PR Firms May Not Win Social Media Business
Why PR May Not Win The Social Media Agency Wars
Why PR May Not Win The Social Media Agency Wars

The default position lately seems to be that social media is being grasped best by PR agencies, and a lot of  PR agencies are winning social media business.  As a former PR agency person who’s also worked in a social media shop, I’d agree that there are a lot of reasons that PR firms should win the social agency wars. But there are a lot of strikes against them too.  Others have recently expounded on why social belongs in PR; I’m going to take the other side and outline where I feel PR is falling short and must catch up in order to win and deliver on integrated social media campaigns.


PR agencies have traditionally not controlled a lot of marketing dollars. They work primarily on fixed retainers, with some out-of-pocket budget, but generally have not had access to large, scalable media budgets like traditional ad agencies or digital agencies do.  And since PR and marketing are still separate at most companies, shifting marketing money to PR departments in order to cover social media costs will be an uphill battle in many companies.

And there’s no question that there are costs for social.  While some PR agencies continue to tell clients that social is “earned” media, it really isn’t, anymore.  Most bloggers expect some form of compensation when they market brands, products or services.  There is a cost to acquiring fans in Facebook.  It takes time to drive a Twitter following.  And creating content to fuel social media channels can be costly if done well. If PR is going to continue to gain ground in social, they must be ready to create, pitch and win budgets that go well beyond the traditional PR pervue.


Increasingly, social is a technology play.  From Facebook applications to integration with Shopkick, brands are using new technologies to reach and engage with their communities, on the web and on mobile. And while I have great respect for my PR colleagues – I’ve worked with a lot of really smart people – I’ve just got to say: they are, on the whole, not the most tech-savvy group I know.  Yes, the kids right out of college get it, and there are some very tech-focused PR execs, but many VPs and SVPs often can’t manipulate their own Blackberries, let alone use a QR code scanner.  So how is this group going to be able to embrace, sell in, and deliver on technologies that will create or enhance social opportunities?

No Technology in Brighton

I don’t think that PR firms necessarily need to create technology themselves – solid partnerships with trusted developers and platforms should be enough to accomplish a PR program’s goals.  But there have got to be people within the PR agency who understand how to spec and manage development projects to be able to get projects executed professionally, on budget and in a way that impresses the client.  I just don’t see a lot of PR firms even thinking this way yet, let alone hiring these kinds of people – it’s too difficult to justify a seemingly non-billable technology person in a traditional PR hierarchy.  This will continue to be a huge hole for most agencies, and the shops that come around and get this will have a huge leg up on their competition.


Forget the editorial/advertising church-and-state separation: PR agencies who want to win at social are going to have to at least learn to talk the talk about advertising. If Facebook ads weren’t enough, there are a whole slew of other social advertising opportunities out there, from iAds to Twitter promoted tweets to location-based mobile ads. And for many PR people this will be anathema.  They want to work in the world of earned media, not paid; however, without a social media ad spend, some social campaigns will fall short.

But going back to budgets for a moment, most PR people who won’t be able to create an appropriate ad budget, let alone have the knowledge to sell it in and execute on it. As with technology, PR firms may not need to develop ad buying capabilities in house, but they will need people who know enough about it to be good partners to people who do, and, again, execs who can sound smart in front of the client and get social ads sold in.

The bottom line: though PR seems to have the creative and storytelling capabilities that fuel a lot of what social is, most firms lack skillsets that they need to be able to deliver an integrated social media approach.   This will keep some firms hopping for a while until they figure out how to plug the holes, or else they’ll just decide not to play in the social media arena.

Is your PR firm plugging the social media knowledge gaps or abdicating to others?  Are you frustrated or elated at the direction this is going?  The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Stephanie Schwab
Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.
  • Angelina Jullie

    Your blogs and each of its stuff is so pleasurable and valuable it is making me come back soonbuy instagram followers

  • Great article and topic! Thanks Stephanie! We’ve noticed that there might be an increase in PR agencies pursuing more specialized third party solutions (creative & development) for collaboration to help fill the hole that their agency may not have in-house. There are definitely more options for that as new platforms and services are launched every day to fill the gap. There are more and more monitoring and distribution platforms for the interactions revolving around a managed brand. Also, the creation and publishing of strategies is easier as well. So, PR agencies can provide great value to a brand’s social marketing efforts, they just need to find the right resources to help out.

