PR, Advertising and Design Agencies View Social Media Differently

An organization’s social media marketing program can be greatly swayed by the type of agency hired to implement the social media initiative, according to Peter Thomson in Social Media: PR vs. Advertising vs. Design.

Thomson, a digital brand strategist, shares his experience with all three agency types when he was searching for work during the UK’s financial crisis. It was difficult to find work as a brand strategist, however, since many agencies had just been involved in massive layoffs.

So Thomson rearranged his résumé to emphasize his social media skills, and sought work from various agencies as a social media consultant. He found that how an agency is paid influences how they view social media as a deliverable.

Thomson’s discoveries provide a helpful perspective for anyone in PR or marketing in the process of hiring a social media agency.

Advertising agencies are naturally drawn to paid media when briefed to help a client with social media.

They bill clients for the “big idea” and bill based on media commissions and creative fees.

Thomson’s outlook: this view creates excellent work, but lacks in opportunities to build honest, strategic conversations with clients.

Design agencies are drawn to owned media and view social media work as projects.

They want to get through the work as quickly as possible, hand over the reins to the client and let the client take it from there.

Design agencies, then, bill social media consultants for their time on a fixed, project-based fee.

Thomson’s outlook: though design firms were “in the room” early during the innovation process, the one-off nature of projects limited strategic brand building.

Public relations firms are drawn to earned media.

PR firms take a long-term view of social media. All digital briefs turn into building relationships with bloggers, running monthly events for fans and pumping out content.

As a result, most PR clients sign up to six-month agreements and longer. There are other advantages to a long-term view of social media, including:

  • Messages that can survive travelling through word-of-mouth.
  • Measurement of efforts based on the audience’s reaction. If a story doesn’t get covered, it’s not the journalist’s fault. It means the pitch was weak or the story wasn’t interesting.
  • A strong relationship with the CEO. It’s the PR firms that a CEO calls during a crisis or interview requests.

Thomson’s outlook: the constant creation and promotion of content doesn’t always result in the best quality, but it does build relationships with clients and strengthen their reputation over time.

Bottom line: Thomson’s assessment shouldn’t be a stereotype for all agencies.  Agencies must adjust their traditional viewpoints and billing approaches to implement and maintain comprehensive social media programs.

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