PR Spotlight: Laura Sutherland, chief of Aura & founder of #PRFest

Laura Sutherland is the chief and founder of Aura, a Glasgow PR and digital marketing consultancy. With over fifteen years of experience in public relations, Laura is now a Chartered PR practitioner and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). Laura is also the founder of #PRFest, the UK’s first festival for public relations and has co-written a best practice guide for the CIPR, which discusses ethical paid and earned media. In this spotlight, Laura, who appears on our top ten UK PR blogs by women, chats to us about how the industry has changed, why writing a press release and placing media stories does not guarantee success, the growing importance of analytics, demonstrating ROI, and how social media is opening up new opportunities for PRs.  

PRFest 1 SA : Pictures from PR Festival June 16th 2016 at Whitespace, Edinburgh. All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016.. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.

What do you most like about being the chief at Aura? And what are some of the challenges? Well, I work for myself. I can be flexible with everything! My time, where I work, how I work, what I charge and I am fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose the best clients to work with; brands which I can relate to and where I can make a real difference.

What I have found is a challenge is managing my time with Aura business and client work. I’ve found that segmenting my week and dedicating time to everything at the most appropriate time is essential. The accounts get done once a month so I’m always on top of them. I do my own invoicing and chasing for late payments. I have a new business funnel which I try to keep on top of and often involves a lot of chasing, for briefs to be completed, for dates to be set etc. Some people may say working on your own is hard to keep motivated, but because I work with such great clients, I don’t find that an issue. In fact, I could work from home, but if I did, I’d work longer hours!! I’ve fallen into that trap before!

I’m also involved with independent practitioners communities and lead one in Scotland and I have built a great network of practitioners far and wide, so there’s always someone to talk to.

As someone with over 15 years’ of experience in public relations, events and communications, how in your opinion has the industry changed? The industry has changed massively. It’s very exciting!

When I first started in PR I didn’t have a PC. I had a desk and paper. We used faxes to send out press releases (and resent them many times due to the amount of faxes news desks received), we used the post and couriers to send out images in 35mm format and design work.

I suppose I was lucky in my first PR job. It was an integrated agency so I got to work across media relations, design, advertising, events and all the client relations side. I worked with big brands such as L.K. Bennett, Patek Phillipe, Bvlgari and also did what we’d now call influencer relations, back then. It was a baptism of fire with little guidance and no training.

In terms of the industry now, there are different elements I can break things down to:

  • People – some practitioners are riding the wave and really enjoying developing themselves to be more relevant. To up-skill and learn new things all the time. I see this as essential. However, there are other practitioners who think they can just keep on doing the same thing as 10 years ago, writing press releases and placing media stories. The latter will soon find they don’t fit within the industry as they can’t offer the right skills or knowledge.
  • Business – businesses are slowly grasping the value which public relations has to offer, crudely speaking, the bottom line. We’re a long way off yet, but we’re making improvements. Partly because modern practitioners are leading clients and are offering the best advice. Partly because they recognise that public relations goes way beyond churning out stories and in fact, if it’s properly integrated into the business strategy, there are many more opportunities to help business growth. Everything from using analytics to understand more to using public relations to understand the impact their business is having.
  • Industry bodies and organisations – as the industry modernises, so must the industry bodies and organisations which interact and represent with practitioners. The bodies need to lead the way on behalf of the industry and crack the engagement with business for there to be better understanding of the value of public relations. The bodies have started to offer more modern courses and training which is essential to practitioner development. I see an opportunity for better collaboration as an industry and I think there is also an opportunity for practitioners to speak out and tell the bodies what they think they need. It’s a two-way conversation.
  • Business development – despite that fact we went through a recession, arguably we’re back in a bad place due to Brexit, clever practitioners and agencies placed themselves accordingly, continuing to bring in new business and retain clients. Yes, I did see an effect in Scotland but Aura was launched in a recession (November 2008) and is still going strong, eight years later. That’s partly to do with the changes I made in 2012 and 2014, recognising the need to modernise, for a better approach to developing business and defining exactly what it was I offered.
  • Media – yes, media of course still plays a part in what we do. Traditional print is not a major focus anymore. For me, it never really worked having a blanket approach to media relations. I’ve always worked in a more strategic and targeted way. However, media is slow to modernise too, which means public relations is slow to use some forms of media as there are more effective ways. Social media has developed in a big way with the introduction of live and stories. This has presented public relations with a huge opportunity.
  • Technology – with AR and VR making headlines at all the big shows and conferences, AR is more accessible to smaller brands. VR can be costly and I’m not sure yet that everyone is ready for the tech. I know the music industry is doing a lot of testing with VR for gigs and not getting such a great response. We need to look to tech to create experiences for brands which underline the brand in an authentic way but we also need to remember that evolving tech can only be used in PR as long as the end-user it using it!
  • Industry issues – there will always be issues in every industry, but we’re starting to make headway with gender equality, professional standards and more. What we need is for the industry itself to understand the issues and help each other do something about it.

