Is Social Media Too Boring for Advertising Industry?

IStock_000006832296XSmallI’ve met with several advertising executive honchos in recent weeks, from agencies large and small.  The topic?  No surprise.  Social Media.  These advertising execs are gung-ho about Social Media; it is generating cool, surprising and lucrative new opportunities for their agencies.  But as the “campaign” becomes the “commonplace,” challenges rear up…  

Here’s the gist of our conversations with the Ad Agency executives:

Advertising Exec: “Thanks for coming by.  We know you guys ‘get’ Social Media.  We get it, too; we love it in fact — but …”

PR Guy: “But it all starts to fall apart once you get past the campaign level?”

Advertising Exec: “Yea, yea, well, kind of… Don’t get me wrong, we can develop some community-appropriate and rockstar-level creative that helps start the conversations, even get a ton of fans or followers or whatever, but …”

PR Guy: “But then you have to feed that beast, right?  You feel this voracious need to fill up the channel with new and excellent content, which is an expensive burden, both financially and creatively.”

Advertising Exec: “Yes, and then …”

PR Guy: “And then you also need to monitor these conversations and engage at a peer level in real-time, and also guide the client in how to react quickly, appropriately, and candidly themselves.”

Advertising Exec: “Yes!! And that’s not what we do.”

PR Guy: “Yep, I get it.  You guys craft brilliant campaigns but the ‘relationships’ part feels low-level, mundane, hard-to-do, and fraught with risk as you engage with every Tom, Dick & Wierdo online.”

Advertising Exec: “See?  I knew you ‘got it.’”

I have nothing but respect for the Advertising industry.  Notice I use words like brilliant, rockstar, creative, etc., up above. 

Whether “PR” or “Advertising” drive Social Media strategy has very little to do with which discipline better understands the New World Order.  It has more to do with which group is better prepared to wade in — and never leave — the proverbial community pool.

Posted on: October 26, 2009 at 2:14 pm By Todd Defren
154 Responses to “Is Social Media Too Boring for Advertising Industry?”


  • It is not too boring, just out of their mindset.

  • Now it is really becoming about relationships that you can just leave when a campaign is over. About time and like Mark Trueblood once they see long term opportunities not just the short term ones their minds will be opened because if they are not there are many people coming down the pipe that will be happy to take their lunch.

  • westernworld says:

    … the other inconvenient truth is and remains: no one wants you there guys. you’ve overstayed your welcome before you even got there.

    we are not an captive audience and we have no respect for your underhanded tactics.

    seasons greetings from every tom, dick & harry 2.0.

    don’t believe me? ask vodafail.

  • Marc Meyer says:

    Todd, great fodder here. I can think of lots of analogies here of where you’re coming from, such as “Everyone wants to score the touchdowns but no one wants to block.” Or something along those lines. The real work happens behind the scenes, and a lot of people don’t like to operate like that, or can’t. I don’t think it’s really a stigma associated with PR and or the Agency side, I think it’s more a realization that there is way more to this, than people “had heard”. That realization should cull the herd some.

  • It is my personal belief that social media resides on the PR side of the world. Advertisers join in, but they generally fail to see a return because they don’t take the time to build and nurture the relationships necessary to make social media work for them. As PR practitioners, it’s our job to create those relationships that are going to end in quantifiable results.

    Tessa Carroll
    VBP OutSourcing

  • “It has more to do with which group is better prepared to wade in — and never leave — the proverbial community pool.”

    As Peter Marshall would have said, “Circle gets the square!”

  • RACHEL KAY says:

    For me this post really captures the idea that it isn’t PR against advertising because we can all bring something to the table. The best campaigns and efforts are a collaboration that incorporates strong creative with long lasting relationship building.

  • seth hosko says:

    Enjoyed the post. I think social media tools and their management really live on the PR side, with ad agencies and their work as the content that flows through those channels. While there aren’t media buys to talk about and are only part of a overall strategy, building brand equity and awareness through these channels should be as equally important.

  • I think once an ad creative REALLY explores social media, and considers all the possibilities for compelling storytelling, their minds will be opened. It does take some imagination and willingness to climb a learning curve, but about five years from now I predict that the rockstar creatives will all be clamoring to work on social media and the broadcast will be the stuff they pass off onto the juniors “paying their dues.”

    I believe that even the greatest social media campaigns we’ve seen thus far are only scratching the surface of the potential.

