Double Standards: Is social media a PR or advertising vertical?

With both advertising and PR agencies handling social media campaigns, Jagadeesh Krishnamurthy poses the question to agency heads on who delivers it better.

Double Standards: Is social media a PR or advertising vertical?

Graham Kelly, executive creative director, OgilvyOne Worldwide and Robert Holdheim, managing director, India, Edelman India

Are social media campaigns better handled by PR agencies or advertising agencies? Please elaborate.

GK: It all depends on the nature of the social media campaign. For example, if it was a specific reputation management exercise to counter (say, some negative publicity), then a PR firm should take the lead. On the other hand, if was to develop an innovative Facebook app to support an integrated brand campaign, an (advertising) agency would do a better job.

RH: I believe there is a role for both, but that these roles are distinct. Social media is the definitive two-way communications medium; advertising is inherently a one-way communications tool. So, while there is a role for advertising agencies and for communicating sales messages via social media, to limit your social media interaction to only this, is like buying a car and driving only in first gear. The real value of social media is that it provides an opportunity to engage directly with multiple stakeholder groups, to create and disseminate content and carry out conversations with those groups. Moreover, it gives you the ability to identify influencers who can amplify your messages among their followers – like ripples in a body of water when a stone is thrown in. Multiple stakeholders, content creation, conversations, targeted messaging, influencer engagement: these are the hallmarks of modern public relations. Not only are PR agencies better suited to carry out digital communications (as opposed to digital advertising), but this is the (near-term) future of PR itself.

Reputation building and direct marketing, key parts of a social media campaign, are both specialist functions. Can either of the agencies handle the other’s part effectively during a campaign?

GK: They can handle it, for sure, but that’s not the same as being good at it. For instance, a skilled DM creative spends years building up a body of knowledge that a PR person simply couldn’t acquire in a short time. Likewise, a skilled PR expert has a wealth of knowledge that a DM specialist cant match.

RH: I don’t believe they should try. In an ideal world, all agencies would work together on behalf of the client to develop and execute an integrated plan that achieves business objectives. There are many examples that show how complementary this can be – and how the effectiveness can be amplified when working together. The Dove Campaign For Real Beauty comes to mind.

Are specialist social media agencies already filling the void left by advertising and PR agencies? Do we see all three agencies (PR, advertising and digital/social media) collaborating effectively for the brand’s benefit?

GK: I think social media agencies may have a useful niche role, but they do have major knowledge gaps themselves. Especially creative, where they haven’t yet shown an ability to deliver truly big ideas. Therefore collaboration makes a lot of sense.

RH: I believe PR firms can and should be specialist social media agencies. More than that, they will have to be. I see three core competencies here: digital communications (PR), digital advertising, and digital build. There will be digital firms that try to do all 3 – though it will require significant investment to be effective in each area. In addition, it is likely that Ad and PR firms will also become involved in the other two areas – this is already happening. We should consider digital media in 3 categories: paid (advertising), owned (digital embassies such as web sites, Facebook pages) and earned (what others say about you). A full campaign should cover all 3 areas. It is important to note, moreover, that owned media also require management. It is not enough to put up a Facebook page, for example. You have to create and disseminate content, keep this content fresh, engage with your audiences over the page, etc. Success is ultimately not about the number of members you have in your community, but about how you engage (with) them.

Or, should marketers not rely on one single agency and handle social media marketing in-house?

GK: Generally, marketers aren’t doing a great job of handling it themselves. One famous example amongst many is the “United breaks guitars” fiasco. Moreover, many clients are still not taking social media that seriously; it’s amazing how many brands still leave it to junior employees, or worse, the interns.

RH: Again, it is not necessarily about one vs. multiple agencies, or in-house vs. out – it is about where the best talent and expertise is available. In my opinion, this will ultimately be on the agency side as the career prospects, ability to work on multiple projects, and ability to grow and learn will all be greater in an agency environment.



Campaign India

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