Less talking and more action is needed for PR to take the lead in social media

The call for the PR industry to seize the opportunity that is before it has never been louder. In virtually every meeting or conversation I have with an agency CEO these days, the topic of how social media presents the chance for PR to take marketing share away from advertising, interactive, and direct marketing firms is a recurring theme.

The call for the PR industry to seize the opportunity that is before it has never been louder. In virtually every meeting or conversation I have with an agency CEO these days, the topic of how social media presents the chance for PR to take marketing share away from advertising, interactive, and direct marketing firms is a recurring theme. Yet, in PRWeek's bird's-eye view of the marketing industry, we see more and more campaigns that should theoretically be handled by PR firms – those involving blogger relations, social network strategy, and online influencer relations – being conducted by DM, digital, and ad agencies.

As one CEO of a major agency said to me recently, “The one advantage ad agencies have is that they know how to speak to the CMO. PR has always had the conversations, and has developed the content part of it. We have a better offer for the CMO – it's just a matter of getting in there and showing that we do it better. If the PR industry doesn't grab this opportunity, then shame on us.”

Indeed. But this is a conversation we've been having for at least five years. Much has already been written about how non-PR firms dominated the winners in the Cannes Lions PR category. The issue there isn't that the PR industry isn't winning prestigious awards, though awards can definitely help an agency's visibility and thought-leadership efforts. Rather it is that other marketing services agencies are proposing ideas that are decidedly PR to their clients, and winning that portion of the business, in some cases over their PR firms.

I recently had a meeting with a CEO from a small social and digital media marketing firm, a company that handles everything from SEO to blogger relations. I asked him which “traditional” PR firms seem to really “get it” when it comes to social media. He was reluctant at first, and I don't think it was just a matter of him being cocky. He finally relented and named a few, but then revealed that some of the agencies that I would normally consider to be leaders in this space are still subcontracting social media and digital activities out to firms such as his. Perhaps this was OK five years ago, when agencies were still building up their digital capabilities, but in 2010 it is no longer an option. PR firms must not only prove their social media prowess, but take real action to develop other digital capabilities if they are truly to seize this oft-mentioned opportunity. The time for talking about it has passed; let's actually do something about it so that five years from now we're not talking about an opportunity that simply passed us by.

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