The Agency of the Future is a “Connected” one

I can’t imagine ever advising a client to deal with an advertising, PR, or interactive team that doesn’t get social media. Of course, I’m biased as I’m sitting right smack in the middle of the social media space. But with the power shifting to the participants, agencies must demonstrate they can participate before they can ever help clients with it.

Sadly, most agencies still don’t get the new space, or if they do, they lightly gloss it over by saying “Oh yeah, we’ve a blog” and when I look, it’s a bunch of self-serving posts written by a variety of different folks with little strategy and few comments.

Jason Falls of social media explorer asks why I didn’t link to colleague Mary Beth Kemp’s and Peter Kim’s latest report on the The Connected Agency, and he also raises some interesting points on agencies who talk the talk –but don’t walk it.

So which agency is doing a good job being part of the community? I’d love to hear from you, shout out in the comments, but give reasons why.

Update: Steve Ellis of Metia gives practical reasons why they are connected, informative response.

20 Replies to “The Agency of the Future is a “Connected” one”

  1. Hey Jeremiah

    I think you make an interesting point about walking and talking.

    I think that too many people, in their personal as well as business blogs) like to be soothsayers and pass judgement without actually creating anything of substance (i.e. proven examples of their work) or having done something which backs up their (often) scathing remarks.

    Robert Scoble and the Facebook data “hack” is one such case. How many people can lay claim to have been in Robert’s position before and understand his motivations for doing what he did? Furthermore, how many people can lay claim to KNOWING Robert and as such cast such aspersions about his character?

    I was appointed by KMP largely because I was able to demonstrate I had DONE things in the space we are in and was heavily involved with these areas – as such, I can talk first hand about the end-user experience in social networks and blogs for example. As Tara says, become part of the community you serve.

    As such, much more of my time is spent with clients talking about their blogging/social network strategies rather than any particular creative ideas or work and spend a lot of time networking within my industry.

  2. Hi!
    I’m actually one of those who claim now for good examples of social media marketing cases where value has been created without any doubt. And I don’t mean the examples of big companies with special links to the social media world always mentioning their millions of users and potential relationships. I mean the cases of smaller companies, not in the social media before, that have created good social media projects.
    I work in a company in the tourism world, we sell a checkbook for reserving hotels with cheaper prices, and… I like to plan some ideas for using social media in our marketing online plan. Our company would have to do a great effort to use this kind of strategies, and I’d like to know good examples of other companies in this media being already successful to justify the effort for our company, something we could see to prove it would be a good thing for us. And for justifying it to the Systems Department, the people that would have to develop it.
    Thank you.

  3. I’m convinced that for social networking to work for a business, companies must have both a sincere committment to the social networking and the patience to let it work. Yesterday I launched our marketing plan, which is centered on social networking; a bold step for a new marketing chief. I think the worst thing I could do is to try to sell or promote my company through my blog and networking. Instead social networking will build relationships and trust with people. Trust is at the heart of what makes a person want to do business with a company. Companis must allay their old mass marketing mindsets if they seriously wish to pursue social networking.

  4. Hi Jeremiah,

    In my opinion, from the research that I have done, Horn Group has done a pretty good job of implementing social media programs for its clients (note: I am not a Horn Group client). What I appreciate about Horn more than some of the other agencies I have looked into, is that they don’t seem to treat social media as some sort of holy grail that they need to hold close to their vests. There’s a lot of opportunity for social media education beyond even its client base and I’ve found it to be very eye-opening. Through Horn Group, I’ve come to read experts such as Kyle Flaherty ( who actually get the bigger picture of how social media benefits companies in all industries and of difference sizes.

    I agree that there are a lot of agencies out there that smack up a blog, or they might know about microblogging or video blogging, but don’t understand the core fundamentals of how these things benefit business. I also know there are a lot of agencies that think that merely working with bloggers who are actually hybrid journalists at known publications is the only way to go. Horn Group, from my perspective, doesn’t fall into either of those traps.

  5. Agencies aren’t connected. People are.

    That’s where so many agencies make their mistake. It’s not about campaigns or pitches or even tactics.