    Todd J Scott
    Creative Director, SplashLab Social

  • Hi Stephanie,

    Just finding this post now, but everything you say here supports my continuing picketing for integrated marketing approaches. PR experts have a lot to teach marketing experts and Social Media experts, and so it goes all around. I don't know that any one segment of the marketing industry would ever or should own Social Media. I think all of us need to work together.

    Well-written post!

  • Why does one or the other have to win the war? I run a marketing and PR agency and every single pitch I do involves both PR and social media. They play together so nicely when you understand how.

    Great article.

    • Because it makes for a good headline that drives traffic and comments

      months after it was posted. Heh.

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  • daniel_encoderpr

    I agree with the points made in this post. I think that the PR mindset – of all the marketing mindsets – is the right approach for social media strategy and online engagement. There are some other areas where PR needs to raise its game. At Encoder PR, a Sydney based PR agency, we're focused on strengthening our visual communication offering and our ability to access and interpret data. We're collaborating with third parties to improve our cabailities in these areas, which I believe is essential if we're going to successfully engage marketing budgets and 'compete' with advertising, interactive and media agencies.

    The PR industry does have an ace up its sleave and that's the ability to deliver integrated earned media campaigns spanning traditional, digital and social media.

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  • Stephanie, this is an excellent post. I couldn't agree with you more.

    The lines are blurring between PR, Marketing, Advertising, Customer Service, and Social Media or more correctly, Digital Strategy (I'm growing tired of “social media” being the default label under which all online and mobile engagement channels are stored.).

    The challenge is how do PR firms become digital strategy experts overnight?

    A couple of years ago, my team and I faced the opposite question. How does a digital strategy agency get invited into the fold by traditional PR, Ad and Marketing firms?

    We made a decision to stick with what we know. To that end, Magnify Digital has systemized the process we use to deliver high impact online strategies. Now we license that process to PR firms that want to add a digital component to their menu of services while driving new revenue. It's a web based system called ALERT™. I took the company down this path because I didn't want to compete with experts in different disciplines. We can't be excellent at everything.

    I firmly believe the only way we can truly serve our clients in the new era of engagement is through collaboration. It's time to take down the silos.

    • Excellent comment. Collaboration helps the disciplines excel and evolve and helps the clients achieve their goals. And what's more social than collaboration?

  • Lol…so much for being open and social. My comment was pulled? Interesting…still really enjoyed the article and thread.

    • Your comment wasn't pulled. I don't do that unless it's offensive. Disqus

      has an issue with identifying some comments as spam when they're really not.

      I'll go fix now. All you had to do is ask. I don't receive notifications

      when a comment is automatically spammed.

      • @ Jason awesome, thanks for checking it out! I'll pull my other comment. This was a great thread!

        • No problem. I've had the issue before. Not sure why Disqus is sensitive to

          certain comments. Even had two from one of my author stuck in the spam

          filters. Weird.

          • @ Jason, that sucks. Disqus has a great method for logging in…very social and very powerful. Maybe, Tweet them? They might jump on it if you throw it on the wall or something…

  • I still remember the case with the picture of Dell laptop in flames… Social medias totally won that :)

