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PR will lose Social Media to Advertising Due to Sex

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Okay, not necessarily sex – but advertising does know how to make mundane things sexy.

And, at times, social media can be mundane. And, advertising (and marketing) understands how to sex-up the mundane.

So, after putting together this post, mulling it over in my mind since, I’ve come to some conclusions. Since Widgetcon – where although I was pretty much ready to vomit at how I viewed the advertising and marketing firms treat the community (as, well, commodity) – I did see that advertising (and marketing) would win the fight for social media.

Let me lay out the argument.

First, I am looking at this as someone that just came from a large firm in a multinational conglomerate that owns advertising and marketing firms. I’m also a poor sap that bought the stock when I first worked there under the employee stock purchase plan (hey, it was a good idea then!).

The reality is that the holding companies do not care who gets the cash. It’s money in pocket and bottom line, and if advertising can get bigger bucks for campaigns, it’s better to go to advertising.

I’ve heard quotes of $X millions for a YouTube campaign. That’s just for a professional shoot, etc – because, you know, it’s all professional and slick on YouTube. But, the clients eat up those numbers because they expect that from advertising, and, well, advertising knows how to sell itself. Unlike PR. Oh, and that cost includes nothing on outreach – it’s just production. Take a minute and think of all the bad campaigns that advertising has done in social media … but dayum, it’s slick!!

And, well, look at the past. The Web sites should have been a PR vehicle – it’s communications – but we lost it to marketing. Why? Because Web sites became a vehicle for selling – only. Messaging and communications rate, at best, a distance second (after)thought.

How many corporate sites make sense, and tell the story of the company? Barely any. Why? It’s because PR ignored the power of the Web early on. Now, all that marketing / advertising has to chime in with is that they already execute on the Web with the corporate site … and they will win that sales war (and still have crappy execution, as a whole).

In social media, advertising has that Midas touch, except it turns almost everything to shit. Plus that seat at the C-suite table helps them out … while we’re stuck in the lobby, pacing like hired help.

What can PR do to win – because at the end of the day, we need to win or social media will be ruined (and we’ll be blamed).

Here’s my bullet-pointed plan to save PR, have a statue put up for me in New York, and be remembered like Howard Rubenstein as a mensch.

