As clients demand more social media expertise, some PR pros are abandoning the traditional agency model to launch new media-focused firms.
In the past year, at least three Bay Area social media experts left traditional agencies to start social media-savvy firms for reasons that include the traditional model's limitations.
"There's something about the [traditional] agency model that prevents you from doing pure communications because - for example - you've got to seek out clients with a certain monthly budget," says Joel Postman, former EVP of emerging media at Eastwick Communications. "The focus on social media becomes a bit unfocused."
So Postman launched Socialized this year to service a wider range of clients who are interested in new media strategy.
He opted to start his own firm to "reinvent social media strategy" after finding that some traditional agencies either eschew new media or become too focused on surrendering branding and messaging to consumers.
Vanessa Camones, formerly of Three-Forty Communications and Schwartz Communications, says she started theMix this year because the PR industry was slow to jump on some social media opportunities.
"There comes a point when you prefer to go on your own, rather than convince others," she adds.
Giovanni Rodriguez, former principal at Eastwick Communications, launched the Conversation Group last fall, which expanded on his integrated media consultancy, Hubbub. Although Rodriguez says he was offered lucrative contracts to join big name firms, he wanted to build an agency that used social media in more ways than exclusively for marketing.
"It's very difficult for a PR consultant to recommend anything outside of the marketing department," he says. "It's just how PR is positioned in the industry. I didn't want to limit myself to that because I felt like there was a larger opportunity."
Lauren Schiller, VP of marketing at Elephant Pharm, says the company selected the Conversation Group as its AOR because the firm was able to integrate social media into PR strategy more seamlessly than some traditional agencies.
Bonin Bough, EVP of Weber Shandwick's social, interactive, and emerging media practice, says the benefit of a standalone social media agency is being able to rally more staff around social media without infringing on the boundaries that some full-service firms might have in place. However, he says this specialized model can be challenging for clients who are still trying to understand how social media fits into their broader marketing plan.
"I think [traditional agencies] can better educate clients on social media over a period of time," he says.
Yet in light of this trend, some traditional agencies are revamping the way they approach social media. Barbara Bates, principal at Eastwick Communications, says the firm considered spinning off a social media arm to Eastwick, but instead opted to go another route and eliminate the senior-level social media position altogether.
"We felt everyone needed to be a social media expert," Bates says.
Some social media experts are leaving traditional firms to start social media shops
Specialized firms can be more flexible with digital offerings than traditional agencies
Traditional agencies have the advantage of more resources over their specialized counterparts