The debate between advertising, digital and PR professionals regarding who should lead digital engagement for clients has grown tiresome.
Witness another piece of propaganda (this one from PR Newswire). This white paper focuses most of its effort (to no one’s surprise) on the opinion that PR professionals have a better mix of ‘the right’ skills to consult and execute client digital campaigns. The argument isn’t necessarily wrong (yes, I am a PR man at heart). Public relations professionals have a certain type of DNA that pushes them to communicate in a non-commercial, typically transparent way. If we hadn’t operated this way for the last 50 years, media wouldn’t accept our client stories or use them as sources for interviews. And, non commercial, organically created humor/news/stuff is typically how real digital engagement works best on the Internet today. But, that certainly doesn’t always mean that PR professionals or their agencies are best suited to follow these rules.
Sam Ford, Peppercom's Director of Digital Strategy wrote a Chief Marketer piece on this titled 'Get Advertising and PR to Work Together on a Spreadable Approach.'
I’ve listened to and read of countless articles and debates from the digital and advertising professions as well. Their belief is that creative concepts, sustainable campaigns and the high quality graphics and use of content that are key to making brands appeal to online consumer audiences have always been owned by them. So, naturally those that have always led traditional brand building through advertising, direct marketing and now digital content development, are better positioned to be the lead dogs in showing clients how to build their brands and create better online engagement. Objectively, it’s hard to argue the rationale behind some of this thinking as well.
Anyone in the marketing agency business can understand why this debate is growing louder and louder. A lot is on the line because the reality is that all of these ‘sister’ industries are undergoing a seismic paradigm shift that hasn’t been seen since… well, maybe never. The lines of who is responsible for creating anything digital are completely blurred. Because of this, these agencies with different traditional disciplines now (for the first time) view each other as encroaching on eachother’s turf. The result is that they aren’t playing nicely in the sand box together anymore. And, that is becoming a real problem for clients everywhere.
So, who do I believe should own the digital landscape. To me, it’s always come down to the actual people who live within each individual agency versus the discipline or brand differentiator that any agency possesses. There are some hot digital agencies that have very mediocre executives. In those cases, any client accounts those professionals work on will probably choose their more strategic PR and/or ad agency brethren to lead digital efforts. I’m sure the reverse holds true with public relations firms offering less than stellar PR executives up to clients as well, because when there is risk involved (and digital engagement is still an unknown risk to most), clients turn to who they trust most for direction. Not, the PR guy or advertising account leader because of some discipline specialty.
In the end, those agencies in the know are now attempting to morph into much more of an integrated marketing model, which can offer clients as much as possible under one roof (and most importantly, a real digital solution). The real question isn’t which discipline is better positioned to lead this fast growing digital landscape. But, it’s about which agencies can build the most talent to show clients how to do it right.