Agency excellence today requires digital prowess

Maybe the alarmists were right. One of the most interesting bits of information gleaned from the 2007 PRWeek Agency Excellence Survey was how poorly PR firms fared when their clients were asked what type of agency they would hire to implement a digital strategy.

Maybe the alarmists were right. One of the most interesting bits of information gleaned from the 2007 PRWeek Agency Excellence Survey was how poorly PR firms fared when their clients were asked what type of agency they would hire to implement a digital strategy.

Perhaps predictably, respondents were most interested in tapping a digital/online specialty firm (34%). But in the race for second between ad (17%), direct marketing (16%), and PR agencies (13%), PR fared the worst.

It's time to change that perception. If the 2004 Presidential election was considered the first to face the scrutiny of blogs, 2007 could be deemed the first year of comprehensive corporate attention to social media.

No campaign is complete today without some social media component, and Second Life is now swelling with Fortune 500 presences. But it seems clients don't immediately look to PR firms, their historic relationship builders, to lead the march to online communities that require so much fostering of dialogue.

What makes this time so exciting is that few can agree on how revolutionary (or evolutionary) social media will become for marketing, and only brash prognosticators feel they know how new-media consumption and participation habits will look on balance sheets in five years.

But traditional PR firms can't disregard social media's momentum, so the numbers found in our survey should galvanize them into taking a stronger approach to instilling digital capabilities throughout the practice.

Perhaps history will repeat itself, and traditional firms will net digital talent and clients through acquisitions, like they did with interactive shops. But there will always be a large client that feels more comfortable giving its digital business to a larger specialty shop. No matter how much PR firms talk up digital prowess, it seems, per the survey, that few are currently listening.

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