There is no prescriptive formula for becoming a PR influencer. The path to gaining a following and making an impact on the community is a little different for everybody. But PR pros can follow some important guidelines for becoming an established voice in the PR world.
We had the opportunity to interview Deirdre Breakenridge, a renowned PR influencer. Being in the business for nearly 30 years, she has gained expertise on what it takes to get to the top of the PR game.
Q: What’s your definition of an “influencer?”
Deirdre: I’m really glad you asked me that. I define it as someone who creates engagement: conversations, sharing, purchases–it’s action. When brands want to work with influencers, they look at how they get people to act. They use highly respected and trusted individuals. It’s less about the vanity numbers more about trust, credibility and what people will do based on what an influencer says and does. But brands have to be careful. A company can look at an influencer that has a large network, but it may not necessarily translate into the action they’re looking for, based on how closely the influencer is connected to their community and the type of content they share.
Q: Did you make an active decision to become an influencer, or was it something that just happened as a result of work you were already doing?
Deirdre: It wasn’t a conscious decision. I was one of those kids in high school who learned about PR and communications, then went to college and just started doing it after I graduated. I also have an MBA, and my first entrepreneurial venture was to launch my own marketing and PR firm. After almost 30 years, I’ve learned that as an influencer you rely on your passion and always look to build trust in your relationships. If you make the connection between your passion and your community’s needs, then your influence can grow– as long as you’re delivering relevant content. It also helps to have a human face. People want to feel close to their influencers. Showing that you understand them and know what they’re going through helps a lot.
Q: What is your typical day-to-day?
Deirdre: It’s always an adventure! As an entrepreneur and business owner, anything goes in a day. It can include communications consulting, speaking at events, training sessions, etc. I have the opportunity to work with clients and groups, either in-person or online. My workday extends far beyond a 9-5. For example, I work with a producer on the west coast on video courses, and I’m on the east coast, but with technology anything is possible. I also work internationally. You can expand your borders because you have technology that allows you to do this. Currently, there’s a company in Europe who watched my Go-To-Market LinkedIn Learning video course and now they want me to consult on their G-T-M strategy. Of course, my day also includes catching up with my social media friends. I’m asked a lot of questions from students and professionals on Twitter.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge thus far in your career?
Deirdre: It’s a universal challenge to stay up-to-date while the market is moving so quickly. I’ve learned to evaluate my business over the years based on clients’ needs and always shifting ahead. You have to know what’s next before your customers do. Companies that aren’t forward thinking and those not looking at how customer experience changes, as a result of evolving media and technology, are going to become obsolete. You need to be in tune with the market to remain relevant.
Q: Where do you see the future of PR heading?
Deirdre: I see it evolving as a way to help brands create unique experiences for customers, while at the same time maintaining and protecting the reputation of your company. PR will always be the eyes and ears of the brand. We are the brand police, protecting and serving and tuning into how the public is feeling and what they’re saying. We serve a very important function that way. We work through issues and crises that have the potential to be bigger through advancements in technology. Whether it’s AI, virtual reality, data privacy, blockchain–all are tied to our roles and our audience’s experience. When the public’s not happy, we’re going to be a lot busier. With everything in real-time, for example, look at how we’re using streaming video in our storytelling. We need to be fast on our feet and quicker than we used to be to stay ahead.
Q: What’re your favorite tools for your brand?
Deirdre: I’m big on Hootsuite for scheduling across platforms and getting good analytics. Since I’m a professor and a storyteller who publishes frequently, Grammarly is also crucial. It’s really important when you’re publishing to have a tool that acts as a second pair of eyes. Evernote is also great because it can sync to different devices. I even dictated a lot of my text for Answers for Modern Communicators using Evernote.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an influencer in the PR space?
Deirdre: I would say listen carefully “in-person” and also when you’re doing your online networking. Hear what someone else has to say and identify problems. People are too quick to be sharing what they’re thinking. Instead, step back and listen more closely to respond with meaning and value. Another tip would be to never stop learning–take advantage of learning that is all around you and dive in. Being an influencer means you need to be on top of a lot of trends affecting your industry. You can’t be on the sidelines or complacent. Walk in the shoes of someone else to understand their experience and you’ll build a really strong relationships. This should be at the heart of everything you do.
Q: What would you say is the #1 key to success in your business?
Deirdre: The key is to know your market and your customers and to understand that they’re changing. Some key pointers are to step outside of your comfort zone, know when to shift your strategy, stay focused and take calculated risks. Learning to reinvent yourself and your brand in the eyes of your customer will allow you to stay ahead and to remain relevant.
Q: What keeps you going when things get tough in your business?
Deirdre: When it gets tough, I rely on a strong support system. I surround myself with people that don’t just say what I want to hear. I also know when to ask for help and when to delegate. Asking for a fresh perspective allows you not to feel stuck. But, at the end of the day, I always trust my gut!Until next time!
Until next time!
Deirdre is the CEO at Pure Performance Communications. A veteran in PR and marketing, Deirdre has counseled countless senior level executives at organizations, authored six business books, is an online instructor for UMASS at Amherst Journalism Department and speaks both nationally and internationally on PR, marketing and social media communications. Today, she shares her knowledge on the influencer marketing landscape.