  • There are some challenging concepts in this article and it stresses some major issues facing agencies and PR firms. However, what’s missing in a lot of this thread (and article) is the core principal of social media which accounts for the human spirit and human drive to connect, share and help. Social Media is a replication of natural human behavior. Pure social is about open and honest conversation; transparency, democracy and community. Whether you’re a PR Firm, Agency (b2B or B2C), Fortune 500 or Fortune 5000 brand, failing to recognize the openness (and inherent freedom) of social media will negatively impact your efforts in the space (because most of us know when someone is marketing to us).
    The more control you throw at it…the more silly buzz words and invaluable content you generate or silly job titles (that make no real sense) you use to pretend like what you do is so complicated…the more people will eventually see it for what it is…paid media and uneducated marketers and PR reps trying to jump on what is misconstrued as a trend and low-cost way to connect with customers…none of which is purely social in nature. There’s a huge disconnect in this regard. You can create complex infographics around tools and tactics to communicate the value of social (like agencies do) or you can say that you truly understand conversation (like PR Firms). Which is great…but social is not about tools and tactics or solely conversation.
    At its core: it is free, open, social-space for people to interact and share media while exchanging ideas. Brands, agencies, and PR Firms miss that…probably, because they don’t live, breathe it and exist in the medium. They’re guests, and tourists. Big brands that dominate in the space, agencies that drive thought leadership and PR Firms that cultivate conversations are living in the space too (or they hire the right people who really get it not just learn to get it or make up words to pretend like they get it). Just like in life…being social is an art; turning that into money is the science of conversion. They’re not to be confused and are mutually exclusive…serving two different purposes.
    They best play for non-human faceless entities within the social space is to lead with value, honesty and transparency. Share your competitor’s content…curate content from your industry (which means competitors). After all, many of us living social-media share each others’ content even when we disagree or dislike it…because we believe in open dialog and healthy dialectical debates. When you do this…people trust, respect and actually want to engage. This gets you attention and that attention can be focused but not controlled nor can it really be managed. You’re lying if you say otherwise or are sorely misguided. When’s the last time you managed the conversation at a Christmas party or block-party; telling people where, what and how they can talk? Probably never because that’s not our natural predisposition as humans.
    What I want to know is…how many of you calling yourself experts really live social media? Do you truly accept and embrace the fact that social media is a dynamic river of content and people that you can’t dam up, control, force direction or steer. The best you can do is jump in and swim with a current that’s been in motion before most of you calling yourself social media experts even heard of social. Marketing concepts about budgets, buzz words and whatever are smoke and mirrors to cover for lack of respect and understanding for the space?

  • Interesting, thought-provoking article. Developing integrated marketing campaigns has posed a challenge long before the rise of social media. Even twenty years ago, there were plenty of advertising, promotions and PR firms that claimed they were capable of spearheading an integrated marketing campaign on their own. But a “one stop shopping approach” didn't work then, and it doesn't work now. Generally speaking, PR firms are far better at managing user-generated content on Facebook than, say, a digital firm. But when it comes to developing sophisticated Facebook apps, the reverse is true. As the author points out, the key is for PR firms to have a general working knowledge and appreciation of all facets of social media marketing and to establish partnerships with agencies from different marketing disciplines. Doing so will enable PR firms to become more competitive and earn a greater share of social media marketing dollars.

    Jason Winocour
    Social and Digital Media Practice Leader
    Hunter Public Relations

  • Marcy Massura

    I am a little fascinated that previous my comment was removed. Perhaps because I didn't agree? I was nice about it though :)

    • It wasn't removed. I'll check the spam filters ASAP.

    • @marcy yea, mine was pulled too. Perhaps, my pontificating on the core tenants of open social didn't go over well? Funny, because most successful social brands and campaigns (whether B2B or B2C) remained true to the core tenants of social. Be social, be democratic and be transparent.

      • …disregard my comment. @Jason posted…Disqus marked it as spam. Thanks Jason. Great article and thread!

  • I think the writer makes some good points. I used to work at a huge PR firm, and the tools we were using for social media monitoring of our clients and research of them was pretty darn simplistic. There were better tools out there.

    I also agree PR people aren't the most tech-savvy most of the time, though that isn't always the case.

    However, a good PR person excels at communications. They breathe it, and they know how to utilize it. *That* is extremely important in the world of social media, as part of its foundation is engagement between the brand and its consumer.

    Just my two cents.

  • Marcy Massura

    I think you would be surprised to know the swell of PR firms (biggies) who are solving most of these issues by bringing on tech saavy, social media (multi-platform bloggers specifically) to address these needs. Along with that come the dedication of larger budgets by clients to fullfill the social media campaigns….

    It might not be a slam dunk. But ultimately PR firms will win this social media medium.

  • Not the most easy thing to listen too, but I think you are spot on!

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Thanks, Pablo!

  • Cassieboorn

    One of the biggest challenges I have seen is the ability to communicate capabilities to clients. Often times you will come across a client or potential client that isn't particularly tech savvy. Having the knowledge of the technology and capabilities is important but it is essential that you can explain how these work to someone who may not be familiar with them. Often times very tech savvy people have trouble explaining how the technology works and translating it into something that is easily communicated.

    Also, many brands are still nervous about entering the social media scene. A PR agency may have a better chance of encouraging and coaching clients through it in taking baby steps in integrating their approach with both digital and traditional.

    There is a lot of different aspects that come together with new media. It just shows that all in all technology just brings us a little closer together! :)

    Great Article!

