PR will embrace the social media change- I hope

By if-admin | November 29, 2007

Sadly I missed being on Ian’s NMK panel for ‘Clients in the Wild’ as I just had over 200 staples taken out after an op. But it seems the discussion and subsequent blog by Will McInnes has created a stir – causing several blogging PRs some deeper introspection. Antony Mayfield summarises the issues up rather eloquently.

Like Antony , I too am an optimist. I also lived through the similar, if not so public, growing pains of the digital ad agency industry. Back in the 90s these start-ups and specialists departments were dismissed by the powerful TV ad world. And we all know how that has changed now. We now have a very different marketing landscape with digital taking the lead and the more handsome budgets.

Looking at Antony’s four points, here are my thoughts

1. Old models are being disrupted everywhere.

Yes, PR and marketing is mashing together in the digital world. And the change is difficult. Partnering with digital agencies from design through to search is one solution (and one we take). Not so they can lead the strategy as Will suggests happens at WagEd, but so that we can move fast and in collaboration with the marketing skills clients can benefit from.

It is often the case that new innovation is led by two or three champions that trial the new techniques. And Antony examples how many agencies are bringing in or growing their own digital marketing talent. Sadly, in many cases the online talent is disassociated from the ‘normal’ running of the agency – wheeled out for a pitch or strategy meeting. These agencies continue to offer traditional PR and the teams never get to discover what online is really about – beyond the online version of their offline target media. It maybe that when the fee income starts to affect these agencies, the silo walls will come down and in a short space of time, the rest of the agency will catch up. As I said I am an optimist.

And whilst Antony mentions the two big PR players that are embracing online, we are also seeing hot shops and boutiques come into play. Remember the likes of Poke , AKQA and Glue London all started as online hot shops and are now considered major players in digital marketing.

2. PR agency models may be less able to assimilate than be assimilated:

Changing the agency model is difficult. We are moving to fluid account teams to challenge the ‘generalist PR model’: creating core centres of excellence and allowing teams to work in specialisms across clients. The biggest issue is that clients are only now letting go of the traditional model. They understand the way it used to work: that their account manager, director etc knows everything, advises on everything, is their one port of call. It is not an easy change to implement, but once done, the benefits are clear.

3. Spin has no place in networks.

Couldn’t agree more on this point. But I would add that the talent of PR communication is in telling a story. We understand the triggers that spark interest and encourage bloggers and press to positively write and talk about a client. Communicating within social media is a natural step for PRs. We tell the brand story in a way that engages the influencers and advocates. It’s in our bones!

4. You need to understand some hard maths. No excuses.

I would add that some industry collaboration is needed to tackle some of these thorny problems. I was talking to Simon Collister today and we both agreed that PR was one of the few industries that really didn’t like joining forces to resolve wider industry issues. We have a great opportunity to set benchmarks for cornerstone issues such as measurement and influence – much faster than the other marketing disciplines, as this is our territory.

My one question is where is the CIPR and PRCA in all of this? Instead we have new organisations like WOM UK beginning to move in on these issues along with their wider council of cross marketing disciplines. Shame.

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