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July 14, 2009


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Jim Cosco

Thanks for the mention David. I agree 100%. If the agency is not out there doing it for themselves, then they won't be successful for their clients. They should be eatin their own dog food.


Both traditional PR and advertising will lose the biz. PR and Advertising are about communicating value. Social media are about listening to customers. Now it's all about the role of research and customer service. Neither PR nor Advertising get this. Neither discipline is prepared to sit with CSR's or research teams.

As for experience, agencies don't allow their staffs the time to learn this stuff. They need to stay billable-- and that makes them vulnerable to new emerging communication channels.

Fun times. Whose got the peanuts?

David Dalka

Nice pointing out of a serious issue.

However,I think it's a transitional one though as social media is about engaging customers and doing the right thing for them and innovating from suggestions - that is hard to outsource when most companies can't do it right internally yet.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over time.

Jonathan Kranz

Spot on David! The traditional business models of ad and PR agencies (Get the media spend! Get the retainer!) inhibit the pursuit of a genuine social media agenda. And you're right: when they finally acknowledge social media, they pore new wine into old wine skins -- they think of social media as new places to advertise or new ways to reach media (in this case bloggers). Either way, they miss the big story: communicating with customers with content.

John Cass

David, Interesting post, and gets into the growing turf battles between agencies.

Several thoughts here.

Seems as if public relations agencies are expanding their coverage. PR has been in social media longer than advertising, take a look at the 2004 Global PR Blog week for evidence of that.

Should clients be looking at agencies to run their social media? Isn't it more about counsel and strategy, while employees at the company run the actual programs.

If an agency does run social media. What work do you think they can do best, and what are the limits to agency work on social media?

Kim @ KTC Marketing

Mr. Cass asks a good question . . . I'm waiting for the answer as I own a new ad agency that wants to integrate the social media. How can I run a social media campaign for a client when I don't know all the nuts and bolts like they do??? Isn't the company employees the best ones to do the actual SM campaign. I want to help businesses get up and going, not doing it all for them.

Also, I'm from a very rural location in central WV. I'm spending my time educating businesses about SM here. Just an added part of the job.

Mark Szczepanik

Seems like half of the social media conversations online involve finger pointing at others for not knowing how to use or being incapable of understanding social media.

The line between PR and advertising blurs more and more each day. Many agencies offer both services without defining where one ends and the other begins.

Ad agencies seem to be shifting away from the percentage of the media spend pay model and heading towards value-based compensation - as are a number of PR shops.

Agencies (both kinds) are full of smart people that even if they're not using this new media "correctly" today, they'll figure it out sooner rather than later. SM is still in it's infancy and there's a learning curve. Everyone is rushing to get up to speed.

As with anything, there are agencies that get SM and agencies that never will. Agencies have been around for a while b/c of our ability to adapt to changing technology and challenges. This isn't black-and-white there's plenty of gray in SM.

I whole-heartedly agree that a good test of any kind of agency/guru/expert is to see what their doing for themselves in the SM space.

Great conversation though.

Karen Brown

It's an interesting debate that no doubt will continue to rage on, most especially as ad agencies are losing a lot of their traditional client print and tv media spends ... and their clients are asking about the new media space. The agencies are very keen to jump onto adwords campaigns because they can still take a cut, but as mentioned, they often don't have the expertise to manage such campaigns appropriately.
In my experience the third player in the mix is the company's website development/maintenance/SEO contractor.
Someone needs to be able to see the bigger picture, and if the primary focus is on building customer relationships, and driving more traffic to the website in order to increase sales, leads, conversions and whatever other business outcomes you expect from your website, then either the client needs to employ someone who has that big picture expertise, or one of the contractors (pr, advertising or web/SEO) needs to step up.
After 20+ years of PR experience, it is obvious to me that there are many applications for traditional PR skills in the new media market, but a sizable dollop of SEO, usability and customer generated content needs to be thrown into the mix.
Hence my recent move from a pure PR company (albeit in the tech sector) to the SEO team of a website development company.
And one of our first priorities is getting our own website revised to take all of the above into account!
It's all fun - pass the peanuts!

David Meerman Scott

Hello and many thanks to all for jumping in with some excellent comments. What a great discussion.

@Jonathan - Dude, now this is a turn of phrase: "new wine into old wine skins."

@John and @Kim - Great question. In my experience, many organizations are looking for help with strategy and for help with setting things up. However most of the organizations know they need to do the actual day-today. For example, people want help to develop a blog strategy, to understand commenting on other peoples' blogs, to perhaps set up their own blog (what should it be called, who should write it, how often should we blog, and on and on). However, the companies I speak with know that an employee should be actually writing ti blog and leaving the comments.

@Mark - Of course you are right. Some agencies know more about this than I do. Many would be terrific partners. And there is clearly gray areas everywhere.

