Thursday, July 22

Spooking Social Media: Ad Agencies Wake Up

One creative, interactive YouTube campaign and, suddenly, everyone's concerned about advertising agencies moving into social media. Some agencies, like Interpublic's Universal McCann and Publicis Groupe's Vivaki, are already building dedicated divisions.

It could reshape social, with some people concerned about the silos and buy-ups that I mentioned what seems like 100 years ago. Except, back then, I was talking to recruiters who "got" social media well before public relations professionals and communicators. Jim Durbin was listening. He recently outlined how social media stacks up in the job market.

Are There Consequences If Agencies Dominate Social Media?

If David Teicher with AdAge is right, it could lead to more silos (subdivisions) and shortcuts (blended earned/bought media). If Dave Fleet is right, it could lead to short-term spike campaigns (viral) and sub-optimal results (popular channel focus). If Todd Defren is right, then agencies will put campaigns before relationships.

They're all good arguments, but it really depends on the agency. I've worked with enough agencies that have created public relations divisions to know. Some shops integrate communication. Other shops dismiss the division as an "also have" service.

The same thing happened when agencies decided it was in their best interest to buy up Web design companies (and direct mail shops before that). Some shops develop great integrated campaigns. Other shops have an abundance of strong and weak components, skewing to what they know best. Almost all of them place an emphasis on creative over strategy, which might be why Old Spice lost some shine.

What about public relations? I might teach public relations classes, but I don't always understand public relations firms' business thinking. Many jumped on social media because they were threatened by losing some of their retainers to social media specialists and because media seemed to be losing its relevance.

Sure, a few have a passion for the space. But otherwise, it was a knee jerk with the argument that they were better at "relationships." Yet, if that is so, then why all the focus on finding influencers to replace journalists? That is what many of them are trying to do, which basically means they couldn't care less about the individual customer. That is the whole premise behind why some firms use Radian6, isn't it? Find out which commenters have juice?

It's Not Who Owns Social. It's Who Owns Strategic.

Communication strategy, not social media, is what will shape the future of communication. Someone has to stand at the helm of any communication program, and that usually means the marketer (internal) will most likely dictate the team, skewing to the areas of expertise where they feel they need the most help.

And if they need help with strategic direction, you can bank on the idea that whomever is given the strategic lead will decide the rest of the marketing mix — what percentage of the budget goes to marketing, advertising, public relations, or social media.

Next year, when one of my students in public relations asks me what they need to focus on to have a successful career in a communication-related field, I won't tell them to sharpen their social media skills (although they will need to know it). I'll tell them to sharpen their strategic skills because the people outlining the strategy are the people driving everything else.

When you think about it, that really levels the playing field, doesn't it? Every public relations firm, advertising agency, and social media boutique eventually develops at least one or two strategists (and sometimes they are not who the client thinks). If you ask me, strategy dictates whether a campaign will succeed or fail, not the tactic (social media) everyone has their eye on.

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