Perspectives - 2004, Issue 1
WHAT'S HOT AT KETCHUM
Influencer Relationship Management, or IRM
Martha Stewart could use some influential friends. So could Chi-Chi's, Computer Associates International, Parmalat and Adecco, to name just a few crisis-wracked companies. The plight of Ms. Stewart, on trial accused of obstructing justice, is so uncertain that nearly half of Americans polled by the Associated Press-Ipsos recently think she will be convicted.
Belatedly, Ms. Stewart has discovered that individuals or companies need to nurture advocates so that when difficulties emerge, these supporters can press their cause in the realm of public opinion. In contrast to her situation, the heavy vocal public support for Kobe Bryant has convinced a vast majority of surveyed Americans — 81 percent — that the professional basketball star will win the sexual assault case against him.
Ms. Stewart's situation and those of the crisis-scarred companies explain why a solid and effective program to identify, develop and manage relationships with influencers should be a core element of any corporate agenda. A growing number of researchers, including those at Roper ASW, believe that an elite corps of advocates shapes how consumers and buyers think and act about every organization and its products and services.
These influencers serve to filter and validate information for people who want trusted counsel. Despite this growing importance, most marketers and business executives have few processes in place to truly identify, reach and manage relationships with key influencers.
Last summer, Ketchum introduced a program called Influencer Relationship Management, or IRM, developed largely by Paul Rand, Ketchum's Global Technology Practice leader, and Senior Vice President Joseph McCormack. IRM helps companies identify and actively nurture and manage dealings with influencers that truly matter — including what we term "determined detractors" whose negative influence toward an organization can spoil initiatives.
IRM represents the progress that problematic times ignites — the innovations that spring during the most difficult periods — when companies realize they must take some risks to prepare for the good times that are ahead. Influencers long have been recruited to help companies' public relations efforts, so IRM serves as a natural outgrowth of such advocacy. And it uses modern technology, an online portal, to manage influencer relationships.
IRM doesn't identify thousands or even hundreds of advocates. Perhaps just a few dozen individuals or groups truly shape buyers' and decision makers' opinions about an organization.
Why does IRM make a difference? In today's marketplace, information overload complicates the ability to reach key targets directly. Every day, individuals are bombarded by 10,000 to 30,000 commercial messages and 200 or so personalized messages, such as e-mails and phone calls. The typical reporter alone gets 250 e-mails daily — and responds to about 20. They receive an average of 80 public relations–related calls daily — and respond to about eight.
An effective IRM program must extend far beyond traditional influencers such as the media, government and analysts to include others whose opinions and advice people trust highly. Explains Ed Keller, chief executive officer of Roper ASW and co-author of The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy: "Today, a fragmented market has made it possible for buyers and decision makers to opt out of mass-market advertising, which means a different route must be taken to capture their hearts and minds."
It varies, but key influencers can include authors, academics, analysts, associations, celebrities, civic and governmental leaders, gurus and researchers. One manufacturer of game software discovered that a lone teenage boy, whose personal Web site includes his take on new offerings, holds enormous sway over his peers who value his judgment on video games. Through word of mouth, teenagers let others know of his take on some new game — and they base their purchasing decision on his word alone.
Ketchum IRM involves a proven seven-step process and features an online portal to manage program progress. Among other things, the process prioritizes the selected influencers to ensure the program focuses on those who will have the quickest and most significant impact. It also benchmarks the influencers to ensure progress is made on agreed-upon key variables — from interest and knowledge to attitude and endorsement.
Once this benchmarking occurs, strategic programs for each group guide them toward desired objectives. These might include initiatives to increase purchases, to influence purchases, or to neutralize or minimize negative comments about the company. Then a plan is put into place to maintain follow-up with the group between program phases. This step includes independent audits, influencer contact, IRM portal updates and research and monitoring.
"An effective IRM program becomes a marketer's new currency in strengthening relationships with its most powerful and vocal advocates," contends Rand. "So when a critical issue or a crisis develops, a company has its fan club, of sorts, to help promote the issue or quiet the crisis."
For additional information please contact Paul Rand at or Joseph McCormack at .