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Thanks so much for your comments. I completely agree that a big part of the disconnect is in communicating capabilities. And it is all about baby steps!

  • lynnelle

    The perspective of “win-lose” is the antithesis of a successful social media effort (paid or otherwise) and is fundamentally why so many are not successful in their marketing efforts using the medium. There is a big gray area at the intersection of traditional PR and traditional Advertising that “belongs” to neither – or both. It is new. Fighting to coral it into the old mold benefits no one.

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Of course I'm using “win-lose” for effect….I think there's lots of business to go around. But those that do gain more social business will do so because they've embraced all of the aspects of social that are necessary for an integrated approach. As you're saying, it's a “new mold.”

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  • Staphanie, you delivered the tough medicine the PR people need to hear. Story telling is not enough! Well said. Technology, metrics, and getting rid of the concept of 'earned media' are concepts PR firms are really going to have to grapple with quickly or they will die.

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  • Agree totally. Looking at my inbox, not only do the PR people contacting me not think of compensation, they don't even read my blog and realize I'm not the right target for their client. Just shows me what mindset still prevails there when it comes to social web engagement.

  • Carissa

    And let's not forget those just out of college kids who call up the blogger and apparently simply got the last job on the totem… they don't know enough, and certainly don't have any control or say… when the blogger (me) answers back and tries to explain, I simply can't do what they are asking for free or for a bottle of lotion. I might give about 10 different ideas for what I can do and how they can make it a value option for me, and sigh.. they have no way to respond as they were never given any real power in the first place.

    As a blogger I realized ages ago the PR agency calling never intended to compensate me in any real way, and the new joke among bloggers is the phrase: 'we think your readers want to hear about this'. No they don't. And I simply don't have time any more to even respond to emails when no value is offered.

    If they still want to treat me like a 'journalist' then fine, I say let them, but I always make it very clear, anything you send me is only a sample to me, and I make no promise to write/endorse anything anymore. I have a great example where one 'sample' like that turned into a great partnership that worked for both sides, because I was willing to brainstorm and make it happen.

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Hah, Carissa, you're so right about the low man on the totem pole. Those poor interns/fresh-out-of-college PR folks.:-)

  • heatherwhaling

    I think this debate boils down to one thing: integration. Normally, I talk about integration as in “integrate traditional with new … PR with marketing and social, etc.” However, integration also works in this context. A traditional PR firm may have *some* of the skills in-house required to successfully develop and execute a social strategy, but the firms that will thrive are the ones that realize when they need to join forces with people who possess the other skill sets. For example, if a company isn't ready to make a full-time commitment to hiring a social-savvy developer, there are loads of talented freelancers available for partnerships.

    I had a boss once tell me that clients don't want/need to know “how we make the sausage.” That rings true here. Most clients won't care if the QR code expert (for example) is an in-house, full-time employee, or someone brought in specifically to lend expertise to this project. As long as the project is executed well, the client will be satisfied.

    If you ask me, for PR — or marketing or any of the other communication disciplines — to win their share of social business, integration is key. Integrated strategies *and* integrated skill sets.


    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Heather, you're singing my tune! Integration is precisely the thing I'm talking about. I have no doubt that many PR firms do many pieces of social well – but they have to know enough about what they don't know to get those skills onto their team, in any which way as you described. Thanks so much for your thoughts!

  • Stephanie, I think you are slightly confusing 'ad agencies using social networks to help distribute traditional campaigns (e.g. Old Spice)' and real social media community building, engagement and strategy. The former is clearly going to be done by ad agencies and the like, the latter may well be handled better by PR agencies

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      I agree that PR agencies seem better equipped to create/manage the community stuff – but my contention is that unless they learn/acquire some of the other skills necessary to deliver an integrated social media approach, other types of agencies will win more social business, thereby leaving a lot of PR agencies on the sidelines.

      • But surely you could say the same about other types of agencies that want to get into social? It's new for us all and, while we all have many positive skills we can bring, everyone is learning…

        • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

          Oh, for sure, everyone is learning. I'm just responding to the recent love that people have poured out for PR agencies in social. I don't think they're the default winners, yet.

  • Good article, however I’ll argue that the basic premise is a bit off: no one agency type will “win” the social media space, as social media is increasingly becoming a core ingredient in almost every element of the marketing and communications mix. Pretty much every ad or direct marketing campaign these days – at least from the more forward looking clients – incorporates some element of social. As such, ad shops, integrated marketing shops, PR shops, Web dev/SEO shops, digital shops…all are being forced to quickly spin up an in-house social media capability.