  • brian says:

    oye, social “media” will go downhill if ad agencies get too involved. i think it exists (social “media”) in part due to its legitimate value of unfiltered communication. get ad agencies involved and the early adopters will migrate to something else. advertising is chasing a new way of communicating. wrong or right, i have a negative connotation as soon as i hear ad agencies getting involved in social “media”, mostly because they do not believe it should be in quotes. it is just media to them.

    i apologize for potential gross over-generalizations here, but i am a fan of letting my gut reactions out.

  • edwardboches says:

    Oh man, I’m late to this post. I love this message (though the actual “creative” attempt is rather lame ;-) This is true. Most ad agencies don’t get that social media is a “commitment,” the fourth and most important point of my 3551 presentation on 3 reasons why social matters, the five opportunities it affords, the five ingredients to success, and the 1 thing you can never forget: commitment. One of the main reasons my agency, Mullen, is being so successful is that we have built our social influence group around our PR group. This is obviously a dilemma for traditional agencies that don’t have any PR. The other side of this, of course, is that PR agencies, along with other different models trying to get in on the social space, have no idea how to be creative. And the fact is that as conversation and community reaches a point of excess noise, creative ideas in the social space (I love the recent Este Lauder program) will become more and more important to augment the day in and day out. Finally, there are as many PR pros who don’t get social as there are ad agencies who don’t get it either. Learning to market, or preferably inspire, using conversation, community, listening and dialog are still relatively new skills. Those of us who’ve been doing it a while keep forgetting that. But to the majority of marketers, this is still novel stuff. Finally, as is evident in the best examples of social media, we should be sharing and educating, not condemning. No doubt you are a solid social pro. So why take shots at those less knowledgeable. Why not do what the other leaders in the business are doing and teach those ad guys to get better. Good subject. Thanks for posting.

    • Todd Defren says:

      I don’t feel that I was taking potshots, Edward. I do respect the Advertising industry (and also disagree about PR not doing any creative work, speaking of potshots!) …

      My main thesis is that PR is and has always primarily been about day-to-day relationships, thus is tailor-made for the gruntwork of Social Media, whereas Advertising is more about the paid-for message of a campaign mentality; it’s more about the big splash by its nature. Again, not a BAD thing, just different.

      Also, as for educating? On *this* blog? You must be new here. There’s 5 years’ worth of free education on this site, an e-book, numerous templates for Social Media Processes (blogger relations bookmark, social media corporate policies), etc.

      • Todd’s been generously sharing the best ideas in the social marketing space for quite a while, but the environment of economic and media crisis (all types of media) are forcing anyone with half a brain to rethink how take advantage of these changes and hopefully survive. He’s a great resource for PR 2.0 and social media processes.

        As for potshots, there are intellectually lazy people and very creative people on both sides of the PR / Advertising divide. Mullen is fortunate they have a strong tradition of PR and the creative and paid media expertise needed to make high impact social media experiences (one advantage of being cooped up in the woods all those years). The reality is that most PR agencies don’t have the resources or tradition needed to create original messaging and content or bringing that content directly to consumers and other audience. Plus moving from behind the curtain is a scary thing for a lot of folks who’ve mastered the fine art of behind the scenes influence.

        The reality is that the age of the ad guy and the PR flack is over. This is the age of the communications wizard, people who can use whatever tools are necessary to tell a client’s story, wherever and however that story needs to be told.

    • George Snell says:

      PR agencies have no idea how to be creative? Come on, Edward – that’s not true. That’s like saying all ad agencies do is draw pretty pictures. PR agencies are very creative places by necessity. By your reasoning newspapers, magazines and blogs where PR agencies help place their client stories are boring and uncreative as well…

  • Josh Morgan says:

    I’ve had a conversation remarkably similar with some advertising folks. The thinking of campaign vs ongoing engagement is one aspect. The other is the lack of a “media buy,” aspect to social media. This turns off a lot of ad agencies. They are structured to make the bulk of their money off of their cut of media buys, not off of billable hours.

  • Entertaining post — and I’m not surprised that an advertising pro would be either overwhelmed or bored by social media. But I also agree with commenter Doug W — let’s not congratulate PR pros quite yet.

    I do believe that PR is the right place to manage social media — some content within that tool will be advertising related, some brand related and some that won’t fit neatly into any category.

    PR theories support the concept of managing organizational relationships as the function of our discipline (see Grunig…), and therefore, I believe that we’re ideally suited to lead this effort.

