Newspaper Executive and Media Investor Steve Sampson on the rise of influencers who encourage us to spend on the latest brands – whether we want to or not.

BBC boss Lord Hall gave Match of the Day host Gary Lineker carte blanche to keep tweeting on politics. Well, why not. He couldn’t say anything else could he. If he banned him he was stamping on free speech. Then he would have to rule on 101 other BBC staffers from pets to cooking programmes who think Brexit is Satan.

Strict BBC impartiality? Nah, Gary’s just an old sweetie. So what if he bitch slaps Peter Shilton and Chris Waddle for being pro-Brexit?

Me? I like it. Gary will never change my views or my vote. He’s not trying to. He has a point of view and a big audience and a sharp wit. It’s as much entertainment as serious politicking. No. The real influence lies on social media with people you’ve never heard of.


Sun: Did it swing votes? Mirror: Mrs May still won Holly: You would. Vote for her

The kind of political clout wielded by the high and mighty went out with The Sun’s brilliant Kinnock lightbulb Page One. A piss-take which made the undecideds pause and think on Election Day – then go and vote Major, the fools. The best educated electorate ever won’t fall for that. As Brexit showed. (#ironybutton)

My old colleague Piers Morgan has more opinions than both Houses of Parliament and is a former Editor of the Daily Mirror. The ultimate megaphone who doesn’t give a rats. He knows he’ll win nothing by being vanilla but he didn’t change votes then and he won’t now. Or win gun control. But he’s compulsive viewing.

Andrew Neil is probably the most feared TV interviewer – a roasting from him would swing votes. No wonder many politicians simply refuse to be skewered by Neil. He is an influencer.

Holly Willoughby and fashion. Whole different issue. Holly’s true magic is that she looks down-to-earth and approachable, glamourous and aspirational all at once. Women like her, men want her. But ordinary she ain’t. That “act” is down to her sheer professionalism, a lot of hard work behind the scenes and a sharp mind. She doesn’t even look as though she is actually selling you anything, yet her Marks & Spencer promotion instantly sold out lines she was wearing. So Holly is a true influencer – she changes markets. She needs to keep that “ordinary” quality, the next TV project crucial. Ignore pushy agent speak.

Which is why Lewis Hamilton punches way below his mark as an influencer. He is a phoney. In an F1 record-breaking year he is beaten into second place at BBC’s SPOTY by a cyclist, then makes a totally phoney speech. He has won only once, cyclists have won four times in 10 years. Andy Murray has won it three times – because he is genuine. Those tears tug a nation’s heart, they are real and so is he.


Football presenters Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher are influencers. Not simply on football matches but on the issues. Their SKY discussion on racism post the Raheem Sterling treatment by Chelsea fans was informative and truthful. And SKY trusted them with the air time. As a result it was played many times across social media. Not the least to their millions of followers. Mainly white? Surely a good thing – because mainly white people are racist.

Jamie Oliver is top for food and nutrition and a genuine influencer because he is bloody good at it. He and Gordon Ramsay (in a different way) have propelled the healthy eating/healthy homestyle genre to the top of public conscious. Where Jamie is head and shoulders the top is in book sales at way over 100M copies sold. All the rest put together and he is still out ahead. His new book is storming it, his Southend Pier programme just the latest in a long line of hits. (I got thrown out of his St Paul’s restaurant after a well pissy lunch. Well, it was 7pm, no offence taken).

Top of the pile though are The Royals. They can influence everything from fashion and animal welfare to mental health. They clear shelves of product. More importantly they have pushed mental welfare to the top of the issues’ pile. That has come from a startling honesty never before seen by a family not known for its inter-personal warmth.

Their influence comes with steel strings attached. They have been born into influence, they need the public’s approval at all times. The death of Diana showed an out of touch Royal Family how quickly the public mood could swing. The two Princes are keenly aware of where to tread and where to stay well clear. Shame they can’t fix politics.


But for pure influencer clout 2018 was the Year of Social. Not just the headliners like KSI and Logan Paul with tens of millions of followers. But the micro influencers with small, hugely engaged networks. How do you think the megas like LadBible and Unilad do it. They turn in billions of video views from an engaged global audience – and if they’re short on a brand deal they use an enormous longtail of influencer/interest groups to deliver views. The biggest change in brand spend for 2019 will be away from legacy media to targeted audiences through influencer networks.

My personal favourite is Joe Suggs. Dismissed as a lightweight, out week one, never going to get the glamour bird, just some guy off the internet. Anything but, he showed why millions of users follow him, nearly won the damn thing – and waltzed off with his hotter than hot partner Dianne Buswell. What a man. That’s influence.
UK’s Top Influencers:
The Royals – a new generation of young stars, attractive and interesting
Holly Willoughby – the influencer sensation of 2018
KSI/Joe Suggs – rise of the internet, the real market movers
Brave Bison/LadBible/Unilad – UK-based, top Facebook channels, millions of engaged users 24/7
Jamie Oliver (food/health) – 120M+ book sales don’t lie. Genius in a kitchen with a healthy message
Gary Neville/Jamie Carragher – more than just football analysis, thought provokers
Andrew Neil – miles the top political interviewer, politicians avoid him and rightly so

Steve Sampson journalist is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, a Director of Trinity Mirror publications including the Daily Record and Sunday Mail as well as Business Insider. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. He is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.

About Steve Sampson

Steve Sampson has held senior positions in media principally with Mirror Group and Murdoch newspapers. He also founded First Press Publishing which was acquired by Trinity Mirror in 2000 where he served as a Director on various TM companies. He heads up a portfolio of digital assets in online and mobile with connections in the UK and US which include a global launch this year. He was one of two founder Vice Chairmen of Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie's cancer charity at the inception but now takes no active part.
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