Social Media Round One

Volvo’s recent decision to hand the reins of its social media, SEO and digital PR programs to WPP’s esteemed media buying agency Mindshare has tongues-a-wagging and fingers-a-pointing.

Brand Republic and others reported the surprising news that reignited the debate over which marketing discipline is best suited to deliver clients’ growing digital dreams.

Mat Morrison, global digital head, Porter Novelli:

“Media agencies hear the phrase social media and think ‘we can buy that’. That is a big mistake. Smart PR agencies see it as protecting a client’s reputation online. There is no way in hell a media agency is incentivised to look at those things. It is a battlefield and media agencies are getting in there.”

Carolyn Watt, business director, MindShare:

“The role of SEO as part of an integrated digital PR and social media solution is about how we take a client brand and establish its presence in the digital space. It allows you to put an ROI measurement on something PR agencies have traditionally found difficult to measure.”

In more simplistic terms: it’s the data-driven quants versus the fact-based storytellers. Do clients accord greater value to analytics-driven media-buying firms with their ability to quantify a campaign’s ROI? Or do they appreciate more the core PR competency of creating compelling and cogent content? (And why can’t they have both?)

Andrew Bruce Smith add his opinion on Social Media Today:

“…In my experience, media buying agencies have access to much better data on which to base their approach…I also think their planning skills are generally better than PR firms (perhaps because they are using better data?)…And it is up to PR firms to realign their skillsets and resources around what clients really value. (Having spent a week in New York, the phrase “digital land grab” seems to be one of the most overused on both sides of the Atlantic – but PR firms generally aren’t the ones doing the grabbing).”

This next quote will chill PR peeps everywhere:

Both Forrester and MindShare business director Carolyn Watt dismissed these concerns. ‘Just because we are a media agency does not mean we don’t understand the power of PR,’ said Watt, who has hired two PROs for her team.

In reality, the industry has spawned hybrid agencies that take both a quantitative and qualitative approach to using social media to deliver value. (And I’m not talking about PR firms that promote blogger engagement as social media expertise.)

One friend who heads such a firm, Rob Key of Converseon, had this to say:

“Social media still falls in the netherworld between marketing disciplines. There is, however, a new generation of firms that have successfully combined these previously distinct competencies to offer both accountability and creativity. Still, many more PR firms will lose out on social media client assignments if they resist building or borrowing these tools from across the marketing aisle. Media services bring a level of analysis and measurement that PR firms haven’t yet mastered. And in this environment, brands are expecting social media campaigns to be able to report on ROI in pretty sophisticated ways. “

Here’s the perspective of Duncan Forrester, Volvo’s UK Head of PR (and the man who hired Mindshare):

“It’s about partnering with an agency who really understand the Volvo brand, its customers as well as the online audiences and influencers. It’s also about partnering with the right agency who can deliver on the brief.”

PR firms certainly understand that, or at least I think they do.