Why PR Agencies Should be Great at Social Marketing, But So Few Are

PRIf there is a marketing group or function that should be a natural for driving social, media marketing success, I would pick PR. No other marketing function lives and dies by the success of maintaining strong relationships. And that is the key to social marketing success as well.

Successful social marketing is accomplished by building strong relationships such that your audience comes to the brand’s aid and produces word of mouth marketing, advocacy, and promotion of the brand. These actions yield a trusted source of marketing for the brand … much stronger than the brand’s own marketing.

When we look at the role of a PR agency, it is very similar. PR agencies look to manufacture earned media by key influencers for the brand’s target market. As defined at Wikipedia, “Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the spread of information …Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment. The aim of public relations by a company often is to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about it, its leadership, [and] products, …”

PR companies are very well suited for driving social marketing success because their entire success is based upon relationships. Relationships are what drive social success. Yet PR companies, for the most part, have not championed social marketing in a successful way. Why is this so?

I will start by suggesting that the emphasis of PR individuals is more focused on “what will the relationship do for me” as opposed to the true objective of building valued give-and-take relationships. Now I know that this statement will not be taken well by a majority of PR professionals. So let me give an example to demonstrate why I could make such an unpopular statement. When I was running a social group for a well known magazine publisher, I had a PR professional on my team. She was so guarded of her contacts at other publications, that even when she went on vacation she would not give me, her boss, the email addresses of her contacts to make sure all activities were taken care of. This is common practice in the PR profession and I understand the motivation. Yes, the PR professional should own the relationship with contacts that yield earned media. But does that mean they are the only one that can talk to the “partner”? If PR professionals are so concerned about a strong relationship to truly produce a win-win for both sides, the PR professional would introduce their contact to numerous people they represents. (Okay, maybe not. But this mentality is definitely foreign to the objectives of social marketing.)

Even when I have written articles for publications and a PR professional has brokered the arrangement, I am rarely introduced to the appropriate “publishing” people. Yes, I understand the “preservation” aspect of the PR professional protecting their contacts. But the mentality of holding back is not conducive to strong relationship building with your target audience.

Another reason why there is a deficiency in PR agencies driving social media marketing success is that historically PR agencies deal with one monolithic type of person – the publisher. The publisher wants hot news and something different that will help to distinguish their journal. Pretty straightforward. The reality is that a brand’s audience is diverse with different wants, needs, and desires. Social marketers can define a target market persona of the individual that they are talking to, to best fit their message and communication. But they also need to recognize that the actual conversation in the relationship is going to take different turns. As social marketers look to motivate the target market it will take greater communication to build trust with a diversified group. PR agencies are not use to scaling this dimension of the conversation.

Thus I think there are very few PR agencies that can deliver successful social marketing today. Most are taking their existing PR model and playing that to a social practice and that spells failure. The PR agency that is willing to say, “Hey, we understand relationship building, but we are going to make it more authentic to a larger and more diverse audience than we are used to,” has a chance for success.

Far too many marketing agencies have taken what they have done well through out the years and applied it to a new channel. This won’t work for the digital revolution because new marketing channels driven by new technology provoke new and different audience behaviors. Everything a successful marketer does is based upon complete empathy and understanding of the target audience. The reality is that I have not seen PR agencies, by and large, recognizing this reality and adjusting appropriately and successfully. Who is ready to be the exception?

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

PS – I get it. I understand why PR professionals are possessive of their contacts. I am not suggesting they change this for a PR practice. But if they also run a social practice, a different mentality is required. This requires a strong social leader that appreciates why PR runs the way it does and at the same time shapes the social practice to be slightly different. This also requires a bit of give from the PR agency to allow a changed approach for their social practice.


Filed under brand marketing, brands, marketing, PR, social marketing, social media, social media marketing, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve, Word of Mouth Marketing

8 responses to “Why PR Agencies Should be Great at Social Marketing, But So Few Are

  1. I think traditional PR agencies (at least the larger ones) are trying to embrace and leverage social media, but there are a few challenges

    1- Social Media is a Two Way conversation- They need to be prepared and more importantly allow for authentic conversation, even of a negative tone
    2- Define social media in the overall marketing strategy- This is an issue across many traditional ad agencies as well. Social media is a channel, not the channel. Successful campaigns need to leverage the ecoystem of Digital and even TV/Print/Direct Mail.
    3- Defining who is an influencer- In the old days it was a journalist or even celebrity, but how do you define who has influence in your target market? It’s an issue I bet every senior PR leader struggles with.

    I think there are huge opportunities for PR agencies in Social Media, but the skill-set has changed to incorporate not just great writing skills and contacts, but Technical Knowledge (Analytics and even coding) and the ability, to your point to carry a two way conversation that’s authentic. Those who have these skills will succeed.

  2. What a great topic that I experience all the time. As a social media marketer, who works with car dealerships and other businesses, I find it very difficult to get Advertising Agencies to comply with bringing offline media to the digital world. It’s like pulling teeth to figure out where their $100,000 / month spent on TV commericals are airing, let alone get them to send you a simple file that can be uploaded to You Tube, tagged, and more importantly increase organic search results. Perhaps we are stepping on their toes? In my opinion, anyone with passion for marketing should ultimately want to help their clients. Therefore, knowing that social media has revolutionized the way we do business, what is with this resistance?
    And I have yet to see many agencies hiring anybody to do work in social media.
    Bottom Line: I’ve realized that when you are in marketing,. you are opinionated, very much so, about what you have learned and experienced. This is why I keep preaching, “you don’t need to have a degree in marketing with 10 plus years experience”: to be able to take on the role of a social media or marketing manager. Technology is moving, changing, evolving so rapidly… without that person with passion for it, your business won’t exist in years to come. Hey, I have my opinions, but because I am in marketing. Many may not agree….
    Cheers..and great article as always Steve.

  3. Jim Matorin

    You make some valid points. I think PR agencies have been slow to adapt because they are clinging to their old biz model, plus they have not figured out how social media tools would enhance their overall revenue model. Some advertising agencies, at least those in my industry (foodservice) are in the same boat. What people in all professions (e.g., lawyers, accountants, packaging design specialists, etc.), not just brands, that have been slow to fully adapt/embrace social media, is that sm provides the tools to make oneself a skilled knowledge worker. Any skilled knowledge worker whether it was back in the year 1993 or currently 2013, understands that social capital is one of the key pillars in the equation. Those that have stong social capital rock and are not insecure about sharing their social capital. Relationships in business are so important, offline and online. Period.

    • Jim – yes … All have been slow to adopt social, but PR agencies have a gat opportunity and their slow evolution is hurting them and hurting social marketing in general.

      Best, Steve

  4. DT

    Nice tips on social media marketing. Good read. Thank you for sharing this post.

  5. Rusty

    Good post – thanks for sharing. Regarding social marketing, when you have your customers giving a good review or sharing the product with someone else, it sells itself. My business uses OpinionAmp as a proactive way to use real customer reviews to market our product online. Once you put the advertising in the hands of your clients, they’ll sell the product for you. You can’t beat online positive reviews – no better advertising than a happy client!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s