How the coronavirus is disrupting influencer marketing

These online personalities still have access to their digital audiences, but how can brand managers work with them to create the content needed?


Editor’s note: This article is a re-run as part of our countdown of top stories from the past year.

For PR pros and brand managers, influencer marketing might be an important way to engage audiences that are flocking to digital platforms amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Courtney Worthman, senior vice president of brand and agency partnerships for Burns Entertainment and her colleague Stacey Gersten, also with brand and agency partnerships, share some of their takeaways from the current crisis.

Here’s how they recommend brand managers pivot with their influencer partners:

PR Daily: How is COVID-19 impacting influencer marketing?

Worthman and Gersten: The reason a platform like Instagram or TikTok is so successful is because it is human-to-human content. What’s more human and necessary than to connect in a time like this?

Influencers are not going to cease making content and they still have actively engaged—and now very captive—audiences. The biggest shift we are seeing is the messaging. The great equalizer is COVID-19 and the need for connection. At the end of the day, the messaging needs to be genuine and community driven, or it just won’t connect.

 PR Daily: What are some ways marketers and influencers can adapt?

Worthman and Gersten: Before, a “mommy influencer” might have focused on parenting tips and family meal planning. Now, she is suggesting homeschooling schedules and at-home activities. Other influencers have shifted to things like home beauty, organizing your home and online shopping.

PR Daily: What kind of tone should you strike in your messaging? How can you do that?

Worthman and Gersten: Be mindful. Posting a link to a $1500 dress when millions of people just lost their jobs is not a smart idea. Be aware and genuine, and focus on community and self-wellness (items we are all truly exploring right now).

PR Daily: What lessons have you learned from this current moment?

Worthman and Gersten: It has been a swift reminder to take it one day at a time, to be nimble and innovative. The companies that are innovative during this time will rise to the top. We are already seeing internal company cultures shift with interesting ways to engage their staff with things like virtual happy hours—almost like a “digital water cooler” atmosphere.

PR Daily: Do you think the market will be permanently changed by this or will we get back to business as usual? Why or why not?

Worthman and Gersten: Without a doubt. It is economics 101 and there will be a trickle-down effect, but the silver lining is that innovation comes out of necessity. Eventually the scale will tip and it will, one day, be back to business as usual.

How are you changing your influencer marketing efforts?


3 Responses to “How the coronavirus is disrupting influencer marketing”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    These exceptionally bright PR intellectuals, Worthman and Gersten, say it’s “economics 101” and that “it will all one day be back to business as usual.” But economic 101 and advanced economics are changing. So business, especially the PR business, may one day be not business as usual but business as it is going to be and has become because of new realities.

    As congress and the Fed expend money as never before—billions for this, tens of billions for that and perhaps a trillion here and there—the new realities in economics are creating new realities in the value and objectives of PR.

    A problem with the economic “stimulus”–like the problem of starting lunch with a strong martini to relieve tensions–is what happens when the stimulus and alcohol wear off. The economic problems and tensions are still there.

    Look at the effects of spending billions or trillions to seemingly make things better. People would seem to have lots of extra money if government orders Treasury and all employers to pay twice as much starting June 1, but prices will shoot up so employers have the means to pay more. Prices won’t double because rent, interest and some other costs won’t double, but a restaurant and PR firm alike must either charge enough to cover their costs or else go out of business.

    Can anyone avoid loss thanks to a stimulus? Yes. If you have to pay an average of 75% more for what you buy, then the dollars in your pocket can be worth about 75% less. But
    fortunately the stocks you own are ownership of assets like machines, technology, land, brand values and other goodwill, assets that keep their value or even rise so stocks don’t go down anywhere near 75%.

    Bonds on the other hand have no value at all except for the dollars they pay plus redemption value. So when the value of dollars declines, the value of a bond that pays dollars also declines. Therefore if a law is passed saying to pay twice as much for labor, the value of your services seems to go up as does the value of your stocks but the value of your bonds goes way down.

    Also profiting are PR firms because the value of what they produce and protect–goodwill–goes up like the value of tangible assets. Bond values shrivel but the value goodwill soars.

    Highly likely to profit are PR firms—both before and after stimulus or “pay double” type legislation—who counsel management on how to preserve or even increase the value of the goodwill their companies have. Also highly likely to profit are PR firms skilled at getting and keeping legislation and public policies that increase earnings.

    Looking ahead as Ragan PR courses and publications teach,
    PR objectives rather than being “objectives as usual” may focus not just on “buy what we sell” but increasingly on “pass the right laws.” Intense PR effort may go into seeking laws that help companies to make more money and to keep more of what they make.

    Political leaders may be guided to emphasize not so much what “fairness requires” (like enough aid to the poor) but “fairness to the middle class” (which votes more). And since much of PR is financed by the wealthy, perhaps “fairness to the wealthy” with not such a crass name but rather “fairness to our companies that provide jobs.”

    These ideas above make sense to many of us who studied economics as I did at Wharton, just as it makes sense to med school graduates that wisdom and caution can help one to avoid Covid-19. But don’t get me wrong. Like many who’ve studied economics, I’m definitely not knocking the idea of starting lunch with a strong martini.

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    It’s time for Saturday Night Live writers to do a shtick in which activists masked to look like Mitch McConnell picket congress with signs: “Stop Overtaxing the Wealthy!” and “Fairness for the Fortunate!” . . . and “It’s Not Wrong to be Wrich!”

    The wealthy, it can be argued, get no more unemployment benefits per person than the poor so why should the wealthy pay more taxes?

    I once wrote a “PR for the Poor” piece for PR Journal or PR Quarterly, but that was a serious proposal to match doctors and lawyers who have groups that help people who need it.
    The poor (which my mother and I started out as) deserve it.

    Some of today’s proposals, like a bailout for fabulously wealthy cruise ship owners, may seem a first to be jokes but aren’t. A down market is especially tough on the rich, it can be argued ridiculously, because many poor people have never had money so they don’t miss not having it now.

    It may have been Dionysus, a Greek general exiled to an island after he lost too many battles, who tried writing life’s great truths like the idea: “The strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must.” We can hope that PR today isn’t helping to make this happen.

    Influencer Marketing Campaign says:

    Valuable information over here.
    I think that the pandemic has accelerated changes that were at that point in progress, for example, the pattern toward “unfiltered” or less-scripted substance, the ascent of TikTok and the notoriety of “regular influencers.” Industries like account that hadn’t put vigorously in the strategy prior are additionally figuring out how to explore the space.

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