I’m very honoured to be bringing Philip Trippenbach, to answer my #4PRQs (Four PR Questions). Philip is Head of Influencer at Edelman, where he deploys strategic communications projects that harness power of the social web. We chatted about opportunities for the communications graduates in the digital space, Edelman’s influencer discovery and mapping system, as well as potential dissertation topics.
MK: How did you get into industry?
PT: I actually started out as a journalist. I am Canadian and I studied International Development and then did a masters degree in Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. And I started working for the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, while I was still in Canada. Then I moved to the UK and I started working with the BBC, which is where I made the switch to the digital. With the CBC in Canada I was working with TV and radio as a producer and reporter. When I was at the BBC I was in the Current Affairs department. It was about 2006/2007, and the BBC was getting into digital big-time back then. I was involved in a bunch of digital projects. The most successful of them was “Britain’s Real Class System,” which you can still access now — it’s the biggest study into social class ever conducted in the UK. Then I left the BBC, joined the small startup as the editor-in-chief and then left that to come into communications, so a bit of roundabout way. I didn’t start my career in PR. I’m not an “agency guy” and I still don’t think I ever really worked in PR in a way that most people think of PR.
Could you tell me about the new tool that Edelman uses?
Just a little bit of background here — the whole thing about PR is that a lot of people understand PR as talking to journalists, which is what PR used to be — press relations. That’s just not what it is any more. Edelman doesn’t call itself a PR company, we’re a communications marketing company. Basically we’re in the business of getting ideas into people’s heads. Finding out which people our client needs to reach, finding out what their habits are and how they use media, etc. Then finding how we can take our client’s message and craft it into a piece of content or a way that is going to reach and have an impact on the people that our client needs to reach.
There’s three ways you can create content and get it to your audience. Once upon a time you have to rely on the media, as this was the only way of reaching people at scale. Now, there’s two others.
First of all, brands can work on their own, create their own content, share content on their own channels.
Then there’s a third way, which is influencers. Influencers have always been important. The right whisper into right ear always makes the difference in the world, but the difference now is that influencers operate at scale. That’s why you are getting people that are unfortunately known as influencers popping up now. And I say unfortunately, because the term influencer has come to mean your bohemian, millennial, crushed-avocado-on-toast posting pictures to Instagram, with various hair products in the feed for good measure. I am being glib here to underline the point, but influencers are everywhere and everyone has influence on somebody. It’s not as simple as just getting somebody to post with the product in their shot.
Where this all came from is, we needed a way to make sure that we’re working with the right influencers for our clients. And a way to find the kind of influencers, who are really going to be best at transmitting our client’s message. And that’s not easy — it’s not just a question of reach. If you wanted to do a launch event for your blog for example and you were to call me and say Listen, I want influencers there, get me three guys that have a million followers each. Ok, sure — that’s fine. That’s easy — I’ll get you three guys that have million followers. Maybe two of them have blogs about cats, though. And that’s not useful for you. Your readers are not interested in that. They want career advice about PR and comms. It’s a question of finding someone who can reach the audience correctly and who has the authority to speak about the topic at hand, in a way that it’s actually going to move minds. It turns out that we can measure a lot of those things. There’s a lot of data sources we can access that give us intelligence on the type of content that people are sharing and whether or not they are source to release that content.
Influencers have always been important. The right whisper into right ear always makes the difference in the world, but the difference now is that influencers operate at scale.
What would be the best way for PR grads to gain attention of the agencies and other potential employers, using social and digital channels?
First of all, stop thinking about it as PR, PR doesn’t exist. That’s my first piece of advice. The reason why I say this is because if you’re calling yourself PR, then I don’t know whether you’re still stuck in an old mentality, where your primary business is making sure that media are on board. That’s still important, but just part of a puzzle. How can you show me that you have what it takes to get an idea into the heads of the people that matter? Running a good content series is a good way to go. The model you’ve got here — you’ve got a blog, you’re a publisher, you’re demonstrating that you’re active in the area. That’s something of the interest of your particular audience. That’s demonstrating some value. Because the barrier of entry have been reduced through digital communications technology, you don’t need to wait until you actually have a gig to be able to show that you can craft a message and get it across. Create some content, run some channels. The first thing I’m going to ask, when someone’s going to come to see me, before the interview stage — CV, that’s interesting, but let’s look at the social channels. How many followers have you got on Twitter? Have you posted anything on LinkedIn? Have you demonstrated anywhere that you’re active in this area? Don’t tell me that you understand modern model of digital communications methods — you don’t need to tell me, you can show me.
Don’t tell me that you understand modern model of digital communications methods — you don’t need to tell me, you can show me.
What is the most undiscovered area in the industry that could be used as a dissertation topic?
Influencers are the huge area of interest right now in the industry. The upside it that everyone’s talking about it, but downside is that everyone’s talking about it. What we’ve come to is a place, where the use of social media has become wide spread enough that everyone’s on it. And when everyone’s on it that means that you can have influencers, who function at scale. Back in 2006, when Twitter started, the only people, who were on Twitter, were super geeks. I use that term as a compliment, I was one of them. In that kind of environment, you can’t acquire a massive following — there’s not a massive amount of people on the platform. Now, everybody’s on social media, so the situation has changed. That means that it’s possible to have a mass following and that makes situation completely different for communicators in terms of that channel appropriateness for brand communications. That’s why influencers are a huge thing at it’ll continue to be a huge thing. There’s a huge opportunity to begin here, because influencers also are by and large extremely poorly understood, but on the other hand, there’s a big scientific literature out there on network mapping and network dynamics. Second place that I’d explore is the use of interactivity in communications, specifically video gaming. Video games are the most powerful and most popular medium on the planet right now and they are very poorly used for communications. They are used for entertainment, but not for communications. You contrast that with the written word, which is used for entertainment and communications, you contrast that with video that is used for communications and entertainment, but video games are not used for utilitarian purposes, which is a huge missed opportunity.
You can find Philip on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn. For more invaluable insights, make sure you visit his website. For the insights from the agency, you can follow Edelman and visit their website.
Four PR Questions (or #4PRQs) is a weekly series on the blog. I am on the mission to help PR graduates (including myself) make right decisions about their future careers, by asking industry leaders for an advice.
Would you like to give me a feedback or feature in the series? Drop me a line to kl.marcel [at] gmail.com or tweet me @marcelkl. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!