large and growing section of society that no longer reads a newspaper, that no longer listens to the radio, that no longer watches free to air television. But what they do is spend a lot of time on social media and when they’re on social media, they’re following and engaging with influencers. Gen Z are increasingly moving away from turning to Google to discover a brand and they’re looking to influencers on social media to discover those brands.

As we said earlier, it’s not just about discovery and awareness, but it’s a consideration and purchase as well. So, if you’re not where your audience is, then you’re not marketing effectively. But it’s not just about the digitalisation of advertisements, because we don’t like ads and we actively seek software to block out those ads, we use ad blockers. Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU Stern said that advertising is a tax on the poor and the technologically illiterate, that only they pay. So, we’re adept at circumventing ads, but we turn to influencers because of their ability to tell interesting stories and their storytelling abilities. And I think lastly, why should brands turn to influencers? Because we no longer have this blind trust in very much anymore. We don’t have blind trust in big organisations, we don’t have blind trust in organised religion, in governments, in mainstream media but we do have trust in people like us, these influencers. There’s a move from blind trust to trustworthiness, to people with domain expertise and authority.

Scott on your podcast you have many open conversations about the industry with key players, you do numerous keynote speeches each year, so would you quickly speak to the importance of having open conversations within the industry? 

Scott: It’s so crucial and I think partly because we’re a young discipline, there might be imposter syndrome. There might be – not wanting to share your homework because either someone will ridicule it or someone will steal your ideas. But when we talk about influencer marketing, we’re talking about authenticity, we’re talking about transparency, and we always say it’s all about the data and yet we don’t want to share any of those as marketers. So, I think we’ve got to overcome that, and I love doing the podcast, it’s been a runaway success and thanks as ever to Tagger for trusting me in creating this thing. I don’t think it’s necessary the medium, something I’m plugging away on my blog for four, maybe five years, it’s a willingness to engage. Ask questions and answer questions and develop this community of practice, so whether that is on LinkedIn, whether that’s on Slack, whether it is just sharing ideas in a blog or in a podcast, I think we need to open the kimono a little bit. As I said, we always talk about data, trust and transparency, and yet we’re not very good at doing that as practitioners, but I think we need to.

It leads me nicely onto the final topic – where do you see the industry going in the near future and who do you think the people are leading the way?

Scott: Well, when I talked to the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland yesterday, I said there are six main trends, but I won’t mention them all now. Firstly, the big push into e-commerce we touched on earlier, consumers want convenience and they want frictionless purchase. Owners of social media platforms want people to stay on their platforms as long as possible within the walled garden. I think as an element e-commerce or social commerce will grow 35 percent this year, according to an eMarketer report a few weeks ago. It’s social commerce growing at speed, livestream shopping will be a really important element of that. It’s been a big thing in Asia for five or six years, we’re just getting our heads around it now. But if you look at the last six months, what’s been happening with Amazon live, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok’s been trialling it with Wal-Mart and others. We are going to have livestream shopping and that’s going to be the “QVCification” of influencer marketing. But where it wins over QVC is influencers bring their engaged community, they bring their subject matter expertise when selling the products and they bring their storytelling abilities as well, so that’s going to be a huge thing.

And the third thing is there’s been a big wave in the way that influencers and brands have been working together away from these short-lived, tentpole campaigns, towards longer-run ambassadorial relationships. But I think we’re going to shift away from payment, from sponsorship deals to equity deals. So, we’ll see more white labelling, we’ll see more brand partnerships. You think about Jordan and Nike, that a sports and celebrity endorsement. But think about that with Ninja and Adidas, for example. We’ll see a lot more of that and that’s what we call the George Foreman “Grillification” of influencer marketing. If you look at Ryan Kaji, the nine-year-old apparently, according to Forbes, earned $26 Million last year through YouTube doing classic influencer marketing. $26 Million at nine years of age. However, he’s also lent his name, as in Ryan’s World, to books, toys, toothbrushes, games and a whole manner of other products. They amassed $200 Million last year. So, I think that is another key shift. Who’s doing it well? As I said at the beginning, I think The Fifth is doing well, I think Whalar is doing it well, I’ve got a great amount of time for Ogilvy under Rahul Titus. It’s not just about creativity but it’s about changing from the agency looking inwards to going out. Not just trying to get better pay for the sake of better pay or so they can tell their clients that they pay it appropriately, it’s about changing your systems to reflect society.

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