The real reason PR isn't winning the social media war

We all know the stats by now: PR agencies aren't marketers' first choice for conducting a social media campaign. But why? PR professionals know how to build relationships, engage influencers, and create conversations, blah, blah, blah... The answer is quite simple.

As I write this, I'm on a red eye flight from San Francisco to New York after a business trip out to Los Angeles and the Bay Area to introduce our West Coast correspondent Jason Shuffler to some of the prominent agencies and companies there. No matter what city we visited over the three days, one of the most prevalent topics, aside from the traffic (LA) and The Social Network (OK, so I brought that one up a lot in Silicon Valley, but what can I say? The trailer featuring a choral-style cover of Radiohead's"Creep" is pure brilliance) was social media and PR's role in it. 

Full disclosure: it's a topic that I'm tired of discussing. And as I've written before, I'm also tired of hearing about how it's PR's “space to own” and the “digital land grab” that exists in agencies, holding companies, and corporate PR and marketing departments. We all know the stats by now: PR agencies aren't marketers‘  first choice for conducting a social media campaign.  But why?  PR professionals know how to build relationships, engage influencers, and create conversations, blah, blah, blah… The answer is quite simple and I have to thank Sean Garrett, VP of communications at Twitter, for helping me realize this as we were discussing Twitter's revenue model and why Sponsored/Promoted Tweets should be integrated with regular “earned” Twitter activity. (Total aside, Twitter's offices are amazing and pretty much what you would expect them to be).

If there's something on which PR people pride themselves, aside from the aforementioned skills that make them a “perfect fit” for social media, is the concept of earned media. For years, it seems as though PR professionals looked down at the ad industry—admittedly a reaction to being the redheaded stepchild of the marketing industry (another phrase that causes my ears to bleed)—for having to pay to get messages out there. And that's precisely why PR is falling behind in the race to own social media now; many professionals simply are uncomfortable with taking on any form of advertising, while other marketers who have been paying for their messages for years through TV, print, and online ads, are all too eager to take on an earned media campaign, and convincing their clients that they can do it just as well as PR agencies.

Whether or not that is true doesn't matter. What matters is that for the industry to truly achieve this Holy Grail of integration (another overused  word) it has to get over it and realize that buying an ad on Facebook, sponsoring a YouTube channel, or using Sponsored Tweets does not mean that they are giving up on PR. Quite the contrary; the most successful social media campaigns have truly been integrated efforts. So, let's stop talking and start changing the way we do business. To use a cliche that I just made up ( I think), and that will hopefully never ever catch on: the PR industry is still in the race, but now we're in the home stretch so it needs to make the mad dash for the finish line.

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