What trends do you think we will see this year in regards to the PR industry?

  • Consumer loyalty, post-Brexit, is a major thing and brands need to start reinforcing their true values, to ensure the consumer is still loyal.
  • AI – Chatbots and automation are already here but I think we’ll see artificial intelligence. Driverless cars are already making huge advancements and I see one brand has already started developing a flying car! PR has an opportunity to use AI to make user experiences better across the board. Humans can deal with everything emotionally, bots can’t. Practitioners will need to upskill, understand and start developing new ways of using AI.
  • PR will call out fake news and make an example of it. It’s our duty as ethical public relations practitioners to ensure the businesses and organisations were work in and represent conduct any communication in an ethical way.
  • Forums were big in the early 2000’s and I suppose some examples like Facebook Groups are a forum. People like to have conversations as a group in a safe place. Slack has become an everyday tool for me. Perhaps we’ll see more and better use of private spaces for conversation, brainstorming and discussion.
  • I’ve been working with a retailer and I’ve started to get to know a lot more about retail tech which engages and interacts with consumers, but everything is personalised to the specific person. Using data and tech we can really drive home personal messages, offers and experiences to the consumer
  • Content will be considered a much more strategic element to a PR strategy with longer term benefits and across different elements of the business. It’s not as simple as writing a blog post and creating a pretty image! Machine learning will have an impact too, so the content PR has to provide needs to be clever, create, engaging and personal.
  • I’m a member of a Facebook group for PR practitioners which occasionally I love and occasionally I can’t believe some of the people on there even practice public relations! However, in the last six months I’ve seen a shift of conversation, from everyone talking about AVEs and bad reporting to people now asking for tools and advice. This group has helped some practitioners come out of the dark ages and use modern and more effective approaches to improve their work. For examples, AVEs is a common one. Now the group is discussing Barcelona Principles and AMEC’s new integrated framework. Now it may be down to a few of us being involved in best practice and actually leading in these types of areas of public relations, but it does show there is a want from practitioners to come away from fluffy metrics to sound measurement and evaluation proving ROI and impact.
  • In the world of social media – who knows! It was reported recently that Snapchat is seeing people moving to Insta stories. Instagram has now introduced live, which Facebook and Twitter (via Periscope) already do. Instagram has also announced a beta of sharing image folders, for more than one image. It’s coming away from the USP that platform built itself on. I’m not sure that’s what users want? There’s also Facebook’s Workplace which could transform businesses and how they work.
  • Influencer relations will only get bigger and influencers and practitioners will have to have better ways measuring and evaluating the success of campaigns.

Why is an informed strategy, linked to business objectives the best way for public relations to grow businesses? There are two elements. Being informed, means you’ve done your research and you’ve used all the data available to you, to help inform a strategy. It’s not finger in the wind. Everything relates back to a rationale. For example, if I find data that says 100,000 people visit a website in a day, but there is 85% bounce rate on the homepage, I know the website needs to be changed. If the website is changed accordingly, people will stay on the site longer and possibly buy more products which, improves the business.

Why does PR need to be linked to business objectives? It’s a necessity. If a business wants to grow in a new market and to have £1million turnover from that market in year 1, then the PR strategy has to focus on the new market, the new audience and devise a strategy, with relevant activity/tactics, which will see that £1million turnover reached.