    They might not all use them for storytelling and relationship building, PR strengths, but much of the budget going into social these days is focus less on that than on customer acquisition/retention, brand awareness, and other more traditional marketing objectives. Our agency (pure play social) routinely faces off – in the same RFP pitch – with the digital shops at the big PR agencies alongside the big ad agencies and the occasional int. marketing team. Social media tends to sit in a gray zone where no one type of agency can claim exclusive expertise, and as a result everyone is building a capability and competing.

    I see less of one traditional agency type “owning” social than the old boundaries of what is a PR agency vs. an ad agency just starting to collapse, driven by changes in the medium and client demands for that medium to drive a wide range of goals.

  • ankitanks

    Nice thought, something that was there in my mind all these days.

    Ankit Ahuja

  • Simon Francis @si_francis

    The interplay between brand reputation, advocacy and social media is so strong that this is why clients are asking their PR agencies to take on the activity. Some sweeping generalisations, but traditional ad agencies don’t have the capacity to take on anything more than a burst of social media and digital agencies tend not to have the news / crisis sense needed to effectively manage social media presence. While the best social media strategies will always be handled in house, of all the agencies in the mix, PR is best placed to deliver. Agree with @Ksafrey though that more needs to be done on measurement.

    Of course, given the level of convergence between all media channels, in an ideal world a totally integrated strategy would be delivered cutting across agency lines!

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  • Ksafrey

    I can understand where some of these generalizations about PR agencies are coming from. It seems like more and more PR agencies are selling social media snakeoil to their clients these days (in the form of social media strategy, content and measurement). To be honest, I think the industry is getting a bad rep when it comes to social media. It's important to remember that there are agencies out there that have taken the time to understand social networking, and are working with top-notch clients because they are doing things right.

    A good agency is both tech-savvy and adaptable. A good agency takes the time to learn the platform before offering it to their clients as a service. A good agency knows how to package and budget their service offerings in way that makes sense to their clients. A good agency is accountable, measuring their results based on their clients goals. A good agency doesn't offer a service that they can't execute on.

    Let's not let the mistakes of many agencies speak for the entire industry. If you're looking to hire a PR agency to run your social media, take the time to research them (both their reputation and their offerings), and ask about real tangible results. Work with quality and you'll get quality in return.

    Katie Safrey, Affect Strategies

  • Susan Breidenbach

    I don't see how you can do PR today and not play in the social media arena. PR's traditional targets–print media–are disappearing. Social media is the future of journalism. But search is a huge component of successful social media marketing today–there are enormous synergies between social media optimization and SEO that must be exploited. The geeks who are good at SEO are kind of the opposite of PR types–they aren't good at creating content and don't have good people skills. But that means the two groups of professionals are very complementary. You need these people on your team to do effective PR in the era of socia media. The bigger problem for PR agencies, I think, is that experience is showing big companies they can't really outsource social media efforts. Maybe agencies can help them set up a social media marketing program, but the actual engagement has to be done by the client companies themselves.

  • Good analysis, Stephanie. The lack of experience handling ad budgets, which you mentioned, is one facet, but your observation about PR people not being the most tech savvy squares with what I have seen.

    Too often, PR firms managing social media accounts aren’t into online PR fundamentals such as keyword research and developing SEO content for websites, blogs, press releases and other formats. Worse yet, most do little or no training to address the situation.

    One notable senior PR professional is concerned. Paul Taaffe, Global Chairman and CEO of Hill & Knowlton, headed up the PR judging for the 2010 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. When ad agencies again took home more PR awards than did PR firms, Taaffe challenged the PR industry to raise its game:

    Jim Bowman


    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Fascinating link, Jim, I hadn't followed the Cannes stuff. And oh man, search and SEO is another topic entirely. Watch for my next post in this space on exactly that subject!

  • Sara Meaney

    I'd argue that rather than focusing on broad generalizations of which traditional disciplines are best suited to succeed in social media, we should be discussing the evolution of mindset they all must adopt to succeed.

    Marketing and Communications, as we have traditionally known them, don't fly in social applications. We all know this. Lather, rinse, repeat is a proven strategy in print and broadcast, but it's not appropriate when you're pretending to be my “friend”. If you keep telling me about how awesome you are all the time, chances are I'll start realizing you just like me for my Strawberry Shortcake dolls. I digress.

