All About: Social media arms of agencies

Jagadeesh Krishnamurthy explores how ad and PR agencies handle social media

All About: Social media arms of agencies

WPP group’s founder and CEO Sir Martin Sorrell told The Harvard Business Review earlier this month that Twitter was ‘not an advertising medium but a PR one’.

1. As the lines between mediums are blurring in the digital age, the service offerings have also been evolving, especially in the case of public relations agencies. In India, most agencies were known for their relationships with journalists and publications. However, with the evolving media landscape, PR agencies have to deal with mushrooming of online media, which includes traditional publications and electronic media as well as bloggers – including their own.

2. Emergence of social media over the last few of years has complicated affairs for advertisers, and in turn communication agencies. While the debate is still on, on whether social media is better handled by PR agencies or advertising agencies or standalone shops, most advertising and PR agencies have a dedicated social media offering as part of their suite, while almost all agencies are ensuring that the existing teams are kept abreast of social media skill sets to ensure client needs are satisfied.

3. In India, MSL Group operates MSLGroup Social Hive as a separate profit centre, which manages clients that need integrated digital solutions to their marketing and corporate communication needs. However, Jaideep Shergill, chief executive officer, MSL Group India, also points out: “Several of our traditional PR teams have expertise in social media in influencer outreach and community engagement. This is a natural extension of traditional PR services and is managed by the traditional PR teams.”

Referencing a clove-leaf infographic featuring traditional, owned, hybrid and social mediums co-existing, and a landscape where trans-media storytelling and public engagement is the norm, Vijay Sankaran, head – digital, Edelman India, adds, “Our social media offering is not a complement to public relations. Today public relations has transformed into a traditional PR plus social media plus digital engagement.” Pointing out that the agency has been focusing on providing an integrated offering, Sankaran noted that the agency has been at the forefront by not just hiring relevant talent but also launching global tools for the digital medium.

4. For The Himalaya Drug Company, public relations and social media are handled by the same team – the public relations team from MSL Group. Reasoning their choice of appointing a public relations firm to handle their social media duties, Antaash Sheikh, corporate communications manager, The Himalaya Drug Company, explains, “As the agency handles our public relations, they have an in-depth understanding of the brand, and this is what they bring on to the table. If you have an agency that you hire only for social media engagement – which is project or contest-driven – then the understanding of the brand may not be that in-depth. The quality of engagement is very vital for us at Himalaya, as opposed to just increasing the fan base on online social networks. Moreover, the quality of engagement is so critical that though the agency has a specialist digital offering, we have chosen to work with the team that handles our public relations as they bring on to the table much better understanding of the offerings from our product portfolio and the corporate brand.”

5. Arguing the case for social media to be handled by advertising agencies and not PR firms, Sajan Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman, Creativeland Asia, says, “Social media is where a brand is talking, while public relations is about a brand being represented in media. Social media is fast emerging as a space where a brand is the spokesperson while PR continues to be in the realm of media relations and what media is talking about the brand. That is the fundamental difference. As a result, I think that a creative organisation who understands the brand is better equipped to handle social media because it is no longer about brands in social media, it is a case where brand is the social media. Today, it’s Godrej Cinthol talking about Cinthol and not The Times of India or Facebook talking about Cinthol.”

What it means for...


  • Increase their digital offering
  • Offer integrated communication solutions to clients
  • Additional revenue stream


  • Single agency to handle multiple mediums
  • Easier integration of campaigns
  • Better understanding of brand values
Campaign India