  • Education programs – too many large firms have no real education programs, and have AAEs up to SAEs emailing social media all willy-nilly.
    • If you are a large or mid-sized PR firm, and you have no education program, you are a sham and joke. There’s no nice way to put it, sorry. You simply suck as a firm and are doing a disservice both to the firm and your clients. End-of-story.
    • And, education needs to be quarterly, required for everyone, and done consistently. There is no real reason to have a specialized team in social media, because they will be cut out and likely have neither the knowledge or understanding of products and clients across the network. Education for all, so all get social media, and social media can then be smartly integrated into campaigns.
    • If you are a mid-sized, small or boutique firm, and you are looking for help in an education program, I can help (do it myself in Chicago) or recommend PR and social media practitioners throughout the country, including David Parmet, Heath Row, Constantin Basturea in NYC, Marshall Kirkpatrick in Portland, Teresa Valdez Klein in Seattle, Shel Holtz in the Bay Area. And there are others in the EU like Neville Hobson, Stuart Bruce, Allan Jenkins. And, go read Jeremiah Owyang’s blog – and, yes, for a most part these people are independent PR practitioners or social media specialists, so there’s no hard-sell. Heck, if you’re in-house PR, bring someone in that won’t sell, but will talk.
  • It’s a community – have the teams understand that this is not PR anymore, but it’s community relations.
    • The best analogy is an article about a local bar in Chicago … think of social networks and communities as a local bar. Would you walk in there, no intro and no relationships, and start spouting off like Cliff Claven? Um, no – you’d be beaten severely … like we see all the time when PR people are exposed … thanks Marshall Kirkpatrick.
    • Hats off to Edelman and it’s recent campaign from BlogHer for Kraft Cheese. The email I got noted I met them at BlogHer, and is working on being part of a community in a fun way. At BlogHer, Edelman had 10+ people networking, meeting, engaging … unlike another male PR person that sucked up but did not discuss (no, that wasn’t me – I gots chops at BlogHer for actually participating). Compare that to a flat advertising campaign on BlogHer – one that lacks creativity – and you will see a lack of understanding of community and engaging community.
    • The flip-side is that there are some that position themselves as community specialists … but have nothing to back it up, nor can go beyond one community. If I’m at BlogHer, and I see these people not mingling and speaking to others at the event … those are not community-minded people, but rather people that will talk a lot … and only do what matters for their own personal goals.
  • It’s about PR – sorry, social media is part of the PR mix, but a new look at it. If you are being lead by an interactive group, best of luck. You’re being led by a team that does not understand the principles of public relations, or, well, client relationships.
    • In an agency-setting for social media, your clients are both the internal teams and the clients themselves, and it is about messaging.
    • If you cannot push back – and, well, interactive teams seem just to be able to build a Web page or two – then you are doing a disservice to the client and the agency.
    • Then again, interactive should be ordered around by a PR / social media team to build what needs to be built: Facebook apps, widgets, a micro-site … whatever is needed for the real campaign work.
  • REAL social media teams need to be in the pitch – not a bullshit page or two in a presentation, but a seat at the table during the pitch and AFTER the pitch.
    • None of this "there’s no money" when programs are sold in, and then the money is kept for one team only.
    • No half-assed sell-ins to clients, since the pitch teams just know buzz words and do not understand it.
  • Do not force the staff into blogging (or Twittering or Facebooking or MySpacing, or SecondLifing…)
    • I too often see junior staff jump into blogging not for the purity of it (thanks Jeremiah for calling me a purist at Forrester Consumer Forum) but because they see dollar signs and promotions. Those are just Clavens – they are going to be sniffed out as fakers and posers, and not really part of the community.
    • I often meet senior staff that go into blogging because they think they need to be there … but have no real interest in being part of the conversation, but were told by higher-ups that they needed to "get it."
    • On the flip side, if there are not a few people that are engaged, you stil are a bunch of posers. No, you cannot force people to be involved, but they have to want to be involved. I do this stuff because I like to blog, I like technology – heck, I wrote a post about it already.
    • Don’t allow junior staff to be know-it-alls. I’ve seen it a few times already in the blogosphere, and clients will sniff them out as detrimental to the account when their "counsel" falls flat. Sorry, but you need the PR experience to fully get the social media implications that follow.
  • Social media is not media relations – it is about PR (where the P is public).
    • If you have a specialized online media team … they are treating it like media relations. It’s not. It’s community relations (yes, I am repeating myself, but it’s an important distinction).
    • It’s about community. To paraphrase James Carville, it’s the community, stoopid.
  • Listen. Like Talib Kweli says – listen, for some reason no one listens anymore. For some reason, PR has forgotten how to listen. If we listen, we’ll learn our clients want from us, and we’ll learn from both junior and senior staff.

Large agencies are still standing, and there are people in most of them that get social media as a new skill set. It is not a replacement to other skills – but a complementary skill that is needed. Unfortunately, there are skills that are just as ignored in PR right now … such as the simple ability of phone pitching, or writing, or providing counsel and handling a crisis. These are all skills that a good PR person should have, and include social media in there now (as the line is becoming blurred with traditional media and influence). It’s why I never wanted to be characterized as a blog specialist: I’m a PR generalist that has a wide array of different skill-sets.

The reality is that it does not matter if PR, advertising and social media are all marketing communications – what matters is who is going to get control of social media, and make it right for clients and the agencies. In my view, it should be public relations because social media is very public and socially oriented. You cannot just pop in there and try to be part of the community, to never return again.

If you want to know which agencies are doing it well, well, there are a lot of them. MWW, Voce, Edelman, MS&L and others … and there are agencies that are talking about getting it, but it’s a talk and no real walk.

Will social media stay with PR, or is it going to be another marketing communications discipline? I do not know – I just know that there are some things that social media needs to have for it to be transparent, honest and community-oriented. If PR jumped the gun a little earlier, there wouldn’t be these specialized social media practices popping up, and we would have the advantage on advertising and marketing.

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PR will lose Social Media to Advertising Due to Sex
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