    The nature of the relationship an organization has with its publics, and the objectives surrounding those relationships should govern the application of any communication activity. Awareness? Advertising. Building understanding and commitment? PR and marketing. Generating revenue? Sales. Overall corporate reputation? PR, definitely, with an assist from brand advertising.

    Social media needs accurate, topical and cogent measurement that gets past the output phase to be taken seriously, and that research is only now being done with any consistency. As with any medium, context and objectives are key to effective use.


    • Marki conway says:

      This is a great response Sean. And I agree, the format of this post is quite entertaining. The “dialogue” is a nice break from typical blog format.

      As far as your comment…”Awareness? Advertising. Building understanding and commitment? PR and marketing. Generating revenue? Sales. Overall corporate reputation? PR, definitely, with an assist from brand advertising.”

      True, to a point. Public relations needs to be conducted in every aspect of management. From awareness, to revenue, and of course overall reputation. The reason? Well as you said, it’s all about managing and maintaing relationships with publics, and that happens at every level of management. Social media’s a great tool to achieve that. Even though it needs a consistent medium for measuring results, using social media builds more personal relationships with publics and individuals. That benefit can never undervalued.


  • Excellent post, and funny that it applies globally, not just in the U.S. I think PR and ad people have a great chance to cooperate when it comes to social media projects, but we need to step down and acknowledge that both industries have some skills necessary to succeed in this market. We’ve cooperated with ad agencies on a couple of occasions, and the results have been pretty successfull. That said, both industries will need to be humble and willing to listen…

  • I’m sure that boredom is just part of the resistance. Many aspects of social media aren’t as exciting as spending time in casting sessions, commercial shoots, post sessions and at awards ceremonies in Cannes (although there’s no reason that those events couldn’t happen as part of a social media campaign), but I suspect that there are deeper reasons for resistance. In an industry that makes it money via the markup on paid media, relying upon social media can seem like revenue suicide. One of the misbeliefs about social media is that it’s free, and it’s hard to get behind something that cuts your bottom line. Of course social media engagement isn’t free, and there are plenty of ways for agencies to monetize it via content, monitoring and engagement. However, it takes real creativity to conceptualize, produce and propagate social media campaigns which produce impact and awe. Perhaps the rank and file of current advertising leads aren’t creative enough to imagine how this is possible?

    I also don’t thinking it’s right to pat PR on its head at this point either. There are still plenty of PR folks who wouldn’t be caught dead managing a search campaign or producing original, direct to consumer content; or they believe they are doing social media because they pitch bloggers like Walt Mossberg or Engadget. Guess what? That’s still just media relations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    I wrote a blog post about a similar experience with glum ad folks moaning about how social media makes them less creative (The care and feeding of Social Media for creatives, and Mullen’s chief creative officer, Edward Boches just did a great presentation on creativity in the age of social media . It’s really worth watching an ad guy who gets social media.

    • edwardboches says:

      Hey, who you calling an ad guy ;-) . In an era of digital, social, PR, creative, free content, user generated content, crowdsourcing, inbound marketing, viral video, and, yes, blogging, what’s an ad guy anyway? I’ve been a newspaper reporter, speechwriter to F500 CEOs, corporate PR counsel, ad agency partner, copywriter, creative director and digital enthusiast. I always wondered what the hell I could do with all of that stuff. And then web 2.0 came along. Made my day. I just hope everyone else is having as much fun as I am. Thanks Doug. Always love hearing your perspective and thoughtfulness.

  • I think this dynamic can be broken down into: Creative utility vs. Creative Ideas.

    Utility isn’t seen as sexy as some in the advertising industry. However, if you are talking to a programmer or designer? The idea of utility is not only sexy…but essential.

    I actually wrote about this idea last friday:

  • I love the inner monologue…great writing device for a post. I think that the bigger issue is not that advertising execs find Social Media boring, but rather they are still hard pressed to understand how they can make MONEY from Social Media, it challenges their biggest profit center of media planning and buying.

    • Jacqui Chew says:

      So true. It’s hard for advertising execs to shift from campaign-based thinking to long-term program planning and execution. Social media programs tend to need ongoing support and nurturing and not the short burst efforts of typical advertising campaigns.

    • Yes – you are so right. If the media agency cannot make money with your type of marketing through media buying then you are left out. You have to fight your way into the marketing plan through the organisation and hope that the small portion for you does not get cut somewhere on the way.

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