Walking the Talk: Some Agencies and Vendors Demonstrate Social Media Prowess

Yesterday, Cece, who also blogs about getting laid off, did an analysis of the PR firms that are are –and are not– using social media for their own corporate agency use. It’s surprising that many of the top PR firms didn’t have a corporate presence in their social media –despite that they need to represent the communications for their own clients.

I’ve heard this argument before, the “cobbler’s children” don’t get any self attention as they are too busy helping clients. The counter to this is that in a new media that’s radically different than communications of the past, agencies should be practicing so they can learn how to be better at applying this to their own clients.

This isn’t just limited to PR agencies, I was once pitched when I was the community manager at Hitachi in 2006-7 by agencies to offer a blogging strategy for 100k –yet none of them were currently blogging or had any experience. I made sure that proposal was dumped.

Currently, I get press releases from social media vendors, and often they don’t have a URL, it’s just the release inside of an email. If it’s something important, I’ll share it on twitter and maybe in my digest. There are some vendors that sell social media products and services that make announcements using press releases, without the use of a corporate blog. Going forward, I’ll be mentioning those vendors that aren’t visibly walking the talk –in an industry as new as ours, it’s important to know if they are learning by doing.

Don’t take my word for it, I asked the VP of Marketing, Paula Drum (a social media buyer and decision maker) of HR Block if she would hire an agency that wasn’t using the tools, and she said “no’, read more about it here.

51 Replies to “Walking the Talk: Some Agencies and Vendors Demonstrate Social Media Prowess”

  1. I agree that it’s a good bit of analysis, but I think the reason that some of the top firms didn’t make it into Cece’s excellent list is because the source was O’Dwyer’s list of *indepedent* PR firms, which doesn’t include any of the publicly-listed agencies.

  2. This goes to the heart of PR firms being able to practice what they preach. It’s almost impossible for any social media or digital strategy to be taken seriously if the agency has not done or is not doing it for themselves. As agencies are responsible for the development, implementation,management and measurement of these inititives, it is key they have first hand experience to effectively recommend and execute a social media strategy for clients.

  3. I completely agree with you and am too surprised that so many PR agencies don’t ‘walk the talk’. I received a proposal not to long ago from a large PR agency saying they would like to help us with our social media strategy. Interesting, I thought. So I went over to their website. Wow, a nice 1.0 website! Pure flat HTML with lots of colors. Very social! Then I thought, let’s see if they have/use blogs, twitter and are on Facebook. Nope, none of that all. My conclusion? Those kind of proposals can be thrown away immediately.

  4. Jerimiah,

    You are right on target with this one. And Paula Drum with H&R Block is a smart one and is spot on with her answer.

    Of course they should. They should be practitioners and eat their own dog food. Anyone/company/agency that does not and tries to sell their services/products is full of it. 100k for a blog strategy and they don’t blog? I can’t believe the audacity.

    The message here is: Fire your agency if they are not executing what they are selling for their own business.


  5. i totally agree with that. that’s why its so important for digital, marketing and PR agencies to have an online presence in social media, especially if they are claiming to be experts in that area.

  6. The other thing you should look at is not just if the agency has people blogging or participating in social circles, but is anyone at the management level part of conversation. You can tell a lot about the “commitment” of an agency to social media by how far up the participation goes.

  7. This goes to the heart of the conundrum both PR and traditional branding agencies are facing with respect to social media. They don’t have the chops to look at the data (let’s say impressions) that social media sites create. They are simply not used to having support their creative efforts with in depth data analysis.

  8. Jeremiah, thanks, as always, for inciting. My only commment here is that absolutes are never a good thing. To say that an agency can’t be effective without a blog, Twitter stream, etc. is patently untrue. That’s like saying a creative director at an ad agency can’t deliver an excellent campaign unless she’s also designing award-winning campaigns for her agency. I agree with Mike Spataro that you should look at the head and see what they’re saying and doing, but also regard that with a grain of salt. Those who say aren’t always the best doers – I’ve seen that firsthand. I find that many of the smartest, most thoughtful and creative types in our industry aren’t always the ones showing up at all the events, posting videos and serving as near full-time field correspondents for social media (don’t get me wrong, those who do this deserve much credit). There are many people out there who devote all their time, energy and passion to delivering kick-ass client programs. Let’s not throw these excellent babies out with the bathwater of generalization.