    The MarComm folks who are most successful in new media are those who can adapt quickly and deftly to real-time challenges. It's always been that way. The game hasn't changed, only the channels have.

    I'm not a traditionally trained MarComm person, which is probably why I've always found it mildly amusing that Communications/PR and Marketing so often settle comfortably into their assigned silos. One company's marketing program looks coincidentally like another company's communications strategy. And who cares? It's the integration of the necessary skills and disciplines that determines the success of the plan, not the department that wrote the plan itself.

    The most adaptive PR agencies have been working in flexible, non-retainer based engagements for years. And design/ad agencies are often thrilled when they can secure consistent, scalable work from clients in the form of a retainer. So it appears that the real issue has more to do with our profession's customer/client orientation, rather than relying on “how the industry does it” as an excuse for more of the same.

    Isn't that what we MarComm folks are supposed to do anyway? Uncover the needs of the customer and position an offering accordingly? C'mon, guys. This one's a no-brainer.

  • Sarahvanslette

    You mentioned that the students right out of college have mastered the technology, but I would argue that those same students don't really distinguish between PR, advertising, and marketing. Their approach is naturally more wholistic, so I think the problem of PR people “not getting” social media will be a moot point very soon. The up-and-comers aren't PR people, they are brand managers and promotional masters.

    • But the young people right out of college often don't distinguish because

      the seldom understand PR, advertising and marketing. I would argue the

      typical young professional's approach isn't more holistic, it's more

      generalistic, which is less helpful. Two cents from someone watching the


      (And yes, I know there are 20-somethings perfectly capable of being smart,

      driven, strategic thinkers in this business. But I also know those account

      for less than 10 percent of the pool.)

    • Julianna

      I agree with you. I am a PR major with another year ahead of me, and I would say that we do tend to group PR, advertising, and marketing together. This could be because some students are too lazy to recognize the difference, but I also think it has a lot to do with how some PR classes are taught. I have been in some classes where all those topics are taught within the same PR class, so its plausible that college students are just letting them all run together. Sadly, we come from a tech-savvy generation that often times fails to learn the basics.

  • Good post, lot to chew on. I think we have to distinguish between what we think “should” happen and what we think “will” happen. Ideally, every employee should have some ownership of social media and be equipped to represent the brand. But that requires a governance and education plan very few companies will invest in. And an even smaller percentage have the right culture to support it.

    The next “should” we be embracing IMC as a company where PR/Corp Comm/Marketing work together to do what’s in the best interest of the customer, no matter who “owns” what. Now, back to reality. Silos do exist. And they’ll continue to in the majority of companies for many reasons, one of which is territorial budget concerns. So marketing will keep hold of the purse strings more often than not. And for some companies, that will work well. But PR is still best equipped to engage with today’s consumers. Too many marketers/advertisers use social media as ad and marketing tools. Imagine that. And you can argue that social media are sales tools for companies if you also acknowledge that consumers want to be sold to in a different way than ever before — via conversation.

    Lastly, seems difficult to attribute Old Spice increase in sales to a coupon versus their Old Spice Guy video campaign. But even if you believe they can, shouldn’t we also ask how the OSG campaign impacted long-term sales and not just short-term? How about brand affinity and advocacy?

  • I'm looking for credit on the argument, as I wrote it months ago.

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Oh, just found your post, Jeremy. Great thoughts, your points about measurement and CMOs dovetail nicely with mine. Thanks!

      • You mean your post dovetails nicely with mine.

        • So what you're saying is that a similar opinion must mean someone definitely stole your ideas, and more importantly, your post? I've been hearing these points for months and never saw your post, Jeremy. I don't think it's fair for you to attack Stephanie if she says she never saw your post.

          • Well, cool – I wrote it 3 years ago. Let's hear it for seeing the writing on

            the wall for PR and SM.

  • I think we're just going to need more collaboration, moreso between PR and digital agencies than advertising. The PR firms know how to communicate the message in an organic way and the digital agencies can provide the platforms to host the conversation on.

  • louhoffman

    You make fair points.

    But I think the key turf that will go a long way in determining who takes the social media reins will be “owned media.”

    PR already dominates “earned media” and of course advertising and the digital shops control “paid media.” The wildcard is “owned media.”

