LEADER: Don’t let this boom become a bubble

Big money account reviews for a new wave of dotcoms (Facebook, LinkedIn and Bebo this week, MySpace last month). Twenty-four-year-olds worth billions of dollars on paper. A jittery US economy and global markets.

Danny Rogers, Editor, <em>PRWeek</em>
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek

For those of us who analysed the media and marketing sector in 1999-2000, it is difficult to ignore the similarities.

Back then many agencies that worked for that generation of dotcoms got badly stung when some brands went bust, without even settling their fees.

The word on the street is that ‘things are different this time’. But is this simply an inherently optimistic industry in denial? It certainly feels as if there’s a goldrush by PR agencies to get a social networking name on their portfolio, but the dotcom brands do feel different this time around.

For a start, there are fewer of them making the headlines than in 2000. And it is difficult to compare Facebook and MySpace – both several years old and the latter backed by News Corp – with Boo.com and its ilk.

Equally, it is difficult to believe the agencies queuing up to work for these brands are not more savvy today. After all, many of the proprietors are the same.

The other big difference is that, at the turn of the decade, many of the dotcoms were simply retail operations. Today, with Web 2.0, they are integral to the media sphere itself.

There is, however, a question mark over how well PR agencies are upskilling to cope with this new media environment. It is one thing to take on the business and apply traditional PR techniques, another to deliver real, long-term value to clients that are often at the cutting edge of communications. In other words, agencies must be as advanced as their clients.

Serious investment in training and technology by consultancies remains the best insurance against another dangerous bubble forming.
danny.rogers@haymarket.com

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