Will PR Agencies Suffer the Campaign Mindset?

Is a PR agency the right place to handle social media initiatives?

Budget defines perspective. What I’m talking about in particular are the roles Public Relations and Marketing have within social media.

It’s no secret that there is a battle for funding going on in the PR and marketing agency worlds with PR agencies poaching marketing expertise – intent to win more of the social media budget.

I came from the marketing agency world and saw this from that perspective and am now watching it from a client perspective. What I’ve learned from both views is that PR has some advantages and so does marketing, but no one discipline will win sole ownership of social media; however, there is a clear advantage PR has over marketing.

Public Relations traditionally is defined by the press release and media relations. It’s about getting the message out. Crafting a compelling message and then pitching it to gatekeepers who one hopes will find the effort valuable enough to share with an audience. In a world where controlling the message has drastically changed with instant feedback, public one-to-one communication, and customers defining the message more than reporters it is no surprise the PR industry is drastically changing, which the readership of this blog knows all too well.

PR gets that it is about relationships and more importantly long-term relationships. This behavior is rooted in the media relations skill set that is core to a good PR team, but now relations is not just about traditional media; it includes bloggers, advocates and customers. With many companies, AT&T included, there is a desire to build strong relationships using social communities like Facebook, Twitter, and forums.

PR brings an amazing talent base to foster community relationships. Marketing is struggling a bit with this concept, since marketing budgets are based on campaigns. Campaigns have a very clear start and stop.

What will be interesting to watch is if PR can retain its relationship mindset as it attempts to acquire dollars from marketing. In other words, will PR agencies suffer the stop and start nature of the campaign mindset as they win business from marketing agencies?

Christopher N. Baccus is Executive Director of Digital and Social Media at AT&T. Previously, Chris was Vice-President of Digital Brand Strategy at Team Detroit, the Agency of Record for Ford Motor Company, where he led digital strategy for the Lincoln & Mercury brands, The Ford Story, & several Ford campaigns. He’s also done digital marketing for General Motors and Chrysler. His background also includes having worked at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals where he was the Director of Online Collaboration. Follow Chris via @cbaccus.

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8 comments on “Will PR Agencies Suffer the Campaign Mindset?

  1. Chris- I think you hit the nail on the head. The start-and-stop mindset of the marketing campaign is the stumbling block in many marketing departments. Once we all move to the on-going relationship & community building realities of social media (& PR), we can move away from the dreaded “campaign.”

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Thank you for the response. I’m not sure we’ll ever move away entirely from “campaigns.” Basically, any product launch or time sensitive activity has a marketing campaign element to it that does have a clear beginning and end. There is nothing inherently wrong with the stop-start nature of campaigns. They definitely have their place and do play a role in social media.

    I like your words “on-going relationship.” Finding how campaign messaging can fit best into an on-going relationship is key to making marketing efforts more integrated. Campaigns are a great way to provide unique and conversational content. Your brand’s fans hopefully are fans of your products and campaigns are a great way to get new product into the conversation. Looking for ways to introduce product in a meaningful way certainly helps relationship building and also reduces the spamming element of a lot of marketing – hopefully. At least that’s my dream.

  3. To throw a curve ball at you what about sales and customer services who have the strong 1:1 relationships already with the consumer? A customer does not want to talk to the marketing dept or PR ?

    That said I think that PRs can use their media relation skills (when done properly) with bloggers with good effect. Marketing can provide engaging content too?

    Shouldn’t all of the above be involved?

  4. Hi, Chris, great post. You raise a good (and under-explored) point, the marketing campaign mindset. I think this challenges PR in more ways than just the “who owns social” debate. I’ve been in PR for about 20 years, mostly on the agency side, and I’ve seen a huge shift in that time towards an integrated planning process where clients expect all their agencies (i.e. PR, advertising, digital, media, in-store, etc) to collaborate on program development that is solely focused on a 3-6 month campaign. The program is invariably presented to the client in a sprawling powerpoint deck that ends up being a collection of tactics, with any strategic set-up claimed by the ad agency. Not only does this force PR into the “switch on/switch off” box you mention, it also relegates us to the role of tacticians. A great deal of insight- and data-driven planning goes into our PR work (including social media), yet increasingly our clients’ processes prevent this thinking from seeing the light of day.

  5. Hi Chris,

    There are some good perspectives raised here and good acknowledgement of one of the key challenges we face as the two sides of the coin converge to create an integrated campaign. I have spent the bulk of my career in PR and admit to being somewhat alarmed at the thought that a campaign mindset could risk the development of relationships. In the networked economy relationship development will be imperative to business success and reputation management. Taking a campaign approach is key to meeting specific business goals that may have a shorter term orientation but these campaigns need to happen in parallel with longer term relationship development with communities that will build reputation and long-term goodwill. Professionals and brands wishing to succeed in this environment need to maintain (& I’d suggest increase) their investment in developing relationships and be committed to the longer term picture as well as short-term need.

  6. Matt – Excellent points about sales and customer service. We have a saying at AT&T that it takes a village when we do something in social. What that essentially means is that customer service plays a key role in our participation and that one group shouldn’t go social alone since there is always a customer service and communications element to what we do.

    Sales is an interesting point. I’m not sure everything in social has a sales element. A lot of times that’s what the call to action may ultimately drive to. I find the best way to work with sales is to integrate the behaviors in as natural a way as possible if that’s a goal of the execution. Also, making sure that the destination has a good hand-off from a social experience. Again, all good practices many of us learned in digital marketing from ad to .com.

    Stephanie – A good guiding strategy is a great way to make sure all of the tactics are pointing to the right goals. One of the things I made sure I did first in the role I took at AT&T was to forget cute tactical executions until we really had a strategic vision and plan around what we wanted to accomplish in social as a company. I framed it as moving from organic growth to strategic growth and I think most people understood that and I make sure we constantly point back the strategy (a living document, of course) when evaluating new tactics.

    Ava – Couldn’t agree more. Well said!

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