    Just people. Just talking to your customers.

    Instead, big agencies like to go in with their “social media package” whatever it is. They sell what they know how to do whether it is advertising or PR or widgets or whatever.

    Not so good for the clients, but great for independents and smaller agencies that take the time to really talk.

  6. Shift seems to be doing a good job – I’ve never personally engaged them but I get a lot of value out of their blog — which says A LOT.

    And I agree with Susan – “agencies aren’t connected, people are” – but I think that’s splitting hairs a bit because there are in fact people behind the agencies. They’re not “black boxes” of marketing power rolled up into clever names…there are really talented folks working at many of these places.

    What I’d look for if I were trying to see if an agency “got it” wouldn’t be if they had one rock star blogger on board or not. I’d want to make sure that social media was in their DNA – everybody from the CEO on down had a Facebook page, blogged, flickr’d, Dugg, etc. Because I’d argue that the reason Microsoft and Yahoo may still not be able to compete with Google is because Google’s DNA oozes innovation and internal creative destruction – Yahoo and Microsoft are all about internal growth targets and ROIC.

    So “social media” can’t be a an area of expertise on a firm’s web site – it has to ingrained, deep down in the soul of the agency.


  7. I have to say that I think Wayne nailed an important point: “getting it” means that Social Media connectedness is something that most agency pros treat as part of their personal/professional lives.

    It kills me when an agency tries to artificially separate “”Social Media from “Traditional” work (whether PR or Advertising)…

    Social Media needs to be an integral part of everything we do, from now on, as an industry. Those who separate it (in my mind) are creating distinctions for the sake of exploitive attempts to raise margins, “while the getting’s good,” (i.e., while “Social Media” is arcane enough that you can dupe some people into paying extra).

    And, no, I am NOT just saying that Wayne rules cuz he pimped SHIFT and my blog! 😉

  8. My favorite “connected” case study of late is for Ban deodorant. Used to be for old men, re-positioned for highly-connected teenage grrls.

    Activated with a “what would you ban?” campaign that was one of the first user-generated advertising concepts. Examples submitted: Ban fear. or my favorite, and the winning campaign…Ban Being Alone.

    What always moves me is that it tapped into connections and empowerment, for a group that is dealing with a lot of pressures. Since most of us reading this are not teenage girls, it might be a little difficult to relate, but Ban has officially become The Hot Product for teenage girls.

    The Connected Agency: media kitchen, a division of kirshenbaum bond.

    Current social media piece:

  9. Hey Jeremiah,

    Glad you found today’s post worth talking about. Being at an agency it’s hard for me to offer a genuine and unfettered answer to who is doing it well and why. And like my post, I just don’t feel right bragging about my own company. We aren’t perfect and no, we’re not lighting the social media world on fire (yet) but we have experience building community. The community I referred to in the post speaks for itself. It’s the Maker’s Mark Ambassador’s program. You won’t need me to find kudos for it.

    One of our challenges now is to take the community that we’ve built and give them social media tools to thrive online as well as off. I would tell you about the ways we’re doing that but timing sucks and now isn’t right.

    One thing I wanted to do to support my post was to do an informal survey of all the top advertising agencies around and see who was really engaging people with their websites. I didn’t because of that evil timing thing again. Our new website launch is pending … probably another week or so away. Our old one isn’t even worth checking out. I’ll tell you now it’s not engaging and it doesn’t adequately tell the story of who we are or what we do. I’m sure there are others out there who are pre-launch on something special.

    Agencies all over are having to suddenly be as agile and nubile for themselves as they have to be for their clients and none of us are kicking ass and taking names yet. But some of us have strong foundations on which to build. My hope is that both my agency and our work prove out to show we’re one that builds on ours to remain innovative, relevant and connected.

  10. Speaking from the perspective of being an agency guy and a social media evangelist, I agree and disagree. I agree that agencies need to adopt social media. Clients need to be confident that their agencies are walking the walk as well as talking the talk, indeed. That’s one of the main reasons I’ve been involved with podcasting, twittering, blogging, second life, etc. One can only learn by doing, and only THEN, can we begin to reasonably advise others.