@ Karen - I forgot about the web/SEO agencies. Sure, they also have a role. But same caveats apply.


Guy Blaskey

The problem is that companies should NOT be asking agencies to "do social media for them"

This only makes what Seth Godin would call a 'Meatball Sundae'

Agencies (both PR & Marketing) should be developing campaigns that INCLUDE social media - such as the brilliant 'Compare the Meerkat' campaign, that has great TV ads, a brilliant site in comparethemeerkat.com and a great personality Alexandr The Meerkat, who has hundreds of thousands of Facebook friends

Social media is no more of and 'idea' than a press ad is an idea... it is just a medium that can be used by anyone as part of a strategy. Not a strategy on its own.

Kevin Clancy

Not a good situation.

I'm more of the mind the agencies are but a mirror for their clients. And there are clearly big integration issues within companies.

I hadn't thought too much about how social media with a seemingly as yet undetermined home--with the ad guys, or the PR people, or some place else--could get thrown off by these issues until your post.

It's hard enough to get advertising programs and PR efforts to deliver the same or similar enough messages that communicate what a brand stands for and why to buy it.

Which doesn't bode too well for the effectiveness of social media programs.

Gail Nelson

John Cass hit the nail on the head. Organizations need to get inside social media and own it before they start the outsourcing process. Just think: companies didn't outsource their IT until they had the competence to know what to buy and how to manage it. And Guy Blaskey, I couldn't agree more. Rather than assigning ownership to one type of agency or another, marketers need to focus on the principles of integrated marketing and figure out how social media can help their company reach specific business goals.

Candle Bush

Look, I understand the argument. I don't understand, however, what cave some people live in, where they would need more than one communications firm these days. Warning: the following comments are subject to partiality:

Seriously, I'm a PR chick; if need be, my firm gets graphic designers to do the visual logo and layouts. Sometimes we get a production guy to do the video work. (Many of us are adept at video, audio, and graphic design and editing ourselves). But we always do the research behind our madness and produce all the target messages and content ourselves.

Furthermore, we put it in all the deliverable formats. We can cover advertising on Facebook and YouTube and buying search engine ranking via Google AdWords. We can absolutely cover the bloggers and news media. And (again) we can cover the content used in these various social media outlets.

I can write intermediate HTML, and if I need more help, I can call an IT guy. So, it’s not like creating social media press releases or understanding how to post links and visual media content is beyond me. Certainly managing a blog or providing ready-made content for bloggers is pretty feasible for us as well.

My suspicion is that we “junior staffers" (I've been working in the industry for a little over 3 years), PR and marketing alike, pretty much get all the different aspects. And we certainly know how to find blogs like David's to keep ourselves fine tuned. :) Just because we are the ones behind the methods, doesn’t mean the partners aren’t overseeing the content.

What marketing and advertising doesn’t do, however, is damage control. That for me is the kicker. There is a lot of potential to realize in social media, but there is plenty of potential for negative impact too.

So, why not hire a PR firm, who will most likely turn to ad guys for specific aspects of getting the job done? You probably won’t even realize you worked with more than one company, and I guarantee that letting the PR firm pay the ad guys from their own budget will be easier on your wallet as well.

Karen Brown

good points Candle, and what I think our company is currently in the process of working out, is how to walk our clients through the various processes, so they are empowered to do it themselves, because for many of them this is still a whole new world.
As you pointed out, age is a key factor in this, and many of our business clients have decision makers who are 40 plus, which doesn't make them dinosaurs (I am 45 btw) but does reduce the percentage who are already right up to speed with social media et al.
There is always room for high quality strategic and creative marketing/PR input, and for counselling, particularly when it is around damage control, or techniques to avoid having to DO damage control in the first place.
We are all learning, some of us faster than others, and some of us have the time to invest in playing with the technologies more so than others.
Which raises another interesting question David ... how many companies are proactively encouraging their sales and customer support staff to build relationships through social media sites, and how many are still having a knee jerk reaction that associates time spent on Twitter, Facebook etc as "non-productive".

David Meerman Scott

@Kevin - "agencies are but a mirror for their clients" = brilliant quote.

@Candie - You're right with smaller organizations. Many work with one agency and then outsource. But note that the basis of my original post was "large organizations" who just don't put all their business with one agency. They can't - the accounts are just too huge. Companies like Cisco and GM and British Airways have dozens of agencies around the globe.



great post, impressive

Thanks for your sharing!!

Paige Henson

I agree about the agency/PR turf wars, but what about small agencies in smaller markets like ours that offer the entire push & pull smorgasbord -- PR, traditional media and social media? We are dedicating many, many hours a month to getting up to speed with social media marketing and we’re participating ourselves in a big way because we fully understand its potential. And thanks to mentors like you, David, we are diligently moving ahead in this vast new world. We fully embrace all you preach, all you teach…but it bothers me to the max when you knock marketing agencies in general.

