Thursday, May 21, 2009

AdAge Likes PR Now

Sometimes being late to the party has its advantages. A grand entrance, perhaps. But arriving just as the party is wrapping up is bad timing. Traditional PR is dying alongside traditional media. A new form of earned media is being born right now- do these guys get it?

Last week, Jonah Bloom wrote an interesting article for AdAge about the new-found acceptance of PR. Apparently, there was a lot of positive comments about PR from Unilever CMO Simon Clift and Union Square Ventures honcho Fred Wilson at the recent Ad Age Digital Conference. The idea here is that social media is raising the importance of PR within the marketing mix

Fred says:
"There are still a lot of marketers out there buying their media when they could earn it, and earn it a lot less expensively," he said today at Ad Age's Digital Conference in New York.

While overall spending on marketing may go up, traditional-media outlays are declining, and spending is growing on the creative and technology necessary to implement social campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Agencies have to find a way to continue to make money in this environment.

"The total amount of money flowing out of marketers' pockets to agencies won't decline and will likely go up, but the mix is headed for important changes," Mr. Wilson said.

He goes on to point out that:
The challenge for marketers and agencies, then, is to engage with social media in an authentic way, and know they are going to be punished by its denizens for any perceived spam.

Which, I think, is missing the point. The problem is earned media in the past was that were was no solid ROI for any dollar spent on PR. Yes, everyone knew that an article in a trade mag or coverage on CNBC would yield awareness and credibility, but no one on earth could track just how that turned into sales and profits.

Simon Clift is the top marketer at one of the largest (if not the) consumer products companies in the world. One of his main points is that (emphasis added by me)
"brands are now becoming conversation factors where academics, celebrities, experts and key opinion formers discuss functional, emotional and, more interestingly, social concerns," and "of course, the conversation is no longer one way or 30 seconds. ... You may want to talk about sport and just doing it, and the consumer raises the uncomfortable question of sweatshops."
That's the whole point! Ongoing one-to-one conversations isn't marketing, it is relationship selling. Selling that has to be credibly earned. That isn't a intrusion. That can be tracked over time. That you can assign a ROI to. The transformation of the PR profession from pitching media to sitting at the intersection of sales, marketing and customer service.

I just don't think either of these three fellows quite gets where we are headed.