Public relations is not a ‘nice to have’. It needs to demonstrate ROI and it needs to show how the PR strategy and activity has contributed to the £1million turnover.

What is your definition of strategic public relations? I use the phrase ‘strategic public relations’ so that from the outset, businesses will know that I am strategic and will devise a strategy. I am not in the business of developing a tactical plan to execute, without having a strategy and relating it back to business objectives.

PRFest 1 SA : Pictures from PR Festival June 16th 2016 at Whitespace, Edinburgh. All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016.. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.

All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016.. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.

You are also the founder of #PRFest, the world’s first festival for public relations. Why was it important to you to set this up and why do you think it is important for the industry? I was frustrated with the lack of quality top-level events in Scotland for public relations – specifically ones that everyone would want to go to, not just members of an industry body. I like the diversity different disciplines and areas of expertise can bring.

There are many of these ‘big’ events for digital and marketing, but none specifically for public relations. I saw this as an opportunity to a) use my event skills to organise a great event and b) help practitioners modernise by giving them real actionable advice and learning.

I brought back the CIPR Scotland conference in 2012 and 2013, the first one since the 80’s I’ve been told, and there was a real appetite for a quality, learning event.

#PRFest was launched with an international line-up and I expected it to be well received, because I had worked with a group of practitioners to develop the topics. I didn’t think it would be a sell-out, which it was and I didn’t think people would travel from across the UK to attend, but they did.

It’s refreshing to have the festival in Scotland, not in London as per the normal big PR events, and it’s curated and run by me, not an organisation with a political or sales agenda. It also allows me to be a bit more controversial in my approach, with the aim of getting practitioners to react and think.

I think people like the fact it’s a festival and there is a bit of personality behind it. It’s also on my home turf, so it was easier for me to put together and engage the Scottish PR community initially. Start small and build from there.

There is a strong focus on learning, so every speaker has something worthwhile to teach and practitioners can literally go away and start implementing. It’s not about preaching and listening to ‘nice to know’ things.

It was great to have CIPR and PRCA on the same platform last year, demonstrating their support to a worthwhile event, which by the way, also counts for up to 20 CPD points! The PRCA is supporting the festival again this year.

You are the co-writer of best practice skills guide for the CIPR, which discusses ethical paid and earned media? Why was it important to you to write about this topic? Relating back to the Facebook group I am involved in, a few conversations had come up in recent times about having to pay for advertising to get editorial. At the same, the Competitions and Market Authority was coming down on ad agencies for not disclosing paid activity and influencers weren’t disclosing they were being paid to promote a product.

So, a skills guide was suggested by co-author Gavin Harris and he asked me to do it with him. It was done and dusted in no time but we waited to launch it at CIPR Ethics month.

It’s so important for practitioners to know the difference between paid and earned. If you don’t, here’s the skills guide, worth 5 CPD points.

PRFest 1 SA : Pictures from PR Festival June 16th 2016 at Whitespace, Edinburgh. All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016.. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.

PRFest 1 SA : Pictures from PR Festival June 16th 2016 at Whitespace, Edinburgh.
All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016.. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.

Aura is a PR & digital comms consultancy based in Glasgow? How would you describe the PR industry in Scotland?

The industry in Scotland is doing well. There was a period in 2015/16 of mergers and acquisitions but it seems to have settled…for the time being.

There are more independent practitioners in Scotland than ever, some of whom have turned to it when they have had a baby, some who have taken redundancy from public sector work and some who are doing it in early retirement years.

There’s a big opportunity for greater collaboration and connectivity.

I recently came across a large public sector organisation asking for AVEs as part of their funding grant reporting – I think this needs addressed pronto! For a large organisation like that to still be asking for irrelevant information is beyond me. Who’s to say more aren’t like that?

What has been the best campaign you worked on and why?

It has to be the launch of “Hello, My Name is Paul Smith” at The Lighthouse in Glasgow. The exhibition is owned by the Design Museum, London and it’s a travelling exhibition. It came to Glasgow before it went to Japan.

Paul Smith and his team were fabulous to work with and there was so much scope to drive a really creative campaign. There was massive awareness across Scotland and we covered every print, online and social channel you can think of, with the support of Paul Smith and Design Museum. That was a whole year ago!