  9. There are even PR companies that dont have a website with easy contact and url to their customers info. Or that not have pics for the distributed news (not mentioning multimedia stuff).
    Blogging, social networking, tweeting, are still to new and with few share outside early birds, pioneers, geeks and the mass of common folks triying to date. That is not the corporate wannabe target.
    Also, many PR co are afraid about not controling their presence or are not enough tech savy to use new ways to relate and communicate.
    But the time is comming. New stuff is gaining uses everywhere and now that tradicional media is aon the fall new ways will arise.

  10. Scott Bauman

    Sure, there are doctors that smoke who are excellent at patient care. There are bald hair stylists, and mechanics with broken cars.

    But when it comes to trying new programs, shouldn’t they be practicing new styles rather than practicing on clients?

  11. I insisted our creative agency dump our ‘coporate brochure’ website a few months ago and start blogging. We haven’t looked back. I believe a lot of ad agencies talk with great ‘authority’ about blogging, without really getting it.

  12. Jeremiah,

    This is a great post, and thanks for the list. I hear your frustration about releases that come with no links or other “social media content.”

    However, just how important is it for an agency to have a Facebook page? I’d much rather they have a great newsroom on their site with contact info that is easy to find. What do you think?


  13. “…in a new media that™s radically different than communications of the past, agencies should be practicing so they can learn how to be better at applying this to their own clients.”

    i couldn’t agree more. in the learning process, there are bound to be mistakes made. i’d rather make them while doing internal work instead of while doing client work. whether or not your internal culture allows you to make those mistakes is fodder for a series of blog posts.

    at my agency, we’re working hard to walk the talk when it comes to social media. i’ll admit we still have a long way to go, but i am proud of the progress we’ve made.


  14. Thank you for your insights! Things are particularly difficult if you work with a traditional and conservative agency. We are trying to establish some projects for clients but the work should start at home, isn’t it?


  15. We provide services to thousands of PR agencies, and based on the response we get to our educational webinars and white papers on social media topics, I can attest that many agencies who aren’t yet on board are likely to join in the conversations very soon. That said, I recently looked for some social media strategy help for BurrellesLuce and chose a PR practitioner who practiced what she preached.

  16. Jeremiah,

    I take your point about not “practicing on clients” but I think of it a different way. My ad guy example is more appropriate. You’d never expect an ad agency to invest the time or expense to build an Addy-winning campaign for itself. You’d expect them to invest in people, technology and processes to ensure they’re current and able to deliver the best creative and service to clients. So, I guess I’d say that you DO want your agency to be part of the conversation (so absolutely they should blog, Twitter, etc.), but I’d stop short at saying they should be practicing everything they do – in terms of programming – first before rolling out to clients.

  17. Scott Bauman

    I expect my Ad agency to absolutely be able to advertise themselves well, sure not an “addy” but eating one’s dog food is an old phrase with roots from sensibility.

    I’m standing my ground on this, social media vendors need to walk the talk.

  18. New media are a significant and disruptive threat to traditional PR. When faced with loss of clients or at least share of wallet, it’s very tempting for them to claim “we can do that” and try to sell a half-baked program.

    There is an irony in that even if an agency does know something about social media, this is not the sort of campaign, which should be primarily out sourced. Otherwise the blog posts, Tweets, etc. become one-way and client looses the value of market feedback.

  19. Scott – I’m not in the PR/advertising industry. I work for an enterprise 2.0 vendor and use social media myself as part of my job.

    If we ever had some PR agency offering social media strategy without demonstrating that they can use it themselves, I wouldn’t listen to them.

    If you don’t practice social media, you really can’t understand what makes it work. This isn’t a creative coming up with a few discrete ad campaigns.

    The human interaction and personal relevance orientation of social media makes it hard to stand outside it and offer advice. If you try, your advice on what to blog will be based on theories, not on what you’ve seen work. I can tell you that having blogged for a year now, I’ve developed a good sense for what engages people. I could not have done that without actually practicing. Same goes for Twitter or any other social media.

    Any thought that “I don’t have the time or talent to blog, Tweet, etc.” means you’re telling a client to do something you yourself cannot do. How can you offer solid advice in that scenario?

  20. Thanks for the article and the mention!

    I definitely want to reiterate my feelings on agency partners also being practitioners. I personally subscribe to this philosophy. I have created a blog (that I don’t write on very much because of competitive reasons), participate on Twitter, Myspace, Facebook and even frequented Second Life. I don’t think anyone can appreciate these new communication channels if they are not active participants (from the company or agency side). It is very easy to either discard the medium or enter into it in a very inappropriate way.

