Yeah, Well Your Agency Is Killing Unicorns

Daniel Stein recently wrote an attention-grabbing post over at Digiday entitled “HypeBusters: PR Agencies Are Ruining Facebook.” His basic argument: PR agencies are boring and uncreative, and their attempts at engagement are doomed to fail. The right people to manage Facebook pages are, apparently ad agencies. Guess which he works for.

I’m not going to lie — I’m dismayed at the juvenile back-and-forth that’s going on between different marketing disciplines over social media, with posts like this one or like this from Search Engine Journal previously. Didn’t people ever learn how to play nicely with others?

A tale of false arguments

Let’s start with the particular post in question. The primary issue here is the false dichotomies that are put forward. Why does everything have to be black and white?

Why does content have to be purely either “news, offers and the occasional contest” or “developing a brand’s purpose”? Can’t it be a blend, with some variety?

Where is the evidence that PR agencies can’t “do” creative? Isn’t it possible that agencies of all stripes could be creative?

The reality is that multiple partners are often involved in a successful Facebook effort. We frequently work closely with agencies of multiple stripes, and often help clients to develop governance frameworks so that each can bring their respective strengths to the table across multiple activities within a single channel.

Rather than throw up false assumptions about other agencies, look around. These over-generalizations just don’t hold true.

Shades of grey

I could point to Facebook pages we manage with hundreds of thousands or even millions of fans; or to multiple highly-engaged Twitter accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, and use that as evidence you that only PR agencies can do this well.

I could point to examples of advertising agency-driven properties that completely fail because there’s nothing but superficial style over substance, and use that as evidence that ad agencies are ruining social media.

This would fit with the approach of the posts I mentioned above.

I won’t, because neither of these claims are true. This isn’t black and white.

Integrate for success

People who argue that only their discipline can “do” social media and that XYZ discipline is ruining it either have no idea what they’re talking about or are lying to you to get attention.

I’ve argued for a long time that effective social media, conducted over the long term and with actual business value, is derived from the integration and cooperation of agency partners. It doesn’t come from petty bickering and competition — from “my agency type is better than yours” behaviour — between so-called partners who don’t play nicely in the sandbox.

Enough with the attention-grabbing BS headlines and false arguments of superiority, already. Acknowledge that different disciplines can learn from each other, that there’s no “one ring to rule them all” and work nicely with your agency partners to do the best job you can for the client.

You know, cooperate. Like adults do.

17 Responses toYeah, Well Your Agency Is Killing Unicorns

  • Nicely put, Dave.

    I think a lot of the heat that is still being generated around this old issue is a combination of friction and chemical forces as the dissimilar objects meet and start to meld.

    In many ways, PR firms are having to become more like Ad shops, and Ad agencies, in turn, are becoming more like PR firms. As the two things rub against each other and characteristics of each side move across the boundary, the boundary itself becomes increasingly blurred and noise and heat are thrown off as byproducts of the sometimes explosive reaction.

    And that’s more than enough high school chem class analogies for one morning.

    • Thanks MOCC. Agreed – it’s not surprising, but it’s not productive either and doesn’t leave either side looking good when it happens.

  • I’m really just so tired of this “who owns social media” nonsense. It’s a fight for budget, pure and simple, and it doesn’t need to be. As you so deftly point out, it’s shades of grey.

    As far as I’m concerned, every business unit should be familiar with social media, and understand how it might affect their area of the business. It touches everyone from PR to HR to marketing to legal. That doesn’t mean they should all have Twitter accounts, unless it meets business goals to do so. If PR initially “owns” social in an organization, and it’s discovered after a few months that 90% of social interactions are customer complaints, you know who owns social in that case? Corporate, customer care AND PR. They need to figure out why the online discussion is all complaints. They have a process problem and a PR problem. And so on.

    Great post, but sad (and frustrating) that it needs to be said.

  • Yes, whatever has happened to the genuine conversation online no matter who does it for you. I personally feel- Ads ( for sale) PR ( for publicity). Then again both have to “talk” for their audience not for themselves. Both serve their unique purpose and can exceed the expected if executed nicely. Very well written post….

    • I don’t think the distinction is that clear any more. For one thing, PR isn’t just about publicity (nothing new there) – it’s much broader; for another, PR can generate sales and ads can generate coverage in earned media.

      I do agree with your broader point, though – there’s a place for both… and that place is side-by-side with the other, playing nicely together.

      • Agree with this Dave – PR has changed and as MOCC says – there has been a merging of different marketing disciplines as
        PR agencies adapt.

  • Well balanced article – thank you for taking a step back and giving a reasonable perspective on this. That HypeBustes article was the text equivalent of nails on a chalk board.

  • Cleo Hadden
    ago10 years

    Thank you for this thoughtful post – and especially this point: “effective social media, conducted over the long term and with actual business value, is derived from the integration and cooperation of agency partners.” As you suggest, perhaps the focus should be on the audience for social media. Both sides of the PR/ad agency equation can serve audiences by providing regularly updated content that a brand’s consumers find useful. And dare I say it? Sometimes those content providers may be subject-matter experts located neither in PR or the agency, but somewhere deep in the business.

  • The best social media strategy is a collaborative effort. It should include input from all levels from CEO to intern. Everybody is capable of coming up with creative ways to use the medium. All it takes is a firm understanding of the brand.

  • I think a number of people can get caught up in this false dichotomy.  There are a probably a large number of PR agencies that are in harmonious relationships with other disciplines.

  • I think a number of people can get caught up in this false dichotomy.  There are a probably a large number of PR agencies that are in harmonious relationships with other disciplines.

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