What’s next for you? Are you working on any exciting new projects?

I’ve developed and am leading on an exciting project for the CIPR, which will see its 400+ volunteer community armed and better connected.

I’ve still to complete my 30 day challenge and when I do, I expect there will be further tweaks to Aura’s own strategy and development from there.

Of course, I’ve got #PRFest to continue with for the next six months, too!

At Aura, I’ve got some really great clients in retail, community engagement, health and wellbeing and the last week or two has been really busy for new business briefs coming in.

Everything I do, I do with passion, so I’m excited about everything I’m working on!

Influencers react to the #HousingWhitePaper

Sajid Javid has promised that today’s white paper will ”set out serious, lasting, long-term reforms that will boost housing supply immediately and for many years to come”. Strong words from the Secretary of State, but will these reforms go far enough, and will they be any different than what has come before?

There are a few issues which have certainly stood out on social media. In a move which many are viewing as appeasement towards the Conservative core electorate, the white paper reaffirms current constraints on building on the Green Belt, unless local authorities find themselves in ‘’exceptional circumstances’.  The Government is also proposing ‘family friendly’ tenancies of three years or more, and is promising to move forward with plans to ban letting agents’ fees – although there is no confirmation as to when that will be.

Take a look at the Vuelio Canvas for a roundup of the latest reaction to the white paper, from influencers across the political and media spectrum.

housing white paper canvas


PR in the Post-Truth Era

From fake news to alternative facts – the truth has always been somewhat of a moveable goalpost. Regardless of whether it has been sensationalised and twisted by a journalist or deflected and spun-out by a PR professional, there have always been multiple versions of the truth.


In an era dominated by news of Brexit, the Trump presidency, a re-emerging Russian superpower and the rise of the far right and (equally) far left, post-truth news is very much (and rather ironically) fact rather than fiction. In our brand new White Paper, we ask how will the post-truth era impact the PR industry?

Entitled ‘PR in the Post-Truth Era’, our White Paper explores how PRs should engage with the media in this new age, the opportunities and the threats in the post-truth landscape; and how to survive the pitfalls of post-truth.

Download our guide for everything you need to know about fake news.

7 Top Stories of 2016

2016 was a big year for us at Vuelio! We launched a new website with a clean design and intuitive navigation, allowing visitors to find the information they’re looking for much faster, and it was also a big year in relation to the traffic we generated from the blog.

In celebration of this content, we have compiled a list of the top performing articles from 2016:

1. Stuart Campbell Speaks Out on Twitter Ban


Back in September, pro-independence blogger Stuart Campbell found himself embroiled in controversy. Daily Express journalist Siobhan McFadyen said that Stuart had instigated a “hate mob” against her in response to an wrote she wrote claiming that Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was risking “outbreaks of violence” by proposing another referendum on Scottish independence. Twitter swiftly responded to Campbell’s claim and suspended his account. By the time we interviewed Stuart his account had been reinstated, but Stuart spoke to us about the complexities of freedom of speech, his thoughts on Twitter’s suspension procedures, and his feelings toward First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.



2. Sunday Cover

Compiled by our research team, our weekly ‘Sunday Cover’ is our second most clicked blog post. For PRs wanting to know the journalist and desk contact details of who work for newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph, The Times, the Guardian, and The Daily Star, the Sunday Cover is a vital resource.


Ella Dvornik Spotlight Vuelio

3. Blogger Spotlight: Ella Dvornik

Following her appearance on our annual travel ranking, blogger Ella Dvornik opened up to us in a spotlight interview about what it feels like to have over a hundred thousand readers of her highly successful blog I Am Ella, why she decided to create a twenty-three-page media kit for PRs, and why she owes her success to her devoted following. Known for her eccentric style and her glamorous getaways, we are not too surprised that her spotlight generated a lot of attention.