    I would argue that PR as the discipline most aligned with content is in the best position to drive the “owned media” piece.

    With that said, it's going to be important for PR agencies to come up the technology curve as your post pointed out.

    Here, I think PR agencies need to recognize that they don't need a cadre of java programmers to play in the “owned media” game. Just coming up the curve on a platform like WordPress can make a difference.

    Ultimately, a holistic approach to communications requires a relationship with the CMO or VP of marketing or whoever is leading the brand charge.

    Lou Hoffman

  • Interesting arguments – kind of reminds me of a Strumpette article from 2007. Just replace “conversational marketing” with “social media.”

  • Geoffrey Rowan

    All valid points, and it is not a zero sum game. No o ne is going to “win” or “own” the social digital space. If anything, the evolving need/opportunity will drive more and better collaboration — between PR firms and ad agencies, and between PR firms and digital shops. The advisor who facilitates the best business outcome will be the winner, whatever that hybrid ends up looking like. And it will not look the same in all cases, or likely in many cases. The requirement becomes flexibility in thinking and a commitment to effective relationships. Lots of different skills will be needed, but without those you won't be in the game very long.

  • Totally agree with you Stephanie! As much as you can use PR or marketing/ad agencies to raise awareness of a brand or product, without developing a marketing strategy and using the right tools to give your social media campaign a purpose (to drive sales, educate or provide customer service portal) you will never get the most out of your campaign. I've found in my experience too many PR agencies use social media an 'online megaphone' and never truly harness the possibilities and the level of sophistication social media now has.

  • I'm not sure why it's an either/or argument, rather than a both/and. PR and marketing are like stalagmites and stalactites: the client, and the end user, rarely know the difference. Why do we need to have a tug-of-war about it? It makes all the more sense for a good marketing firms to partner with good PR firms, and vice versa, instead of trying to do it all themselves.

  • I'd submit that it may be more a race led by the most insightful, diligent and tech savvy amongst both the PR and Marketing crowd who apply this new “tool” to their respective disciplines for increasing client visibility with their audiences. Thanks for the food for thought Stephanie.
    Best regards,
    Craig Lindberg
    MLT Creative

  • This is all interesting to me because it has nothing to do with my day job.

    It does make me wonder if social media should more properly be in marketing, though.

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      I agree that social media is marketing – and as Anthony mentions previously in the comments, a lot of what's currently fueling social success are pure marketing tactics like couponing, promotions, etc., just delivered through social channels. But the communications channels have traditionally been controlled by PR; blogger relations and crafting brand messages (like for Twitter and Facebook) easily fall in that realm. Hence the shootout happening between (non-social media) agencies – none of which yet have the full skillset needed to deliver on integrated social media campaigns.

  • Thanks for the Article Stephanie. I've enjoyed listening to the “who owns social debate” and I think its really hard to compare apples to apples with the whole concept.

    With so much variance between different PR/digital agencies I have seen cases where PR totally gets it or when they are still playing catch up.

    Unfortunately most people at companies with budgets are left to give the business to whoever sells it the best, and not to which agency has the most domain knowledge. Never to mention that agencies have to fight over business for the clients that they are serving in the first place.

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Brandon, I completely agree that it has lots to do with “whoever sells it best.” And that's one of the huge holes I see in many PR agencies. PR execs don't have to be the most socially-connected or socially-savvy person in the pitch meeting, but they have to know enough about social to be able to sell it in to clients. This often means they need more socially-savvy staff internally so that they can get smart and stay on top of the latest and greatest in tech, advertising, etc.

  • I think until there is more evidence of earned media translating to earned money, the PR agencies are going to have a tougher time convincing everyone.

    The social media campaign everybody remembers is Old Spice, but studies have shown it did not translate to more sales. The spike in sales was due to a coupon that ran at the same time. When the two no longer overlapped, sales went back to normal.

    Lower prices still seem to be the driver for sales, way more than funny advertising. Now that coupons come to you through social media instead of you going to clip them in the paper, the marketing department may have received another weapon that no earned media will be able to overcome.

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      I think you make a great point, Anthony, about how coupons may be a major driver of social success. Also note that the Old Spice campaign came out of a traditional ad agency – Wieden+Kennedy – not a PR shop.

      • It's also fair to note that prior to the Old Spice campaign, P&G obliterated

        the market with coupons for the product. Did the coupons drive the sales or

        did the social media campaign? Hard to separate and determine.