    However, I disagree that mastering social media is some kind of automatic (dis) qualifier for an agency. We all must realize that a lot of clients are just not ready to embrace the social media, nor are there always clear-as-a-bell uses for social media platforms and tactics in the marketing mix. Plus budget constraints in a near-recession economy make conservative marketers even MORE conservative. An agency isn’t doing its job if if fails to bring its clients solutions that they can actually implement to drive their business goals.

  11. Hey Jeremiah —

    Congrats on publishing your first report!

    I’ve been saying for awhile that social media is a tremendous opportunity for the right type of agency. Social media requires a multi-disciplinary approach to marketing. It takes what is 2nd nature in the art of PR (having conversations and influence), the creative aspects of advertising, technical competence of interactive and strategy of media, and mashes it all up.

    For me, social media is in many respects a reflection of human behavior. By definition it can be very complex and extremely counterintuitive for people who are ‘used’ to controlling the message and the means of delivery. Agencies that get this are the one’s who will be successful sooner.

    One agency I’ve come across with an interesting approach is Deep Focus ( They worked on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. In a conversation with Ian, Deep Focus’ CEO, he talked about the interplay between their disciplines: creative, media buying, tech and publicity. All these come into play when talking to a client about a social media strategy. Needless to say, I think he’s got it right!

    As an industry we’re learning pretty quickly and that’s a great thing.

  12. I think we all see that integration is where much of this is heading. Agencies need to have a varied skillset. However, if that skillset is broad, but shallow, then expect that to be the type of work being done.

    Within a few years competitive agencies will need to have the walk and the talk. We’ve been fortunate to work on projects for big brands and that experience builds momentum with potential clients.

    I agree with David, that yes, many organizations are not ready for social media. But when they are, they want to deal with somebody who has proven experience/results, not just somebody that can talk.

    They’ve all heard the talk, at just about every conference for the past 2-3 years.

  13. Jeremiah – a great post, thank you. I mentioned on my Facebook page a few weeks ago that I am amazed how many agencies still don’t “believe” in the value of social media. It’s great to have influential thought leaders such as yourself helping more and more to understand it.

    I appreciated Wayne’s comments as well in regards to the core soul of a PR firm being involved… not just one “rock star blogger” or the newbie account executives (because they grew up on social media). I was just wondering the other day … thinking maybe I’m missing something because I AM the CEO on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pownce, etc., but I don’t see many other PR Firm CEOs there (a few). Are they going to use this against me, tout that I’m “wasting time,” etc.?

    Your post – and following comments – helped me to realize I’m just where I should be – leading the agency soul.

    Thank you,
    Christine Perkett
    PerkettPR, Inc.
    Twitter: @missusP

  14. Jeremiah,

    Agree with the notion that agencies that want to remain competitive need to become fluent in the social media space. This is no small challenge, as time and resources investment required are not insignificant. It’s not sufficient to simply have agency personnel read research and articles about the space–participants must be willing to immerse themselves into it in a such a way that they allow themselves to truly “get” it from a visceral level vs. an academic one. That can take months of experiential research in order to develop a legitimate POV.

    We are a new agency full of ad and interactive veterans and we’re doing all we can to stay abreast of what’s happening by actively participating in what’s happening. We’re finding that making ourselves Guinea Pigs for our clients makes our recommendations much more insightful.

    Here’s where we’re currently involved as an agency:

    Second Life


  15. Jeremiah,

    I’m an avid fan. Your writings have been very helpful to me personally as well as to my clients. This one is right on target. As a new business ad agency consultant I can tell you that the vast majority of agencies know they need to be connected but do not practice what they are preaching and don’t really get it.

    One of my clients developed a blog site called She-conomy. The blog positioned the CEO/Creative Director, who happened to be one of only 3% of female creative directors in the country, as an expert marketing to women. 85% of all brand purchases are made by women. The agency just picked up their first account directly related to their blog and the prospective client called them!

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