4. The Missing Women of PR: PR Bloggers react

Back in May we decided to take on the issue of female PR practitioners being sidelined into non-career roles after having children. The article came after research that showed one of the main reasons why women leave PR after a certain point in their career is that they feel pushed into leaving public relations after having children. Not holding back, Sarah Hall, managing director of Sarah Hall Consulting and editor of #FuturePRoof, and Sarah Pinch managing director of Pinch Point Communications, shared their thoughts with us about the inequalities faced by women in PR and how the industry needs to change to become more accommodating to women with children.



22/03/2016 Paul Clarkson, editor of the Irish Sun Photo Garrett White

5. Spotlight: Paul Clarkson, The Sun

Back in April, we managed to bag an exclusive interview with the then newly appointed managing editor at the Sun, Paul Clarkson. With an average circulation of  1,755,331 and as the second largest Saturday newspaper in the UK, The Sun is still in high demand. Despite the appalling performance of the Trinity Mirror title ‘The New Day’, Paul Clarkson spoke to Vuelio about why the newspaper industry is still the pulse of the nation, the challenges of growing revenue across digital platforms, why Facebook and Snapchat want the Sun’s content, and why the press still has a massive influence on voters. Following this interview, Paul’s sentiments were later confirmed when national newspapers saw a boost in both print and online readership before and after the 23 June EU referendum.

6. Media Updates

MediaUpdates Logo

Providing updates on all of the moves and changes at media outlets covering news, fashion, entertainment, business, science and technology, our weekly ‘Media Updates’ give our readers a comprehensive overview of the changes happening in the industry, making it one of the most clicked posts on our site.




7. Vlogger Spotlight: Jack & Ben, Our Swirl Life

Back in August, we featured our first ever vlogger spotlight with influencers Jack and Ben, aka Our Swirl Life. Since launching their YouTube channel last year, the pair has racked up just under two million video views and have over 41,000 subscribers. In our spotlight, Jack and Ben spoke to us about why being a British interracial couple has been an asset to their brand, how they respond to homophobic and racist comments on YouTube, and why they want to use their channel to make a difference.   

The PR Software that will guarantee you success in 2017

Want to kick-start 2017 with a product that will make all the difference to your PR? Join us on January 31st at 11am to learn about the software most successful PRs use to get their story heard by key influencers and track and measure the effectiveness of their campaigns. 


In our first webinar of the year, we will show you why our software is the only tool you’ll need, taking you through every step of your PR activities, from campaign planning to analysing results.

During the webinar you will learn how to reach the right media contacts, how to get your news read and shared, monitor your coverage across print, online, broadcast and social, and how to measure your PR impact.

So make sure you sign up today for our up and coming webinar if you want to smash targets this year with our PR software.

Barcelona principles to AVE – measuring PR ROI

As the lines between PR, marketing, customer services and sales continue to blur, it’s never been more important for PR professionals to accurately monitor and measure the success of their campaigns and activities. 


Today we have released our brand new white paper, ‘Measuring PR Return on Investment‘ which reveals how the PR industry currently measures success, the challenges it faces in order to remain relevant and earn cross-departmental respect and the various steps they now need to adopt to provide greater transparency and accountability.

From Barcelona principles to AVE, our new white paper essential guide lays down the law on measuring the success of PR campaigns to help you demonstrate the value of you work.

To find out more download our whitepaper now.

How can the PR industry save Black Friday for the high street?

Black Friday is dead – at least as the high street is concerned. It’s now almost exclusively an online phenomenon owned by the likes of Amazon and…, well is there anywhere else people do the bulk of their online shopping?

The sad thing is, the high street retailers have nobody but themselves to blame for the demise of “the sales event of the year” and, I’m afraid to say, the buck stops with the retail sector’s PR and communications bosses. They really should be hanging their heads in shame.

In an attempt to highlight just how exciting their previous Black Friday events were, retailers staged and released footage of baying crowds, literally fighting to get their hands on amazing (but limited) bargains.

While a sizable number of people might be willing to trade punches to save a few pounds on a large screen television – it did more to turn people off the high street (with all its associated problems – parking, public transport, queues and the weather) and send them online in their droves. It’s almost as if the major online retailers had planted a double agent in ranks of their high street competitors.

And so Black Friday 2016 was a damp squib. The bargains were there, the promotion signs in place and sales assistances and security primed for the rush that didn’t happen.

