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April 21, 2011


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Ron Mills

Enjoyed this post immensely, Mr Scott. Hits awfully close to home. Thank you. R

Tim Johnson

Not surprising but it seems like ad agencies (or at least the ones you skewer) are more like Detroit automakers than Silicon Valley startups. They seem to be stuck in the old way of doing things and only begrudgingly and half-heartedly accept that things have changed and they had better do the same.

Detroit STILL doesn't have small, fuel-efficient, quality cars right and it's been, what, 40 years. Big name ad agencies that don't grok the new way of doing things don't have the luxury of brand entrenchment and value-chain ownership the car companies did.

If they don't wake up and smell the New Rules of internet-brewed, truly engaged coffee, they will be gone in a decade.

David Meerman Scott

Thanks Ron,

Tim, you're right of course. There are most certainly agencies that do understand new marketing and provide valuable services for their clients. Not many of those seem to be pitching me these days. The Detroit analogy is a good one - thanks for sharing.

Zane Safrit

Love it. I might change the last tip from "hiring journalists" to "investing in your employees: training, equipment, incentives, tools, etc.". But, I think we could make a case we're on the same page, just a matter of title semantics.

Bradley H. Smith

Nice post David. You identified the exact reason I went "in-house" from the agency side. A long-term, authentic voice works better for me and the firms I work at. When I did have "ad campaigns" they were clearly part of a bigger whole. Certainly, this organic perspective made the transition to social media a breeze. I already had my voice.

Jeff Ogden

Sounds to me like those ad agencies are we, we, weing all over themselves. Learn your buyers and craft great stories that engage them. Journalists are story-tellers - ad agencies are not.

Great post.

Jeff Ogden @fearlesscomp
Find New Customers

Tony Faustino

I have the sneaking suspicion these advertising firms who promote these "buying attention" tactics are also not linking how these social media initiatives ring the cash register for their clients.

Looks like your bullet point about compiling a bunch of Facebook Likes confirms my hunch.


Nice commentary, David. Like others, I agree down the line. One item that particularly irks me is the view of social as a check box. Like, we can post a comment to a blog and its done. Whatever happened to focusing on the second word of 'social media'? As in, a medium? A channel? A process? Not a task. Not a single 'to do'.


Great point. And here's me arguing a related point with an example from Lenovo.

"All it requires is one sane voice from the client side which tries to integrate the efforts across divisions, internally, and reign upon multiple agencies to work towards the benefit of the brand and not towards the benefit of each individual campaign. It is unlikely that a PR agency or an advertising agency, however influential they are, will have the voice or might to make this happen, on behalf of a client. It is the client who needs to realize how his brand’s wild seeds are being sown all over the net, only to see bastard kids being orphaned everywhere, after the initial paternal love!"


Hi David, that post is right on the money. I love it!

Earning attention seems to be something many ad agencies can't get their head around. And your advice about hiring journalists instead of ad agencies is what we recommend to people all the time. Thank you.

I recently wrote about my dislike of this campaign-creative-award winning mentality.


David Meerman Scott

Zane, Bradley, Jeff, Tony, Alan, Karthik, Adam -- thanks. Wow, I guess this post hit home.

Adam & Karthik - thanks for the links, I will check them out.

Zane - absolutely!!

Ted Page


I agree with the overall points you're making, but I do think there is a role for advertising (and yes, good old fashioned interruption) even if the campaign approach is to continuously publish great content on a site that's valuable to specific buyer personas. Placing ads in the right media at the start of a campaign to let your audience know about the content can be very important to get the ball rolling and let people know the site and content is there. It's just one of many ways to get the word out, but it is part of the tool box. I completely understand the anti-advertising mantra, and in fact we held an Irish wake at our office last year for our dear departed advertising. But I'd be kidding myself if I didn't admit that there's still SOME role for ads in our campaigns.


Sorry, I am going to disagree with just about everything in this post.

These aren't ad agency problems, they are marketing problem. There
are just as many PR and marketing outfits that get social wrong (and attack the problem incorrectly) as ad agencies.

The idea there is an advertising agency campaign "mentality" is no different that those who say PR gets social media wrong because all they do is publicity or writing press releases.

As for your bullet points, they seem to be nothing more than stereotypes. For example, buying personas are huge tenet of modern advertising.

