Meet boutique Australian PR agency The Atticism. The agency has made waves in the PR industry lately when it came to light that they had taken an unusual route in the digital era:

No influencers.
No social media.
Only traditional PR.

In an article for PR Week, the agency's founder and director Renae Smith explained that when she analysed how her staff were spending their days, she made a shocking discovery. Approximately 80% of their time was spent focussed on social media, while only 20% was spent on traditional PR — "which no client was ever happy with," Smith said.

So, why the decision to ditch social media and influencers?

Smith said that the decision was made largely because she felt that, many times, social media campaigns and working with influencers was not effective for what clients wanted to achieve.

However, she also said that she started to see "the writing on the wall" for an industry wrought with data privacy scandals (hello Cambridge Analytica…), fake news and Instagram now trialing removing 'likes' from posts.

Social media campaigns and working with influencers was not effective for what clients wanted to achieve.

Vanity metrics and why they don't really matter

Social media metrics are used as a measure of success for social media campaigns and influencer marketing. But, not all metrics are created equal. Metrics such as ‘Likes’ or 'reactions' are often not a good judge of how successful your efforts have been.

While an influencer's post that has 500 Likes might make you feel good and think that the partnership with the influencer was a smart move, it might not be the case. Vanity metrics do not equate to success; actual product sales are more valuable than Likes or Retweets.

Vanity metrics to not equate to success.
For Smith, this realisation came from working with the largest toy importer in Australia.

"The client said they wanted 1.7 million eyes on their toys, and on YouTube they want 10 000 views of their video ad ... We would go to an influencer programme … [and they] would be sent toys and take photos with toys in posts, which helped the campaign exceed its targets in terms of 'views' and 'Likes'," says Smith.

"But I knew I was paying for fakery. All of the influencers were watching each others' posts and comments. When they had 30 comments, it was the same 30 people commenting on each other's profiles," she adds.

Smith said that she had discovered several groups of influencers where each influencer would post links to their current campaigns, and other influencers would Like and comment on the posts. This would give the appearance of active engagement to assist each other in getting more influencer gigs.

These influencer 'pods' weren't the only thing that drove Smith to say goodbye to influencers and social media — follower locations also played a part.

"I noticed [that] influencers had followers from all over the world – people from Turkey, China, all of these different countries that are never going to buy a shop in Australia," she says.

At the end of the day, while The Atticism was raking in cash for doing what the client wanted and reaching all the targets set, Smith said that she knew their efforts weren't going to help the client make any actual sales.

Social media isn't the only way to go

While much research has been done regarding the authenticity of Likes, followers and comments, the point that Smith and The Atticism have made is that social media and influencer marketing isn't always the best way to get things done.

There is still an important role for 'pure PR' — without all the trendy social media bells and whistles.

'That sounds all fine and well,' you might say, 'but how did The Atticism perform once they ditched social media?'.

Not well — initially.

"We took a huge hit initially; our billings per month had dropped by more than half for a few months," Smith says.

But then, the agency hooked some new, high-profile clients — including the wholesaler for one of the largest telcos and a big developer company from Hong Kong.

"They've come to us purely for PR, which makes me feel good because I believe in the power of PR and [how] it works. We are now doing better in terms in billings than where we were before," Smith concludes.

While the success of The (social-free) Atticism is impressive, undoubtedly the same approach may not have worked for a big, multinational agency. However, the moral of the story is that social media and influencers are not the be-all and end-all of modern PR.

What do you think modern PR is all about? What elements go into successful PR in the digital age? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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*Image courtesy of Vecteezy