Why PR should win social media turf war with advertisers

Familiarity with stretching a tight budget is just one arrow in the quiver of public relations pros.

I was initially excited by a PR Week article, “The Battle Between PR and Ad Agencies Heats Up!” I thought I’d be reading about the social media land grab taking place right now. Not so.

The article was a rant about ad agencies’ stealing business away from independent PR through the first-tier PR firms they had bought over the years. Next article? How PR still struggles to get on CMOs’ radar. Really?!

I read this and wondered why people still whine about an old battle, already decided a decade ago. (Advertisers won that one, by the way.) Going after PR firms owned by WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, or IPG to defend your PR dollars is not just the wrong battle to fight, but, advertiser-owned or not, all PR firms are on the same side of the media war.

Instead of fighting off advertisers to keep their budgets, for the first time PR firms can now compete for advertising dollars!

Social media is the battleground

A senior executive at a top ad agency told me just a few months ago, “When I meet with a CMO for an hour, do you think I sell them a $15M ad campaign or $200k in social media?” This is still today’s reality in an ad agency.

The truth is that the economic model of an ad agency is based on big dollars and social media is small dollars. Ad agencies haven’t figured out how to earn money on it, and this is their Achilles’ heel.

For better or for worse, PR firms have experience working with small budgets. They have also cultivated the art of two-way communication. In many ways, social media is very much an extension of PR’s existing business model that requires only tweaks to succeed, not a business overhaul. This is the edge PR has over advertising in the land grab for social media ownership and budgets.

Social media is the new frontier

There are two main reasons why social media is still up for grabs—one legitimate, one not.

Historically, PR firms haven’t been early technology adopters—I see some of our clients cringing here; of course there are exceptions—and the move toward social media has required PR to embrace new technologies, use new tools in order to perform the work, and learn how to navigate an ocean of data. Mainstream PR is slowly climbing over the technology hump, but it’s taken a while. Early technology adopters in PR have long passed that point and can maneuver technology and social media tools easier than I ride my bike.

The second reason why PR has yet to “kill it” as an industry in social media very much relates to the content of the PR Week article I quoted. I’ll call it the “post-traumatic mass-media-era disorder.” Much of PR still feels like the stepchild of marketing and fears the mighty advertisers with their lavish lifestyle.

No more! Our PR clients, all early adopters of technology, are paving the way to what the PR industry should become, proving to their peers that through social media they get access, budgets, and more work than they can handle. And they are not afraid to tell advertisers to bring it on!

Mainstream PR has yet to fully embrace the social media practice. That has created a void on the market, and a new breed of agencies has emerged to fill it with some success. What innovative PR firms and these “next generation” marketing firms have in common is that they have both understood that the new frontier for communication is social relationships. Call it SR, call it PR 2.0, these firms are defining a new industry where much of the money spent on social media is pouring in. My advice: You want to be on that train before it leaves the station.

Pierre-Loic Assayag is the CEO of TRAACKR. Recovering marketer turned tech entrepreneur, he contributes his thoughts on the post mass-marketing era on Twitter and the company blog, where a version of this article originally ran.

Topics: PR

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