Ravi Vijh: We need to talk about influencers

Ravi Vijh is account director at Bastion, a PR agency that has been ‘briefing and steering’ in games for 25 years.

We need to talk about influencers. More specifically, we need to talk about how influencers have become a key sector in the make-up of modern media and – usually in the form of streamers – absolutely central to the games media landscape in particular.

Perhaps the first thing to digest and accept is that simple fact: influencers are not a fad. Their voices (while still, admittedly, evolving and occasionally struggling to find the right tone) are getting louder and they are here to stay.

All of which means that engaging with them is crucial to the games media in general and the PR/comms community particularly.

There is a strand of thinking amongst some PR folk that pegs influencers as ‘other’, as outside the media tent – and therefore someone else’s problem/opportunity. There might also be some cynicism, possibly resentment, at the unstructured nature of the new breed, at the lack of training, loose thinking, and colourful language.

But the truth is, streamers, at least the best of them, have more in common with games journalists from any era operating in whatever medium: they have a passion for gaming and they want to communicate that passion to as wide an audience as possible in their own distinctive voice.

Our job, as it always has been, is to help them in that mission and, of course, to try and include our clients’ stories in their content mix.

It’s true that there is a whiff of the Wild West about the sector, but then it is very new (immature, if you like) and it is, by its very nature, quite anarchic – these are individuals, not corporations, and the ‘business’ is built on a DIY ethic. It’s the games media’s punk moment.

Journalists need content and access. We need to tell stories and reach consumers. Influencers are a new and exciting way of doing that, which is why we’re working with them more and more, getting to know them, as a sector and as individuals. It’s also because we want to make sure they are treated as an editorial platform, not as advertising space.

In some cases, influencers are being seen as not much more than real estate, with media agencies buying time, but then ending the relationship there, not helping to shape the content.

At its most extreme, this approach leads to the EduBirdie exam ‘cheating’ scandal – and to a most unwelcome slot on the evening news.

The risks arise because control has been surrendered. And, no, you’re right, PRs can’t and shouldn’t ‘control’ editorial content, but they can control the materials that are made available, they can brief, they can steer and they can suggest. They can, in other words, do everything they can to ensure their clients’ products and messages stand the best possible chance of being shown and discussed by the fastest-growing and most vibrant branch of games media in a positive and professional light.

And that is why we don’t just need to talk about influencers. We need to talk to them. In fact, we already are.

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