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Who Should Offer Social Media – Advertising or PR Agencies?

Every few years some form of technology comes along and becomes to dominate disrupter of the day. Over the last two years the current disrupter has been Social Media, whether it be News Corp’s $580 million purchase of MySpace, Google’s $1.65B of YouTube. Of course we can’t forget to mention the current addiction called ‘Crackbook’ other wise known as Facebook, admit it you check your profile at least twice a day.

Last January I host a breakfast seminar for Profectio and to my surprise 75% of the attendees were public relations professionals, not having formally worked in either industry directly my assumption was that the advertisers would want to learn how to use these tools to brand product or service messages. Agencies large and small showed up to hear the latest that was being said about Social Media and what the latest trends were at the time. Hmm, maybe it is time to host another event on this topic, a lot has changed in a year’s time, I have even gotten on Facebook.

There have also been several advertising and public relation agencies who’ve shifted their business models and started to offer social media services. No surprise here, everyone wants to get on the band wagon of what is hot and get their piece of the pie. I do wonder though, which camp does Social Media belongs in? When I invited Shel Isreal, co-author of Naked Conversation up to Toronto on a cold March back in 2006 he preached that it is about “being part of the conversation. ” There have been the Third Tuesday events which are hosted across Canada in cities such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, each bringing together PR professionals together to network and exchange ideas.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, who should offer Social Media, Advertising or PR agencies?

Marc Snyder

Here are two additional reasons why PR people are better suited to work with social media and blogs. n nFirst is that we're used to not perfectly controlling the end message. When we deal with journalists or other media, they control the communications' end result. Advertising people create their ads and the public receives them "as is". n nThe second reason is that we're used to our publics talking back to (at?) us. Whether it's through letters to the editor, petitions, interest groups, our publics have always communicated with us. Not so for advertising. n nMS

Rick Murray

I'll build on Collin's response. n nIMHO, some type of "social" offering should be offered by agencies of all types — once they figure out what constitutes "good" (and as importantly, "bad") social marketing. And with all due respect to the industry at large, we are — unfortunately — a long way from that being the norm. n nHere's what I see: there are some companies, brands and agencies that get it; actually, there are a handful of people within a handful of organizations who have committed themselves to learning what it takes to succeed in this new environment, to experimenting without guarantee of a predictable return, and so on. We all know who they are. n nThe right to engage in social media is earned. If you accept that the communications landscape is forever changed; if you accept the fact that the people we've all been attempting to talk to now want to be listend to and talked with; then, you're well on your way to defining a credible social offering. n nIt's incredibly hard work, but I can tell you that it's most definitely worth it.


Although advertising agencies better understand the end consumer and enthusiasts of products, the business model is all wrong. Ad people make their cash from media. They also make a little cash in the production. In social media, there is no media buy… and production is next to nothing. Therefore, no way to make cash.

Until advertising agencies figure out their new business model, they will not be able to engage in any real way. (Ask Ogilvy how much money they made with Dove evolution. So little that I overheard someone from there say they would have never done it if they had know how successful it would become. Who wants the reputation for getting those results with those margins?)

PR agencies on the other hand, have a better understanding of how to build a relationship. It is no surprise that they are engaging in this territory a lot faster.Plus, They don’t have the business model problem, they’re used to working with smaller budgets. That translates well into social media. They fall down however, in brand development and understanding of the consumer needs. The PR mantra: “there’s no such thing as bad press, as long as they spell your name right” could actually sink a company in the social media space…. it can certainly impact a brand in a tremendously bad way.

This is the gap that needs to be filled on both sides. Until then, Social media sits right in the middle of both of these disciplines.

collin douma
social media group

Carla Shore

I certainly agree that social media needs to be a big part of a PR practioner's toolbox, but I don't think we necessarily need to 'own' social media. n nI think advertisers and marketers need to use social media, same as we do, to reach audiences for our different goals. We need to use it to engage with our target audiences. But they need to use social media to sell to their target markets. n nI think we sell ourselves short if we try to own it, rather than just see it as a tool to connect with the public.

Kelly Rusk

I agree with Collin — my first instinct would be PR rather than advertising, though given that’s my field + I’m into social media, I may be bias. Though I’ll take it one step further on this point:

“They fall down however, in brand development and understanding of the consumer needs. ”

I’d say the best solution is companies hire in-house PR resources to manage social media. (Again, that’s what I do so it may just be me)

Chris Brogan...