    I took a lot of heat when H&R Block entered Second Life, however, no one who was commenting had ever been in Second Life let alone to the H&R Block island to understand what we were doing. All of these communication channels are new and different in their own ways. When I work with an agency, I want to partner with a team that understands these environments. I can pay anyone to learn on my dime. I look for partners that add value, therefore they must be practitioners too.

    However, I challenge not only the agencies that support organizations to be active participants, but, the people within the organizations as well. It is critical that both sides under the environments that they are playing in.

  21. For the most part, I agree, but the “cobbler’s children” argument does carry some weight. A very successful, busy firm might actually be helping their clients, even if they are not doing it themselves. In these instances, it’s important to ask the agency to demonstrate how they have helped others, even if they haven’t helped themselves. Put another way, I trust a chef based on what he cooks in his restaurant, not for himself at home when he’s alone.

  22. Practice makes perfect.

    I think social media is a great area for PR firms to address, because it seems to be building serious momentum at the moment. It’s just another avenue and tool PR firms can use to help bring exposure to their clients.


  23. Jeremiah — thanks for tipping me off to Cece’s post.

    Echoing many here on your blog and on Cece’s, I am wondering how one could conceive of — let alone execute — a successful “social media strategy” without having actually ever done it personally. Authenticity matters in this field in ways that become immediately apparent — either you are out there, or you are not.

    On a personal note, my team and I over at New Media Strategies have built some of the most interesting and community-serving campaigns and, more importantly, conversations for clients because we are made up of real-deal diggers, Wikipedians, Twitters, bloggers (some Weblog nominees and credentialed political bloggers during the Election, at that), etc.

    C-SPAN is one of many great examples of this that I love to plug when I get the chance: http://is.gd/k8tC

    Thanks again,
    Leslie (@Leslieann44)

    PS: WOMMA is slated to host a webinar on 2/25 w/ Molly Flatt, 1000heads that seems to also be addressing this: “When it comes to Social Media, never have so many, talked so much, knowing so little.”

  24. Jeremiah:

    I know that as a buyer, I’d be skeptical of a vendor whose employees weren’t at least somewhat engaged in the social channels themselves. That doesn’t mean they need to be on every social network or even be power users, but showing some eating-their-own-dogfood experience would be a requirement in my book.

    Bryan | @BryanPerson

  25. Good analysis but it makes me nervous due to the rampant discussions led by social media tools. For me, I’d rather see agencies put their clients first and have their own branding come second. Just like agencies should not push “you must use socnets” on their clients, they shouldn’t take the blanket approach themselves. That is just foolish business.

  26. Immersion is required to truly understand social media – its culture, power and potential. If you do not have a blog, how can you advise how to build and make one successful? If you (the agency) can speak from experience, your presentations will have more power and validity.

  27. would you trust a firm that was doing it successfully for clients but didn’t do it on their own? I get the R&D spin, but a lot of times we learn the tools in our personal space. (And not all of us let the 2 co-mingle.)

  28. Thanks Jeremiah for adding your perspective to this topic. Based on the comments on your blog and mine, I plan to create a public wiki so agencies and the community can update the listings. As many have pointed out that individual contributions are just as important, I will include a column for individual Twitter IDs in addition to a corporate one.

    Once that is completed, I will comment here with the link. Thanks again for the interesting discussion!

  29. I think our employees at Sterling Communications are pretty akamai when it comes to Social Media for PR (though our website is getting a needed refresh Monday), but I have to say I am still impressed with the cobbler’s kids at http://www.modernista.com. They’re a marketing firm, not PR, but still … the company’s entire website is a tiny frame on top of whatever they have going on around the web. Facebook is their “about” page, Flickr illustrates their print ads, YouTube shows their TV ads, Delicious links to their web work, and so on. Wikipedia used to be their homepage. Talk about walking in someone else’s shoes.

  30. For those who checked out Cece’s list when it was first posted, I’d like to suggest that you go back and take another look now that it’s possible for the firms she mentions to go into the table and fill in the many blanks she had on her first go-round.

    While I certainly agree that there are agencies out there that do not “walk the talk” as yet, now that her research errors have been fixed (and I’m sure more fixes are yet to come), the picture is not nearly as bleak as the one she painted.

  31. This goes to the heart of PR firms being able to practice what they preach. It's almost impossible for any social media or digital strategy to be taken seriously if the agency has not done or is not doing it for themselves. As agencies are responsible for the development, implementation,management and measurement of these inititives, it is key they have first hand experience to effectively recommend and execute a social media strategy for clients.

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