The problem is, once let out – you cannot put the genie back in the box. Directors and shareholders expect to see an uptick in revenues in line with previous years’ events. Anything less is a failure.

What would your strategy be to bring the hoards back to the high street on Black Friday 2017? Fist fights and unobtainable bargains are so last year – so better get your thinking hats on.

As a PR pro – the ball is in your court. I’m not sure if the high street could survive another winter if you drop it again.


Is football facing a Saville-sized crisis?

The news regarding professional football isn’t always played out on the back pages of the daily press. As a sport, it’s had its fair share of scandal. From racism and homophobia through to corruption and any number of “kiss and tell” tabloid exposes – the so-called beautiful game has kept PR professionals busy trying to keep the public’s attention on the pitch.

No matter how terrible previous indiscretions (and let’s be honest – actual crimes), the cascade of allegations of child abuse by former football scout and convicted paedophile Barry Bennell could see the sport face its biggest crisis yet.

As stars of the game like Wayne Rooney urge victims of abuse to step forward and stop “suffering in silence” and further allegations of abuse are made against, as yet, unknown individuals in the game – this isn’t going to be something that is going to be sorted out behind closed doors.

While the acts of abuse might only involve a few people (although one is too many) connected to the sport, many others may find themselves under the spotlight and facing accusations of ignoring and even covering up the abuse.

It’s highly likely, as with the BBC during the Saville-era and the various scandals involving the church and other organisations, many people in the game will have heard rumours and dismissed allegations as nonsense. Others would have been too scared to come forward, fearing their position in the game.

Football still suffers from an overtly macho environment. This might explain why (unlike the far tougher sport of rugby) there are no openly gay men in the top flight of the sport. It’s this macho environment where boys don’t cry, nobody likes a grass and “gay” is an insult, that enables abuse to be passed off as banter and innuendo. Thankfully, this macho environment may be about to be brought down.

While the game is undoubtedly going to torn apart by these ongoing and terrible allegations, perhaps there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Once all the evidence has come to light, there will be an opportunity for the sport to re-invent itself and join the rest of the world in the 21st century and as open, caring and safe environment for everyone to enjoy. As football fans and decent people, isn’t this what we all want for the future of the game?

Has the local press given up on the game?

What does it mean to be local? Well, there are certain things that bring a community together. You probably drink in the local pub, shop on the local high street, read your local newspaper and follow your local football team.

It’s hard to image a community where these four local assets don’t actively support each other to the benefit of their connected audience of patrons.

So the news that a non-league “local” football team has abandoned working with its local newspaper, dismissing it as “yesterday’s news” should be of concern to anyone who values their local community.

It’s had to blame Boreham Wood Football Club for their recent outburst targeting the Newsquest-owned Borehamwood and Elsetree Times.

A spokesperson for the club told journalists: “We’ve spoken to the paper’s Sports Editor, and he’s explained their financial state is chronic and they do not have the resources or staff to cover the club.

“We feel, as the highest placed non league club throughout Hertfordshire that the paper could do more but we have to now move on and for us they are now yesterday’s news.

“For many years, we have tried to help them by providing our own reporters and quite often even a photographer.

“It’s fair to say though, it’s not our job to do their sports reporting and we are happy for them to continue to take our reports, regurgitate them as their own, while never attending a game, as that’s how they now choose to work.”

The club spokesperson concluded their statement by saying: “Finally, we genuinely wish the local newspaper and the very few loyal staff that it has left good luck in the future and for those of us old enough to remember, we fondly recall the time that the Borehamwood Post and then Times served its local community and its sporting clubs very well. Unfortunately that time has now long since passed.”

Newsquest’s north London group editor Tim Jones jumped to the defence of the paper stating on Twitter: “Times are tough for local papers. But our team does its very best. Very ill-considered to kick your own supporters

Jones later posted: “Sorry back page coverage not good enough. And 50,000 uu /month is not enough. Will try harder.”

Clearly, community-spirit is in short supply in the Borehamwood area. However, when the local newspaper and the local football team (two much maligned organisations) don’t have each others’ backs, there is a problem.

