Five Things PR Folks Can Learn About Social Media From Advertising

Photo symbolizing the divide between public relations and advertisingWe in the public relations industry seem to love to look down upon those on the advertising side of the communications industry when it comes to social media. They don’t get conversation, we tell ourselves smugly. They think in terms of one-way information pushing, not two-way dialogue.

Stop and think for a minute, though. Regardless of the media buy budgets, advertising agencies command big dollars. They land smart, creative people. They execute highly original ideas. They have a voice at a senior level. As much as folks on the PR side might hate to admit it, we can learn from the advertising folks. This is especially true as the different communications disciplines converge.

We’ve recently hired a creative director from the advertising side, and his perspective is breathing new life into our approaches.

So, what can we in PR learn about social media from the advertising side?

1. Scale matters

Relationships are important and conversation is key, but results are king. Successful businesses are built on scale – of sales; of profits; of customers. Advertisers understand that for a consumer-facing product to become a true success, it has to break outside small cliques and niches.

2. Creativity beats staid

As the public relations, marketing and advertising worlds converge, we increasingly find ourselves competing for the same business. This means we need to compete not just for strategic vision and execution, but also for creativity. What’s more, clients will pay for big, creative, results-focused ideas.

3. Measure, measure, measure

If we’re to go head-to-head with other disciplines, we need to measure the heck out of our programs. They certainly do, and they use it to make the case for their programs. This is one lesson I’ve found easy to adopt. I’m a big proponent of measurement and measurable objectives, so I welcome this.

4. Target your audiences

Remember all those ads you didn’t like? They weren’t targeted at you. Good advertisers are laser-like in their targeting as they know you can’t please everyone.

5. Craft your message carefully

I read a great piece the other day (unfortunately I don’t remember where) that said something like:

Good advertising sells product. Great advertising sells the aspiration behind the product.

In PR, we have an additional challenge when it comes to the publicity side – not only do we need (in some cases) to accomplish this, but we need to craft messages that get our clients in the paper in the first place. For, unlike on the advertising side, our coverage is earned with journalists rather than bought.

Rocket science? No. Important? Yes.

What else?

113 Responses toFive Things PR Folks Can Learn About Social Media From Advertising

  • The points you make about “scale” and “measure” are the things that I feel get missed by the folks who argue that proving ROI isn’t necessary. The only reason that people aren’t expected to prove ROI is that the scope and ambition of the projects are so limited. If PR is going to own a larger percentage of the overall marketing budgets, this will have to change.

  • I was totally lured in by this headline but I have to confess, am not sure your points support your (very!) provocative thesis. And full disclosure, I’m president of a PR firm that very much believes in our discipline’s right to shepherd social media outreach for our clients — for all the reasons you state in your opener. Yeah, PR people DO know how to create conversations and nurture relationships with influencers (assuming here for sake of argument that in the social media space, EVERYONE is an influencer) — so I was intrigued to see what you thought our advertising compatriots have to teach us about being effective in the SoMe realm. And while many of your points are perfectly valid, I’m still not convinced advertising people are any better equipped than PR people to handle brand interaction in this arena. If leveraging scale, understanding audience targeting and measurement were the hallmarks of effective social media outreach than yes — you’ve made your point and ok, maybe advertising wins. But I maintain those are NOT the key skills needed to get it right in the blogosphere, on Twitter and in all the other realms where brands struggle to connect “one to one” with consumers with authenticity and timeliness. You did raise one point, though, that I think is very well taken — advertising agencies are set up more effectively to foster breakthrough thinking. I’ve discussed this with advertising friends ad nauseum — account management, strategic planning and creative are three distinct skill sets and ad agencies staff client accounts accordingly. PR firms (by and large) do not. We are asked to be all things to all people and I’m the first to admit that a great account director is not necessarily a creative genius. I think it’s great that your agency has hired a creative from advertising and can only imagine the terrific work that will yield. So thanks for the provocative post, and for inviting the discussion.

  • Stephanie – I’m with you. I lead the social media practice in a PR agency. I agree that PR agencies are very well positioned to take a leading role in social media.

    This post was about things we can learn from advertising’s approach – I’m not arguing that they should lead. Measurement etc may not always be the most important factors in a social media campaign, but I would argue that these factors ARE very important parts.

    Thanks for sparking a useful conversation.

  • I’m always happy to learn from other disciplines – however, of course, most advertising isn’t particularly creative, isn’t measured (ie in terms of ROI), isn’t targeted, doesn’t achieve anything at all and certainly isn’t great. The brilliant adverts that do all you say are very few and far between.

    Mind you, I’ve sat in enough “take to market” meetings where clients were persuaded to spend big money on advertising to the extent that they bought into an idea so much they lost all critical faculty and then couldn’t criticise it when it didn’t work as they’d been the champion of it. That’s the real skill of many advertising agencies in my view.

  • Dave,

    I’ve been on both sides – I started my career as an ad copywriter, spent many years in PR and now do social media.

    I agree that PR is the natural leader for social media. It is about conversations.

    And I thought all advertising was supposed to sell the aspiration, not the product. Remember that old adage: ‘Sell the sizzle not the steak’

    Too many ad campaigns are considered creative and brilliant and they win awards, yet they never actually increase sales.

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