Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer wrote a really thought provoking post a few days ago called “Why Ad Agencies Struggle With Social Media.” Jason makes a really interesting argument. He says he feels that the primary obstacle in the way of “traditional” agencies getting more social is the time factor. In other words, where once you placed ad space, waited for the magazine to come out, and then waited another month until your next ad came out, now, with sites like Facebook and Twitter, you could literally be talking to your audience several times a day. Certainly several times a month. This must, without question, stand as a major change from what agencies used to do (and what some still do).
Jason was speaking specifically to agency creatives because his post concentrated on the creative output agencies are putting out there. Now, in our agency, I do a lot of the copywriting but I am not a graphic designer by any stretch of the imagination. However, having worked in the agency world for close to seven years now, I would like to offer some ideas on why agencies might not be creating social campaigns, or at least not social campaigns in the same hemisphere as “Old Spice.”
1. Relationships must be redefined: While Jason is right to note that the time factor is a major change, Social Media is also asking agencies and their clients to redefine how that whole relationship can and should work. As we know, Social Media is very much about the “now now now.” The thing is, if an agency is responsible, they don’t sneeze unless their client authorizes them to do so. The ones that go off on their own are the ones that give agencies overall a bad name. We don’t place space without our client’s consent. We don’t send art to a vendor without a client’s approval. We believe this is good business. I’m sure a lot of agencies do things in a similar way. To work in the fast-moving world of Social Media, the agency and the client must sit down together and work out how that good business relationship can be maintained without negatively affecting the Social Media campaign. This can certainly be done, but the issue needs to be recognized first, and then worked through.
2. The client needs to make some decisions. While an agency can certainly consult with its clients about how best to approach Social Media, there is a lot to the social space that really must be hammered out by the company being represented. An agency can advise on what the corporate voice should be, but the company needs to be completely on board with that proposal. An agency can suggest what to use for a blog design or a Facebook company page, but the company needs to approve those things. That approval can only stem from a corporate understanding of what the goals and objectives are, and that takes a lot of planning.
3. Companies may not feel that traditional agencies can do it. There certainly are plenty of blog posts out there condemning “traditional” agencies, as I discussed in my response to Jeremiah Owyang’s post about Social Media boutiques, digital agencies, and traditional agencies. And, as I said, there are some agencies out there who are still trying to make it as production houses. They certainly can’t make a case for being effective Social Media advisers. Factually, though, agencies can help with all facets of a Social Media campaign, from consultation and design to actually implementing facets of the campaign itself. The issue is that if agencies are doing things right, the definition of “traditional agency” is changing rapidly to become that “hub” I’ve talked about before.
4. Agencies need to figure out who’s doing all of this work. We are all pretty familiar, probably, with the job titles most agencies have. You have your creatives, your copywriters, your account executives, the media department, the accounting department, and so on. So, which of those departments handles Social Media? This is something agencies (and digital agencies count for this as well) need to work out. I think in the end it’ll turn out that the creatives and copywriters and AEs can still work together, just like they did when graphic design moved from pencils and markers to computers and FTP sites. But this is all a transition, and transitions often seem a lot more complex before they are finished than they do after.
5. Agencies need to be treated as a many-headed employee. As I wrote on Dawn Westerberg’s site a couple of months ago, agencies need to make themselves as easy to work with as if the entity was a single employee. This is especially critical when it comes to Social Media. Agencies from top to bottom must be aware of what their client’s objectives are for a Social Media campaign, what roles the company’s customer service department and others are going to play in the campaign, what the expectations are, and many other details. The work should shift seamlessly from the client to the agency as much as it would between different people within that company (maybe even more seamless than that). Again, there are agencies out there who would stand in the way of this happening – but the good ones will want to work with you this way.
One final footnote, as I alluded to in the comments section over at Social Media Explorer, I come from (primarily) the B2B world. Executing a Social Media campaign in this sector of the marketing world can be (though is not always) very different from the B2C world. We aren’t talking to people who will use the products all of the time. We’re talking to the people who will buy the product to make another product that people will use. That can be at times a tough message to get across via a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Not all companies are perfect matches for Social Media, though I know that may be shocking to hear. Painting with broad paintbrushes is almost always a dangerous endeavor because there is always at least one person, case, or company who will prove to be the exception rather than the rule.
Those are some of my thoughts on traditional agencies and Social Media. What have you got going on in your brain? I’d love to continue the conversation with you!
1st Image by Frank Köhne. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/frko
2nd Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/cfi02