If the local press doesn’t have the resources to cover its local football team – it’s clearly in trouble. It’s just a case of how long it can continue to call itself a local newspaper and remain fit for purpose.

Has your local newspaper given up on the game? Share your comments below:

Blogger Masterclass: Nik Speller

Nik Speller is the founder of influencer marketing consultancy; N.K.B. and contributor to men’s lifestyle blog, Buckets and Spades. With a passion for writing, Nik started his career posting reviews of restaurants on Twitter; soon after he met Matthew Pike, editor of Buckets and Spades who invited him to contribute articles to the blog. Now a regular contributor to the critically-acclaimed site, in addition to working with big brands on high-profile campaigns, and now helping other influencers to do the same, Nik is an expert at influencer marketing. In our first Masterclass series, Nik gives a definitive guide on everything you need to know about working and building relationships with influencers.      


Influencer marketing: the Wild West


“Influencer marketing is still a very new industry. People keep describing it as the ‘Wild West’ and, in my experience, only a few brands and marketing/PR agencies really understand it well. As you’d imagine, there’s a lot of mistakes being made; but, I’d say the overwhelming one is the failure of brands and PRs to dedicate the time needed to form strong relationships with influencers.

The most effective influencer marketing comes from a strong connection between the brand and influencer; one where the influencer understands the brand, grasps their message, and wants to actively promote their products and services.

“This only really happens when brands and influencers know, understand, and respect one another.”

Building relationships with influencers


“Firing off blanket emails to a whole list of bloggers, saying how much you love their work, and offering them up a product which – most likely – isn’t relevant to them and their audience, and will only end in disappointment.

The best thing PRs and brands can do is take the time to find those influencers best suited to their brand’s look, style, ethos, and message.

“Once they’ve done this, approach the influencers strategically. Don’t expect too much too soon. Try and meet the influencers or chat to them, to get an understanding of how they work, and propose projects that suit the content they regularly produce.”

Have a strategy


“Like any working relationship, getting to know each other is key. If PRs have read up on an influencer, followed them for a while, regularly seen their content, that as a first step will go a long way to bringing an influencer on board. The PR will have a much better understanding of how the influencer works, the sort of projects they’re interested in, and how best to approach them.”

Creating long-term partnerships


“I’d say Bellroy, an Australian wallet brand, are a great example of a brilliant PR/influencer relationship. We featured them on the blog a good few years ago, after I bought one of their wallets. They then contacted us to say thanks and we chatted a bit about blogging, menswear, and the rest.

“A while later, they sent us some of their latest products to test – with no expectation that we would cover them again. We continued to chat and when their products worked well for us, we featured them, and when they didn’t, we didn’t. Simple as that.

“We’ve since worked on a number of projects with them, including them on the blog in quite a few travel features, Instagram shots, product recommendations, and more. For them and for us, it’s a really solid, respectful working relationship, that’s grown over time and generated some great content.”



“Engagement is a difficult thing to measure, really. Clicks, likes, shares, etc, they’re all good, but they often don’t mean much for the brand, ultimately – and, can often just be a factor of how often the content has been posted, what hashtags are used, and the rest.

“The best engagement comes from content that really catches the eye. Influencers have built their audience by knowing what works and what doesn’t.

When brands put faith in influencers to create content as they see fit, then they end up with a genuinely engaging content, that’s of actual interest to their target audience.

Embrace the power of smaller influencers


“Brands have become disappointed and disillusioned with  mega-influencers for the wrong reasons, though. Again, the mega-influencers have gained their huge following through creating content that really resonates with their audience. However, a lot brands seem to want to use them simply as an ad platforms, buying one or two posts endorsing their product.

“This, to me, is the least effective form of influencer marketing. For all the likes, shares, and views it’ll get, it’s too obvious and not compelling enough for the audience to take an interest in the brand.

Conversely, when brands work with smaller influencers, they won’t go for an ad – as the follower numbers don’t seem to justify it. Instead, they work on a more creative feature that will, ultimately, interest the influencer’s audience more.

“There’s also the fact that the smaller influencers can often be more focused on a particular subject area that’s more relevant for the brand. This means the brand gets exposure to a far smaller audience, but one that is genuinely interested in the brand and their message; rather than the audience of the mega-influencer, which usually covers a fairly broad spectrum of people.”