  • Samantha McGarry

    I think PR has to be at the social media execution table and ideally at the head of the table. In my experience, social media augments “traditional” PR success and vice versus. But I also think that social media has been to part of an integrated marketing strategy – it bolsters almost every aspect of marketing – and again, vice versus. Your point about PR agencies not being equipped to handle the social media ad campaigns tho is something that I had not considered and is well taken.

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Thanks, Samantha. I don't disagree that PR needs to be at the table; I'm just not sure they have the skillset to execute once there. Some agencies do and will sit at the head of the table, others are far from it.

  • Great post, lot to chew on. I think we have to distinguish between what we think “should” happen and what we think “will” happen. Ideally, every employee should have some ownership of social media and be equipped to represent the brand. But that requires a governance and education plan very few companies will invest in. And an even smaller percentage have the right culture to support it.

    The next “should” would be embracing IMC as a company where PR/Corp Comm/Marketing work together to do what’s in the best interest of the customer, no matter who “owns” what. Now, back to reality :). Silos do exist. And they’ll continue to in the majority of companies for many reasons, one of which is territorial budget concerns. So marketing will keep hold of the purse strings more often than not. And for some companies, that will work well. But PR is still best equipped to engage with today’s consumers. Too many marketers/advertisers use social media as ad and marketing tools. Imagine that. And you can argue that social media are sales tools for companies if you also acknowledge that consumers want to be sold to in a different way than ever before — via conversation.

    Lastly, seems difficult to attribute Old Spice increase in sales to a coupon versus their Old Spice Guy video campaign. But even if you believe they can, shouldn’t we also ask how the OSG campaign impacted long-term sales and not just short-term? How about brand affinity and advocacy?

  • agreed. In India we are facing similar challenges. PR firms are offering social media, however due to lack of PR budgets, it is advertising or traditional media services that are walking away with social media successs

  • Great topic, lot of solid points. I think we have to look at the overall biz landscape and distinguish what we think “will” happen from what we think “should” happen. I think the entire company should own social media, or better yet, conversation. But that involves a lot of governance, education and a culture maybe 1% of companies are willing to invest in. That said, an integrated marketing strategy makes the most sense, where budget can be allocated to the behaviors that best benefit the company, regardless of what specific department owns what channel. Now, back to reality. Silos exist, so marketing will likely keep the lions share of the budget and have the money to invest going forward. And that will work great for some brands. But generically, PR is best suited to talk to customers the way they want to be engaged via social channels. Too many marketing and ad agencies use social media like a marketing or ad channel. Imagine that. And you can argue that social media is a sales channel, but only if you preface that point with the fact that today’s consumers want to be sold to in a different way — via conversation. Lastly, agree with Jason that it’s very hard to say whether the Old Spice campaign or a coupon generated short-term sales. And short-term sales only tell part of the story. What’s its impact on long-term sales, brand affinity, advocacy? These must be factored in and are not easy to track.

  • Vince DeGeorge

    Great article!

    I think PR agencies are in the best 'position' to win, though I agree with you they may not. However, who may be the best alternative?

    • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Thanks! I think the jury is still out on that, Vince. I'm biased towards pureplay social media agencies (as I currently own one and previously worked for another), because I think they bring the right players to the table – search, advertising, tech, etc. plus creative. But digital agencies could still pull out ahead; they have a lot of the skillsets already, they only need to get more into the consumer/community communications mindset. It'll be interesting to see what we're saying about this in a year or two.

  • Good thoughts Stephanie!

    Having recently left a mid-sized PR firm doing social media work, I would have to agree with you. In many cases the technology gap is simply too wide and the skills/knowledge required for successful social campaigns must either be taught or outsourced.

    I would argue that there are some mixed shops doing excellent work but those who are not augmenting their workforce with staff who can write a blog post as well as a news release will be struggling (or out of business) in the next 5 – 10 years.

    The successful PR practitioner of the future will be Adwords certified, be able to build or fix HTML or Java code, will build relationships with traditional media as well as bloggers and will have a strong working knowledge of the social media landscape.

    After all of that, I’m still not sure who “wins” social media. There are companies that get it right regardless of classification (PR firm, ad agency, pure social media shop) and time will tell who has the ability to deliver excellent results. It’s possible that social media marketing/campaigns will never fall into one group, but rather to the best of the best within each group.


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