Ad agency vs. PR agency turf wars! Pass the beer and peanuts!

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Social Media  |  Public Relations  |  Marketing  |  Advertising

BattleOver the past year, I've had hundreds of opportunities to speak with people who work in the marketing and PR departments of large organizations about their online marketing and social media initiatives.

In discussing challenges, many marketers bring up their agency partners. They really do want to work with their existing agencies to help them with social media and online marketing. Honest, they do.

But when they discuss agencies, I typically see shrugging of shoulders in bewilderment or rolling of eyes or shaking their heads in disgust when it comes to the social media savvy quotient of their agency staffers.

On the one hand, many organizations need help and don’t know where to turn. On the other, agencies are there with proposals in hand, trotting out their self-proclaimed experts. That's all fine and dandy.

But where it really gets interesting is when the incumbent PR agency wants the social media business and the incumbent Ad agency wants the social media business. They have a big family meeting in a conference room and the agencies start sniping at one another like they are fighting over Aunt Hattie's inheritance. I've witnessed this a few times. Of course it is all very polite, but frequently a brawl ensues.

What fun! Pass the beer and peanuts!

In pitch meetings, the PR agency staffers and Ad agency staffers are quite adept at giving one another backhanded complements. But the truth is that legacies of both businesses don't translate that well in online marketing and developing a social media strategy:

Advertising agencies are used to getting paid as a percentage of media spend. And they are very, very good at spending lots of their clients’ money to buy attention in "creative" ways. To ad agencies, "social media marketing" often means advertising on Facebook and YouTube and buying search engine ranking via Google AdWords.

Public Relations Agencies are used to getting paid on a retainer basis. And they are very, very good at spending lots of their clients' money on a team of junior staffers to beg journalists for coverage. To PR agencies, "social media marketing" often means drawing up lists of bloggers to reach out to with pitches.

Both ad agencies and PR agencies like to talk up their expertise in social media and online marketing. Frequently, this involves talking up the agency blog. But its really fun when the Agency boss points to a junior staffer to talk about her few thousand friends on Facebook and Twitter and the "cutting edge, hip campaign" she recently ran for a client that got a bunch of hits on YouTube. In the pitch meeting, the senior muckety-mucks from the agency look bewildered as a twenty-something explains what they will do for the client. "Mine’s bigger," says the PR agency boss. "No, mine's bigger," says the Ad agency boss.

It's a turf war! I need another beer!

I've said it before on this blog: There is really only one question to ask your prospective social media agency. It doesn't matter if they are your existing ad agency or PR agency or a potential new agency. 

Ask the prospective agency to show the agency social media presence. Ask about such things as blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, Web site(s), Facebook profiles, ebooks, and any other stuff they have.

Make it an open-ended question. This is not to say that an agency needs to do everything. But they should be out there. Then ask them how those social media initiatives drive new business to the agency.

My theory is that if an agency can't do it for themselves with success, how are they going to do it for clients?

It's interesting, that this vetting tool eliminates 95% of agencies who just plain suck at understanding social media.

I wanted to offer a few hat-tips about this topic.

Several discussions over the past week have helped me to ponder what else people might consider and how agencies might need to adapt.

Last week I had a fun lunch with Jim Cosco, Andrew Davis, and Scott Loring from Tippingpoint Labs, a digital content creation shop. Tippingpoint has an interesting social media model that uses expertise in content as its core.

Then today I spoke with Craig Macdonald, CMO at Covario, a software company building technologies for large advertisers to manage paid and organic search programs. Craig has an interesting take on how technologies can benefit really big companies especially those whose online programs run to millions of dollars involved.

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