Content is king


“Content is always king, but promotion is equally important to get your content noticed and to build an audience. However, even once you’ve gained a significant following, it’s not like you can relax and scale back the quality of your content.

Influencers are only influential if their content is good – and, by that, I mean relevant to their audience and in keeping with their tone, style, and approach.

“To any new influencers starting out, I’d say that focusing on the content, rather than worrying about follower numbers, is the way to go. I know a few guys on Instagram who only started posting in the last 18 months, but have gained a big following, quickly, through producing killer content.”

Make influencers part of your marketing strategy


“Be strategic, be respectful, and take your time.

“It’s really important to think about influencer marketing strategically. What are you trying to achieve? And how are you going to achieve it?

Get out there and speak to some influencers and experts in your industry. Find out what content they think works well, what they think doesn’t, and learn from this. Collaborate on briefs, collaborate on projects, and don’t just force a preconceived creative idea on anyone.

“Finally, taking your time is key. Influencer marketing is about building a respectful relationship with influencers; not just using them as some sort of ‘fire and forget’ ad channel.”

Influencer marketing predictions for 2017


“It’s hard to say, really. This industry is changing so fast; but, I think there’s a few trends bubbling up that will grow and continue into 2017.

“Firstly, I’ve noticed a few brands taking more interest in content, than in follower numbers. These brands have seen that working with the mega-influencers doesn’t always yield results, as they aren’t always the best fit. Working within smaller, creative influencers, with a specific and highly relevant audience, can be far more effective.

“Ads seem to be on the increase, especially on Instagram. With brands now allocating more budget to influencer marketing and the rise of ad blockers, both brands and their agencies have more cash to invest in influencer ads. I think this will grow, but ultimately fall, as these ads really don’t generate as much value as brands like to think. The more successful content is well-briefed, well-structured projects, that allow influencers to get more creative and deliver content with far greater impact.

“Finally, I do think we’ll see the industry shrink a little – or, at least, begin to specialise. There’s a lot of influencers out there covering the same general topic areas and the attention of the audience has a finite limit. Eventually, some influencers will drop out of the ‘game’, while others will turn their attention to areas of specific interest to them, perhaps having smaller, but more focused and engaged, audiences.”

Moda Living


BBC Worldwide

Random House


British Medical Association

Judiciary of England and Wales


Reach is vanity, engagement is sanity, PR is hard graft

There is an old cliché in business which states turnover is vanity, engagement is sanity. In this digitally disrupted age (where anyone can be a publisher and influencers are more likely to look like Zoella than Murdoch), it’s exactly the same in PR. We just need to replace “turnover” with “reach” and “profit” with “engagement”.

As content producers, it’s never been easier to earn “eyeballs” on a project – you simply throw a little cash at social media and the traffic floods in. But in this hyper-engaged, social environment, the value of any content deemed “unauthentic” by a content-saturated audience – is either going to bounce (meaning readers are going to bounce in and bounce straight back off) or be trolled (attacked).

There can be little doubt – PR is hard graft and despite the promises of social media, it’s getting tougher.

Adam Mack, EMEA chief strategy officer at Weber Shandwick hit the nail on the head perfectly in an article in PR Week by stating: “Reach is a hygiene factor, engagement is the Grail.”

In his article, Adam highlights the fact that becoming a “credible” influencer is incredibly hard work. He references a presentation made by the former glamour model Katie Price (aka Jordon) at the recent Festival of Marketing event and how she changed his perception of her from “talentless celebrity” to someone who has “worked very, very hard for her influence.”

Adam also praises sportswear company Adidas for their innovative Tango Squads initiative.

Tango Squads are groups of socially savvy 16-19-year-old football content creators living in 15 cities worldwide. While the squads are between 100 and 250 people, Adidas hopes to reach a maximum of 500 members per squad by 2017.

If you think it’s difficult enough to manage your campaign activities across a handful of high-profile influencers, think about the challenges of working with 5,000+ teenagers.

How hard are you working on your influencer marketing strategy? Chances are, not hard enough.