David Meerman Scott

@Paige - Thanks for the comment.

I'm not knocking marketing agencies in general. Instead I am poking fun at agencies who are rushing to a perceived social media marketing land grab when they do not have the skills to deliver.

There are some GREAT agencies out there! But many that are not really qualified (in my opinion).

Best, David

Todd Defren

Don't. Get. Me. Started.

David Meerman Scott

@ Todd - You. Know. You. Want. To. Jump. In.

Candle Bush

@David- Thanks for your response! I see your point on the larger companies not being able to outsource. In that case, I do maintain that PR firms, advertising firms and marketing firms all serve different purposes in the world of social media, just as they do in traditional media. Whether they are outsourced or not, each function can and should work together, each pulling the weight in a different area of service. So, for the larger companies, (to dumb it down a bit) advertisers should do the graphic work, marketers can do the securing of pages and media buying and the PR people can produce the content and do the media placement work.

And I also maintain that in those cases, a PR firm, adept in social media, should be on board for damage control or (as @Karen put it) techniques for avoiding damage control.

At least, that is the way I see it through my rose colored junior staffer glasses. :)

Brett Greene

Great points in this post and the comments. Right now too many ad firms and PR agencies are offering to 'do' social media for their clients and don't know what they're doing.

The three biggest problems are 1) Broadcasting information instead of engaging in conversations and adding value to build relationships and 2) Not incorporating strategic marketing into how they use social media and 3) thinking that it's an either or proposition between traditional media and new media when it's a both/and world.


Jeremy Woolf

Great points on a topic near and dear to many of our hearts. My colleague Ken Peters takes a look at this on our company blog http://text100.com/hypertext/2009/06/the-social-media-land-grab-is-on/ and I'd offer a couple of thoughts.

1. Content is critical - but there's no point in content without conversation. Too many marketers are taking an 'if you build it, they will come' approach and wondering why no one is viewing, linking and, most importantly, discussing

2. If you don't buy it, you can't sell it. Your selected agency (ad or PR) needs to not just understand the theory of social media, but actively participate.

Ultimately, the winner in this war will be those companies that understand (and can demonstrate their understanding of) the forever changed nature of influence and the critical role of participation, regardless of which side of the fence they currently sit.

Text 100

Jeff Millet

Guy Blaskey seems to be the lone voice that "gets it" in this conversation. Social media is simply another outlet for the client's message and should never confused with or dictate a well-rounded campaign - only be a part of it.

Yes, SM is an increasing part of the big picture, but it will sooner or later find its level as all other "new" mediums did in their day - Radio, TV, Internet.

SM is also largely unproven in the long haul - and like everything else "NEW", it is often wise to hang back and watch what happens to the "early adopters" who leap headlong into a fray they don't fully understand.

Part of why smart agency people don't fully understand SM is that it is not fully vetted as a media. While it is clearly impactful as a consumer media in mostly youth quarters, many questions remain as to its viability as a B2B medium - which is what my agency focuses on mostly. How am I to go to a corporate client and propose "social networking" when they are currently putting measures in place to "prevent" their employees from wasting company time on unproductive web surfing?

SM will no doubt seek and find its rightful place in due time. In the meanwhile, as agencies we can serve our clients best by tapping the brakes, taking a deep breath and letting "social networking" play out a bit before we advise our clients to follow the other lemmings over the cliff.

Great conversation. Anyone bring popcorn?

David Meerman Scott

Thanks @Brett, @Jeremy & @Jeff for keeping this thread alive.

@Jeff - The "Wait and see" would seem to be wise advice if your agency is willing to be honest about your assessment and tell clients what you think.

However what I see too often is the agencies focused first on the potential of a fat contract. The $$money$$ influences agencies to try to get the business first and then figure things out later.



There are always competitions between Pr agency and advertising agency but nowadays its leading in fire war so don't be panic just did your work in concern field..keep it up..

Advertising Agency

I agree this comment.......There is always room for high quality strategic and creative marketing/PR input, and for counselling, particularly when it is around damage control, or techniques to avoid having to DO damage control in the first place.
We are all learning, some of us faster than others, and some of us have the time to invest in playing with the technologies more so than others.....I hope so better thinking..........

Logo Design NZ

Hi David,

Interesting read (both the article and comments). I never have, and still don't see the point in social media advertising - people go to social media sites because they want to socialise with their friends, they couldn't care less about an ad in the corner.

It's different when people are searching for somehting specific and then you put an ad for that something specific in front of them.

What do you think?

PR Firm

Thanks for this interesting post about the "turf wars" that could exist between ad agencies and PR agencies. I think you've raised some intriguing points in this post.

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