Marketer, angel investor, entreprenuer, former Apple evangelist and sometime BMBY commenter Guy Kawasaki had a couple of interesting posts – The Top Ten Reasons PR Doesn’t Work written by agency-client connecter Margie Zable Fisher (it’s the client’s fault)and DIY PR by Glenn Felman, CEO of Redfin (PR people are dumbasses).
Margie’s post was an interesting analysis of diverging expectations from the client and agency and was a nice read, even if she mistook PR for publicity on a few occassions. I don’t think too many people from either side will disagree on many things she said (one does though) but I do think we should add point 11 – the PR agency doesn’t understand how the client environment works and what the client needs to get internal buy in.
However, Glenn’s post really struck a chord with some of the thoughts I’ve been having around the whole “ghost blogging” issue and where social media will take the PR industry.
On the Internet, an organization needs to own its own words. This means that the organization needs to produce its own content; this is not an action that can be left to the PR or interactive agency.
Put simply, an external agency, no matter how deeply entrenched with the client, will never have the depth of knowledge nor the passion for the issues that the client needs to write about in order to produce compelling, authoritative and authentic content. Mark Evans made this point far better than I could last night.
Plenty of you will be mentally calling me an idiot right now – after all, there are so many smart people in our industry, the law of averages suggests there must be a load of people who can, indeed, write with passion and authority on client issues. I ask you, so why hasn’t the client hired that person yet?!
Which is why I think a lot of people will be going in house. And this movement has already started – Tim Dyson, CEO of PR agency holding company Next Fifteen, recently announced that Google is hiring 70 internal PR people.
That’s the size of a very large, multi-practice firm in Toronto with revenues of around…hmm…$12m (CDN) – this could be as much as $20m (U.S.) in the States where budgets are larger and VCs push start-ups to burn through cash so they can get into another round of funding.
Will it scale?
Now, not every company is trading at x10 revenue with a market cap of a Brazilian dollars and can afford such a huge buy – I think PR companies go for a fairly small multiple of annual revenue but I’ll have to confirm that with some more research. Whatever the amounts, they’d be large in PR terms, in Google terms they’d still be pretty small. So let’s look at a slightly smaller company.
Let’s say you’re a small organisation with a successful product base that wants to get into this whole social media thing. Your marketing department consists of a VP, a director of communications, a marketing manager and that summer student who started last summer but who steadfastly refuses to leave.
The department’s resources are being taken up with internal issues but you all come up with a plan to engage the community with outreach, to write a Stuart MacDonald sanctioned (TM) group blog and to do a few video demos of your products in action.
Creating a monster
You’re successful. Of course you are, you’re talented people writing about stuff you know a lot about and are passionate about. Even that summer student stops IMing her boyfriend long enough to start a Facebook profile and customer service page for the company – she’s now “community manager”.
But success breeds this unstoppable need for more content. The videos go down even better than expected and the CEO loves them – so more of them! You can see a definitive correlation between your blogging and sales leads. You’re being asked to present at conferences and now your resources are really screwed. What do you do?
Do you hire an agency to help with the blocking and tackling? Basic stuff like video/audio production, managing the communities you’ve created, approving comments? What about suggesting about things to write about – sending links, populating a del.icio.us account?
But what happens when that account is linked to the blog and del.icio.us type link posts are automatically generated? What happens when that agency starts to respond to comments on your behalf?
The very thing that was central to your success – the passion, the commitment, the deep knowledge, the authenticity and the authority of the writing – has now been diluted to such a point where you’re paying an agency money to sully your reputation.
But what can you do? The VP is an EVP now, the director is VP, the manager got hired away and the summer student is pushing for a VP position – all on the back of the success of the social media engagement.
To get your mojo back, you have to hire internally. You can’t push such a mission critical project onto an outside firm.
However, here’s what, as an agency guy, I would do for a client and what clients should be asking of their agency:
- To act as a catalyst to your marketing plan. I’ll bring you cool new ideas that you can implement and even cooler ideas that you can’t.
- To guide you through the windy unsignposted roads that social media offers you. Especially crisis situations – and they happen a lot more than you think.
- To offer perspective on strategy and to help you craft your own internal strategies and proceedures.
- To provide guidance on tone and direction of your content – what’s hot; what’s not. This will be based on a combination of media intelligence and…
- Report on analytics and trends – when is best to post, how long is too long etc.
- Recommend influencers to be included on the blogroll, who you should reach out to about your content.
- Build any and all technical requirements – does your blog need a snazy design, does it need a hacked WordPress template or does it need to be bilingual?
So there is a piece of the pie for agencies, and from the above quite a significant piece, but the majority of the glamourous, fun, meaty work will go to those working in-house.
In answer to my own rather rhetorical question: Yes, social media will drive PR pros in-house but yes, it will scale. Good news for recruiters every where.
As always, your thoughts, input and criticism are welcome in the comments section.