Why is PR playing second fiddle at Social Media Week London?

Today sees the start of Social Media Week London, which will be a fantastic showcase for the best insight and talent in social media.

Dominic Shales: Managing director of Lexis
Dominic Shales: Managing director of Lexis

At #SMWLDN there are some 116 events planned right across the city with around 200 leading speakers.

The thing that has really perplexed me, however, is how few PR agencies or in-house communicators are actively involved in hosting or speaking at events - just a handful.

It is dominated by specialist social media agencies (which in many cases didn’t even exist a decade ago), ad agencies and brands themselves.

Why? Is this another case of PR not staking claim to the territory we should be occupying?

After all, PR is the marketing discipline that should take the strategic lead with social media campaigns: we are the masters of authentic discussion / dialogue, persuasion and getting third parties to say supportive things. These capabilities are central to social media – the platforms were invented for people, not brands.

I think there may be a few reasons for PR’s bashfulness.

Firstly, PR is not very used to taking the strategic lead. Traditionally, this is what the creative ad agencies do. More recently, media agencies, digital specialists and even direct agencies have also become better at doing this, while it is still rare for PR to lead properly integrated campaigns.  In many cases, PR is simply not grabbing the opportunities and we need to be more aggressive and confident.

Secondly, it’s a simple fact that social media campaigns require a level of paid support now. I think the lack of expertise in PR around managing paid activity means we defer to other disciplines. We have also spent so much time going head to head with advertising that we feel it is a slight cop out to admit we need to pay sometimes.

Finally, it’s drummed into PR people that you "don’t become the story".  Perhaps we’ve taken that to heart too much for our own good.

Lexis is one of the few PR agencies hosting an event. Tessa Barrera, our head of social media, is talking about what lessons we can take from Red Bull Stratos to amplify other live events.

I would love to see more PR agencies taking the lead at SMW next year.

Dominic Shales is managing director of Lexis 

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