I think it’s been said here very well by the other comments. I think that PR has the easier fit into using social media and social networks.

But what about things like podcasting as advertising? For example, the podtech.net model: that’s advertising dollars, I believe (don’t quote me on that), and I think the model makes sense. Spend money driving awareness that’s targeted towards follow up and action.

I’m neither a marketer nor an advertiser. Does what I say make sense? Should advertisers spend on podcasts?


Yvonne van Dinther

This space is truly where all of the skills of the various communications disciplines converge — advertising, pr, direct, interactive and design — and can be leveraged. While the landscape may have changed, the foundational truths hold when engaging with consumers.

I agree with Carla. It’s another tool to connect with the public and isn’t the domain of any one discipline. Each has strengths to bring to bear on it.


I might be very unpopular for saying this but the truth hurts and the answer really…is NEITHER !! n nOne analogy would be … nlets say social media is a meal nthe experience is like eating at a fancy expensive restaurant n n nwould you get the Maître D, Waiter/Waitress, Manager/Supervisor to cook your food? No!??? nhowever nshe/he's always eager to please you anyway he can with service nanything for bigger tip, make you feel respected and important n n nSo would you leave it to the enigmatic sommelier / bar manager?? nhowever nhe/she can cook with a big smile + a friendly joke nand tell everyone about it nput a nice positive spin on things, cheer you up n nand how about the executive chef!? nsomeone experienced who trained for years and lives and breathes anything culinary …no matter what the flavour of the month is nthey can mix flavours on the fly to suit taste n n non the whole everyone can play a role to make an experience better but if its not handled in the preparation stages by an expert or someone with "tastebuds" n nthen you risk having a meal sent back for being cold or overdone n n nTrue successful online digital social media should be handled by a veteran digital team (in house or hired) who understand like no other what true successful online digital social media should taste /look /smell /feel /sound like n n nThe Digital world turns fast so don't blink ….ask the music industry….the got served …medium rare to pink

David Bradfield

Can anyone really "offer" social media? It's not something that can be "owned" by PR, marketing or advertising. n nSocial media is all about conversation and community. If you're part of the community and can contribute to the conversation in a valued, authentic and transparent fashion, then you're entitled to be part of the social media universe. n nI moved from Toronto to New York in 2006 to head up the digital team at one of the largest international communications agencies. I would say that 90% of what we do plays in the social media-scape. With that said, there are just as many PR professionals (everywhere) as there are advertising folks that don't have any interest in wanting to understand or navigate social media. That's their loss. It is so real and so gratifying to be part of a community that looks to you for insight and connections. n nCollin sparked a thought for me with his comment above. The research and insights that advertisers use to segment and target the audience are useful but not always practical in the fluid flow of social media. Unless you're willing to immerse yourself in this new world, it may not be for you. n nThe art of influence is evolving. Respect is one of the most important elements of success: n n- Respect the individual n- Respect the community n- Respect other opinions n- Respect modesty n- Respect brevity n nEnough of my rant. So much for brevity. No disrespect intended.

Janice Diner

I am confused by the question altogether, why should social media belong to any one particular marketing discipline? I believe each marketing situation is different, and there are a variety of social media tools available to marketers to help develop programs for their clients.

I have created several successful social media programs for TD and PlayStation and I am a creative director. I head up the Social Media division of Sharpe Blackmore Euro RSCG, an ad agency but I also work in conjunction with PR professionals on the social media programs I am involved in.

I agree with Carla and Yvonne, I use social media to connect with my customers and start a dialogue.

Adam Fox

I agree with all above posters who suggest social media marketing is best produced using an integrated approach with the input of advertisers, digital marketers and PRtists. The credibility of using social media lies in community building and thought leadership. To create this environment successfully will take the best ideas from the full spectrum of marketing and communications.

Andrew Berthoff

The answer depends on what one wants to gain from social media. If it's selling product with thinly-veiled "articles" and articifical conversation, then advertising experts may be best suited. n nIf it's encouraging and stimulating constructive, factual dialogue between real employees and real customers, then PR professionals can probably provide the best advice on ways to do that, remaining true to the idiom.

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