Mark Pinsent, Shine Communications: Comms lines are blurring

The days of PR agencies being defined by a single marketing discipline are fast disappearing.

This supplement starts with the ageing but oft-cited case study of Dell's criticism by Jeff Jarvis. Dell's European comms head Stuart Handley offers his thoughts, at which point - in true responsible social media fashion - I should make a disclosure. Stuart and I worked together for years. Indeed, for a couple of them he was my boss. He also used to dog-sit for me on occasion.

Stuart says that far from triggering Dell into understanding social media, Dell was doing so well before Jarvis aired his dissatisfaction. To be fair, back then there were many organisations that were similarly exposed. There still are. As Stuart points out, Dell will always have unhappy customers, as will every organisation. The key thing is that Dell has put in place the monitoring required to deliver an early warning when an unhappy customer with a megaphone as big as Jarvis' starts shouting.

Of course, what really did it for Dell was rhyme. 'Dell Hell' was just too good to pass up. If the same thing had happened to Orange, it would not have blown up as much. It's just as well my online music aggregation start-up Hitstorm didn't get off the ground, woefully under-resourced in customer services as it was.

Dell Hell was at its core a customer service problem. It only became a reputational issue because of the furore enabled by social media. And I'd argue that the scale of the issue was largely due to the influential position already held by Jarvis. But it does demonstrate the increasingly blurred lines between functions in organisations; lines that social media have done their bit in helping smudge. At Shine, we call this digital fog, which you can read about in our trend book Swarming in the Statusphere, downloadable from the Shine website (gratuitous plug over).

Here's another old chestnut: who owns social media? Why should someone 'own' social media in an organisation - or in its external agency network - any more than someone 'owns' television? The context of how the media are being used is all-important. On TV, you might be creating and placing a 30-second spot. Or sponsoring a TV show. Or building a feature story for BBC Breakfast. Or defending yourself on Watchdog. All are potentially owned by different people and functions. What's important is that they each help tell a consistent story, and a story with a single, compelling creative idea at its core.

And that creative idea can come from anywhere. Clients do not care whether the insightful creative concept comes from an ad agency, a PR consultancy, DM, experiential, digital ... wherever. In fact, the days of agencies being defined by a single marketing discipline are disappearing.

I participated in an industry event recently, organised by the PRCA, at which, unsurprisingly, nearly everyone would have been regarded as coming from the PR discipline. Apart from one guy, who would have been described by almost everyone as an advertising man, due to the nature of the agency he had started. He didn't describe himself as such, though. He said his company was a 'creative comms' agency because, as he continued with little logic, it 'created communications'.

Hang on, that's what we do at Shine (and, specifically, why we set up the Shine1 creative and planning hub a year ago). In the interest of a bit of one-upmanship in alliteration, I think we're a creative consumer comms consultancy. Now, this may be regarded as mere semantics, but I think it's a more accurate description of who we are today than of how PR has been perceived over the past two decades. Long may it continue.


Which consumer trends (social, economic or political) are having the greatest influence on your current campaigns?

I'm a big fan of what we at Shine call product-promotion convergence: promotional campaigns that are so engaging that they effectively become products and services in their own right. Red Bull selling extreme sport broadcast content is a great example. Day V Lately also shifted a fair few copies of Pulse and Thunder for Yell (one of our clients).

To which three consumer brands are you most personally loyal?

Racer Rosa Bicycles, Google and, sadly, Ryanair.

Mark Pinsent is director of digital at Shine Communications

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