Digital, social media, PR and communications trends, tools, & thoughts

PR agencies losing out social media to speciality firms and ad agencies


PR 2.0, social media marketing, or whatever name you call it is supposed to be primarily the domain of PR agencies. If you are a CEO of an organisation and wants to add the social media mix into your overall PR and marketing plan, you are likely to approach your corporate communications or your PR agency. Right? I don’t think so. And I’m not the only one talking about it. Here is Jeremy Pepper writing about how PR can lose the social media to the advertising folks because the latter have the ability to make things look more sexier.

He also wrote that when websites came into the scene years back, the PR folks ignored it and what is primarily a communications tool went to the marketing hands and today they use it mainly to sell products.

Out here in India it is mostly of this second reason that the PR industry is today seemingly losing the social media to the advertising industry. Most PR agency folks do not care less about the social media or are too busy selling stories to the newspaper and TV folks.

Ad agencies are taking advantage of this and some who are already looking at ad accounts of various MNCs are contemplating introducing social media marketing practices as part of their online advertising campaigns. These may include building applications, creating micro sites, blogs, and monitoring the blogosphere. Take the case of Quasar, a digital media solutions provider that is starting an online reputation program encompassing online ad campaigns, website and application development, and social media marketing. Read the news at Alootechie.

Another development is that certain PR professionals who are adept in the new media are opening their own specialised agencies, creating a whole new industry altogether. Take the case of Blogworks, a social marketing consultancy headed by a PR veteran, that has been instrumental in developing some good online properties.

Which are the PR agencies standing up now? We have heard about the supposedly famous 360 degree campaign of Corporate Voice Weber Shandwick some time back that was carried in a national daily and on national TV. But is that all? The supposedly big technology PR firms of India like Text 100 and 20:20 Media are quiet, instead of taking the lead in familiarising the industry of this development that has taken place in their specialised domain.

So while we all are busy selling stories to the newspapers and TV and boast of a fast growing Rs. 165 crore industry, other folks will come and quietly take over what could ever be the biggest growth opportunity of the industry.

Tech Tags: public+relations


Written by

October 27th, 2007 at 3:48 am

Posted in PR

9 Responses to 'PR agencies losing out social media to speciality firms and ad agencies'

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  1. Hi H,

    Interesting piece and thanks for mentioning Blogworks. This will be a rather longish comment so accept my apologies in advance.

    Manish of Quasar, an Internet veteran,is a very dear friend. Quasar has done some very interesting work in the past and are aggressive contenders in any space they enter.

    I wrote a piece recently voicing some similar questions and though the threat for the mainstream agencies is very real, I still believe that public relations is the natural owner of the social media space, for it is an engagement and reputation need and NOT mere a selling need, which is where I believe advertising comes in stronger.

    I quote from my piece:

    “So, who is where? The India Scene.

    If we look around, it isn’t difficult to tell that most ‘mainstream public relations agencies’ in India are, at the moment, somewhat lagging in their understanding of the space. On the other hand are the mainstream advertising agencies – they are usually prompt at adding new sub-brands/ divisions to keep alive their 360 degrees claims and this time is no different. Interactions with (many of) them however won’t give you the confidence that they have the understanding – they understand the terms/ concepts alright, but do they understand the underlying principles of Social Media? I am not so sure, when I see rampant Astoturfing a la Silky Kumar and others. They are uniquely positioned though to get the client to spend the money on social networking sites of their own :) – did you see ROI being hit for that long twenty20 six? Yes, there it goes…

    Among the ‘interactive agencies’, many of who which are run by friends, I know only one which is building ‘serious capabilities’ in the space and I respect them for the intent and the effort they are putting into it. Most others, under pressure from the client, are working towards finding ‘mentions on blogs’ as an extra service. Extra for extra money? Am not sure about that. The answer may lie in gaining strategic understanding to the tools & concepts and integrating them into the offerings.

    However, advertising, and related creative, has mostly been about driving traffic and sales. Do the latter two players have a strategic understanding of ‘reputation’? Public relations agencies, with their inherent understanding of reputation and engagement may be naturally suited. Somewhat lagging at the moment, as they may be, are still the logical owners of the social media domain, I think.

    There are also a few dispersed social media consultants – successful bloggers/ enthusiastic tech wizards; loads of energy, good understanding of the tools but perhaps lacking, again, in understanding of reputation. Would a large Indian or global brand trust their reputation to such a team? Depends on the risk taking ability of a brand manager or the communication head.”

    The piece is here:


    So what next, consolidations through alliances and maybe mergers. Let’s see where this goes…



    Rajesh Lalwani

    27 Oct 07 at 7:12 am

  2. Well said, Rajesh and I agree. Communications management is what the PR people do best and if we talk about social media marketing, there is that big element of communications and relationship management. A developer or a creative agency can make sexy looking tech thingies but how to put it across is important. The process has to go in sync with the organisation’s messaging strategy. Like you said, it is important to understand the new medium and at the same understand marketing communications.

    Some PR agencies I see today are just behaving in knee jerk reactions to answer to their clients’ demands. But that work work without a proper practice in place. This is something to be addressed.


    27 Oct 07 at 5:09 pm

  3. I agree with you Hobbit that PR firms are slow to adapt to the internet, however there are some of us that do leverage the social media mix to the max. It has paid rich dividends for our clients and we have also learned to collaborate with other media counterparts to leverage the medium.
    That being said the examples of PR agencies doing something on this medium pretty low.


    29 Oct 07 at 5:25 am

  4. Sounds good SJ. Would you be able to share some of your experiences, without naming any company if you prefer? We would like to listen and learn along.


    29 Oct 07 at 6:02 am

  5. Thanks for the kind words. While I write a very US-centric blog (and I try to not do that, but it’s easy to write what you know), I know that I have readers from India that ping me via Skype and IM to ask questions.

    I think what I wrote, though, can have implications across the board and around the world. While social media might differ culture to culture and country to country, it is about dialogue and conversation, and that’s what PR is supposed to be about, no matter where we are.

    Good luck on all your work. :)


    29 Oct 07 at 5:48 pm

  6. Thanks, Jeremy. I agree discussions on PR practice can be relevant across regions and cultures. The social media scene is coming out fast here as well and we need to help our clients make use of it.


    29 Oct 07 at 11:44 pm

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