Social media is a tool, best utilized by a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. In marketing alone, one could make a case for PR, advertising, SEO and journalists "owning" it.

David, I have a huge respect for you and your writing, but this post smacks of the old prejudicial nature of PR vs. ad agencies. I don't doubt your experiences with the ad people who contacted you, but perhaps those that did not don't need to because they get it?

At any rate, thanks for the outlet to share my own comments.


To me Social Media cannot be a campaign simply because a campaign is something that is finite or ends once the goal is reached. Social Media is more of an initiative, something that is ongoing, everchanging and sustained. I work for a company that is not an agency but more of a traditional print company who likes to fire, aim ready with everything they do. A well planned, thought out and sustained social media initiative is valuable beyond measure. @LoyaltyClub

David Meerman Scott

Ted - thanks for jumping in. I do agree that there is room for both and some of the work that you guys are doing shows that there can be a campaign element and some good old fashioned interruption from time to time.

@DJLitten - thanks for your comment. I'm not doing a "PR vs advertising" thing here. In fact, your comment prompts me to want to do something similar to talk about PR agencies. Yes, this post was prompted by the hundreds of pitches I have received from agencies - those are facts and that got me thinking. And yes, I'll admit there are some stereotypes here. The fact that you commented on this post suggests that you are not in the camp of those that tack traditional ad agency stuff onto social and allow clients to check the box.

Bryan - thanks.

Stephanie Smirnov

True disclosure, am a PR person so am bringing that baggage to the discussion. But David's post rings true based on my experience not just with ad agencies but digital shops, too. But let's not forget, ad agencies do what they do at the behest of marketers who are often just as guilty of the "let's win trophies" mindset. It's these same marketers who usually only ever think in terms of the 3-month campaign window. At the end of the day, all of us agency types answer to the client and while of course it's our job to push back and guide their thinking--clients sometimes just don't listen.


The idea of a social media 'campaign' in the same box as an ad campaign feels very wrong. Social works best over a longer term. Really strong positions can only be built over time.

John Blossom

Great post, David. Reminds me of the old adage, "To someone with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." Many of the talents found in today's ad agencies are misplaced for getting the most out of conversational marketing and viral marketing. Yet I am not sure that the answer is always to focus on getting journalists to buzz about your product and service. It's certainly an important factor in getting the conversation going, but I think of your own example of Disney World engaging the most influential WDW bloggers to promote a new attraction successfully. The key is to understand the influence map and to follow it, no matter where it takes you.


I'm not sure what agencies are writing to ask you to talk up their social media campaigns, but I'm glad I don't work at that type of agency. Don't you think it's a bit unfair to suggest that only ad agencies deploy these type of tactics?

I do agree with many of the points you've brought up. Agency media plans have turned into fully automated Twitter accounts... but not at every agency.


David, you are so right about this. I find the all-knowing agency mentality fascinating. Too many just want to dictate campaigns. But this way of thinking can keep them from evolving professionally. I am more than happy to use my mainstream media experience to benefit social media and indie companies. So glad to finally be here.


Thanks for putting this idea in such a compact form. I see this every day in ad agencies. Really frustrating. Let's get lots of "likes" for the report. The model is project-based and when the initial results come in then people move on to new things.


You ended your post talking about giving ad money to journalists, and I agree somewhat. Journalists still need good source materials from which to derive their stories.

Since I believe that training content can make great seed material for social media around the company's products -- after all, isn't training content about showing how to solve problems/issues the product/service is aimed at? -- I would invest a good portion of the ad money into ensuring stellar training content production.

Nice article!

Helen Mcbeth

Great post!!


I love your post!! Keep it up..


Absolutely agree - and this has been a bugbear of mine for some time. I'm a big believer in real-time marketing being an ongoing activity, not a campaign-based strategy and it frustrates me that so much social media 'buzz' is directed to the flashy neon lights of ad agency campaigns rather than those of us committed to ongoing SM relationships and community management. There's so much talk about award winning creative campaigns without adequately recognising those who just do social media and real-time marketing extremely well and effectively on an ongoing basis.

I agree there is crossover between the two. We plan campaigns to give us spikes in activity/new followers/etc that our ongoing community activities can then nurture, but we're under no illusions about which comes first and which comes second.

Frank Tocco

Wonderful blog!Thanks a lot for sharing this Incredibly useful blog with us. These nuggets of knowledge is very useful.
Brilliant idea.

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