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The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy

Author: Edward B. Keller, Jonathan L. Berry
Publisher Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication Date: January 2003

Reviewer:Andy Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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RoperASW is a global market research firm that has been around for more than 30 years and has always focused on what most researchers refer to as the influentials  the one American in ten who tells the other nine how to vote, where to eat and what to buy.  In fact, that’s the subtitle to Keller and Berry’s book.

Unlike most B-school work and marketing books The Influentials doesn’t try to paint everyone with the same level field paint brush.  They acknowledge the fact that not all are created equal, that there are differences and there are individuals in every arena who others look to for information, assistance and advice. 

These influentials are vital to the success of your public relations program because it means by focusing all of your efforts and activities on these individuals you can reach your market or produce the decisions/image you need to develop for your company, your products, your ideas.  In addition, you can do it more economically and more rapidly than if you were to focus on your homogenous stakeholder community. 

While the book is packed with more than its fair share of research and trend analysis, Keller and Berry quickly dispel the antiquated concept that influentials are celebrities.  Instead, they quickly establish that influentials are people who live, work and walk among us.  They are community, business and idea leaders.  In the technology-based industries we call these people the early adopters. 

You know the people who first took to luggable computers then notebooks, subnotebooks and palmtop systems.  They were the first to use the Internet, cell phones, PDRs and most recently combination cell/PDR/web-based communications devices.  It’s a new way to look at what has often been derisively referred to as powerbrokers because they shape thinking, direction and policies by being themselves, by being at the head of the crowd and by sharing their thoughts, information and ideas. 

While the book was written by two senior executives of a leading research firm it is surprisingly free of researcher writing (translation  it is well written).   But at times you do wonder (they provide real-life profiles of some of their influentials) how they influentials were pinpointed and if their identified role as a trendsetter has skewed some of their information, inputs and ideas.

But there is so much research data available that you will easily be able to weigh the validity and credibility for yourself.  Just keep in mind that RoperASW’s work seems to have withstood the test of time. 

Every solid public relations person wants to identify, reach and persuade the influentials in his marketplace and The Influentials provides the guidelines you need to help you focus and manage your efforts and activities.  With management constantly stressing results and minimal budgets the ability to reach these men and women is worth far more than 500+ press clippings.

If you’ve read any of the guerilla marketing or “buzz” books, you’ll find The Influentials a refreshing change because it provides you with concrete background and information you can use in developing, presenting and tuning your message to market and community thought leaders.  In other words the people who will take action and will move others to take action.  That beats the wave in a football stadium any time because there are measurable results at the end of the day.

Unlike most marketing books  especially those written by researchers The Influentials delivers an exceptional amount of research data as well as a discussion of how the data was developed.  This means you can determine for yourself how valid the information is and allows you to make your own analysis/decisions based on your experience.  As a result you can identify your target influentials and develop a plan of action to reach, inform and work with them to produce the results you want to achieve…quickly and economically.

One of the problems with The Influentials is that after reading and digesting the book you will come to an inescapable conclusion…focused efforts followed by measurement, tuning and more focused efforts is the way to rapidly produce results.  That’s work so many PR people will diligently read the book and then return to their shotgun releases and emails.

It’s a pity but it is also predictable. 

But for those who read the book and get it, there will be some powerful rewards for them and their companies.  Success is measurable and within reach.

We can only hope you’re in the latter group.