Full-Service Marketing Agencies? Can One Firm Handle Everything?

Full-Service Marketing Agencies? Can One Firm Handle Everything?

I was part of an interesting discussion this morning (#smbaustin – tag) discussing how PR and Social Media need to be integrated, or no longer considered as separate disciplines. While I agree with the sentiment, the issues are much bigger than “wishing it were so.” As lofted by one of the panelists this morning, “In a year, I hope we’re not having this discussion.” Um… We will get back to that.

Taking the issue a bit higher up, let’s look at today’s full-service advertising agency. OF COURSE, they can do it all. But are they the best bang for your buck when looking to launch a social media program? If you are Dell, or Cisco, perhaps an integrated approach has some efficiencies, in scaling your dollars efficiently, and minimizing meetings and reporting structures. For the rest of us, the full-service model has some inherent problems. PRIMARILY: Overhead and layers of management.

Drilling a bit more granularity to the PR vs. Social Media question, let’s look how those functions are typically handled within a larger agency. In an integrated marketing campaign you often will have an entire team of people, including executive leadership, project managers and then the account team and worker bees who are going to actually “do” the work. Want to ADD Social Media to the program, “Great, we’ll add our social guy to the team.” Even in the largest agencies, social is not going to be much of a department. Simply put, the 8% (reported) budgets for large-scale social media campaigns will not support large teams. [Still in 2013 we are having to prove the ROI of social media, and the proof is widely accepted in the pure marketing community.]

Okay, so you’ve got your “social smart guy,” maybe even a social genius, as part of your team. The problem is, now that smart team of one has to work within and attend all the meetings and planning sessions around the full campaign. And as it should be, the social media strategy should be part of all parts of the integrated campaign, so it is hard to avoid this. But rather than focusing on social tactics and strategies for your brand and business building, he’s now tied to and billed along with a massive machine. It is hard to be agile or inventive when the entire process of control and management is set up for more calculated and traditional forms of marketing.

Can you imagine having a week to come up with a Facebook response, or Twitter response? That’s the pace of the large agency. “We can cover that at the client meeting, next week.” WHAT?

Let’s jump to PR vs. Social Media for a minute. Again, the question is not CAN your PR agency handle your social. The real question is SHOULD your PR firm handle your Social Media as well?

One of the panelists today began the discussion by saying the two disciplines were the same. However, 20 minutes later, she was giving an example of responding to a crisis and she said something to the effect, that as a PR person, she had access to all of the media phone numbers in the city. They would take her call and wait for her to get the accurate answer for them before running with a story. (Brilliant PR example.) ON THE OTHER HAND, Twitter won’t wait. She went on to talk about the “social guy’s response.” So while it’s easy to say we want the two disciplines to be the same, it is harder to combine them.

Here is an example of how the two departments at Dell handled a very difficult situation, several years ago. [Here’s the original post and links the responses: 22 Confessions Of A Former Dell Sales Manager – The Consumerist]

A former Dell employee wrote and published a blog post about how to get the best deal on your Dell computer. His post contained a lot of semi-sensitive information about Dell’s sales cycles and how at the end of a quarter the deals begin getting a lot better. It was nothing proprietary, but it was not going to help Dell’s EVERY DAY IS A SALE model of business.

FIRST: Dell Legal (on the PR side of the house) wrote a cease and desist letter to the blogger, threatening him with legal action.

SECOND: The blogger used Dell’s threat to boost his story and the whole thing went viral in less than 24 hours.

THIRD: The social media team, headed up by friend and colleague, Lionel Menchaca, then posted a “We Messed Up” response to the blogger. He came clean with the miss in the system that had fired off the legal threat. He welcomed continued dialogue with the blogger, and asked for forgiveness.

FINALLY: The Dell response became even more viral than the initial mistake. And Dell came off looking like a hero of social media responsiveness. And Lionel became the poster child for social media done right.

There is no debate about the furious pace of social media and how companies that are not prepared with a response team should probably tred lightly within the social networks. And the real issue is one of accountability and pace.

Public Relations is full of legal process and protocol. Everything that comes from PR will be vetted and checked for liabilities. Social Media does not wait around for legal approvals.

The problem is the pace and the availability of the legal team. SO, what most companies, Dell included, do, is they build very extensive SOCIAL MEDIA PLAYBOOKS. That look something like this.

FACEBOOK – Response Time – 2-24 hours – if controversial contact MGR for advice
TWITTER – Response Time – 10-30 minutes (if the answer is available) 24 hours if response requires guidance
If the controversial post or tweet is
LEVEL 1, contact your MGR
LEVEL 2, contact VP of Marketing
LEVEL 3, call your supervisor immediately
LEVEL 4, look for a new job… (sorry, kidding)

Obviously this is a simplified version and each LEVEL might go through several possible response scenarios. But the point is, PR does not have a similar real-time response plan, nor is it required to, except in the case of a major news story.

PR people can be trained to do great social media. And I’m sure social people could dial back the urgency to do PR, but it’s not as common. We’re swept up in the speed and “first to know” mentality, that things are only going to continue to accelerate.

Back to the full-service issue. A firm that focuses exclusively on social media WILL be better able to design, execute, and measure programs from OUTSIDE the traditional agency system. In the same vein, PR agencies can certainly DO your social media, they are learning about the faster paced services just like every one else. BUT they serve two masters. The Press Release is not dead, nor is the official PR response. And the PR Agencies have the connections and well-worn communications channels to do their business.

BUT social media does not play by the same rules. And if your Social Media agency makes a mistake, you can always blame and fire them. Harder to do with a long-term PR firm.

I’m not saying small social agencies should be scapegoated every time something goes wrong. BUT once you’ve been through a social media crisis you are forever wizened to the problems and pitfalls to avoid. We’re not ever going to get it ALL right. But with a social firm, what you are getting is 100% of the bandwidth of the smartest people in the company thinking about ONE THING, YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA. The leadership of a full-service ad agency, or an old-school PR firm will be hard pressed to focus much more than about 8% of their energy on your “social program.”

 The 8% metric.

marketing mix online


John McElhenney

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Social media give the idea of advertising and marketing for any business to establish development. The Advertising Agencies New York offering advertising services in which newspapers and social media tools are present.

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