The race is on for agencies to build their digital assets. Get it right and PR firms will grow faster than they have in decades. Get it wrong and they’ll have a struggle on their hands. So as agency heads look at their talent base and their potential new hires, they have a tough question to answer. Do they hire experienced marketing professionals who have some digital skills or the typically younger, more digitally literate who have only limited experience? Sadly for the more experienced group, the answer appears to be that agencies are trending towards hiring younger digerati, rather than grey hairs. This in turn is reshaping agency structures, product offerings, and pricing. To twist an old saying, we are who we hire. With agencies moving from a classic pyramid model towards something that looks more like a coat hanger, the opportunities for today’s experienced professionals are becoming fewer by the day. Is this fair? Probably not but this drive to hire younger, cheaper talent is in part the result of another force, not just digital. Client procurement departments have acted like sand paper on PR budgets for years and have increasingly made it more desirable to hire doers over strategists.
Most agencies are racing to build a ‘new’agency on top of their existing one. While they do need some experience to prevent the thing from collapsing in heap, what they need most is staff that can get on and ‘do’ at a price point that makes the investments the agencies are making viable. This effectively forces agencies to hire lower cost staff. These of course tend to be kids from college who have no real experience but can tell you anything you want to know about Facebook and Twitter. For this generation, SEO is a form of grammer and html was a choice alongside Spanish and French at school. Given a brand is now defined by the size and strength of its social network, it’s hardly surprising that many agencies will value these skills over someone who has known the editors at a business publication for a decade.
So is it all doom and gloom for us oldies? Far from it. We can start and build these new agencies, they do after all need some adult supervision. We can also explore the boundaries of owned, earned and paid media. These are the places where real value lies and where experience can really come to the fore. But we cannot assume that because we have decades of experience that our futures are secure. We have to bring something of value to the transition to digital. Identifying what this is is crucial and could yet save the careers of many. We are in an era of marketing where the value of experience is trending downward. In years to come that will of course change as digital becomes the norm but for now the digital natives are set to become the new leaders. That may not be what people want to hear but our industry is, like many, Darwinian. In our case the fittest are the digerati.
Across America it’s back to school time. Families are getting used to packing lunches, the joys of nightly homework and arranging after school activities. It’s also a time when work calendars fill up as people return from vacations, supposedly refreshed. Of course in America they don’t take the long vacations that are common in countries such as France and Sweden. Instead they stretch to ten days, or two weeks if they are feeling particularly brave. Either way, Americans are now ready to do battle with the economy while their kids do battle with mathematics and English. In the world of communications and marketing in general, the summer is a quiet period where only a real crisis will garner much attention. The Fall on the other hand is a period where news floods out as businesses launch products and make acquisitions. The flood of news does of course make it harder to get people’s attention. You are, after all, competing with others for your fifteen seconds of fame (the Internet equivalent of Warhol’s prediction). So does this make sense? I appreciate it is difficult to get things done over the summer when so many people are away and the argument goes that: what’s the point of announcing things when nobody is around to read about it? I’d argue that in the age of social and online media, the summer is no longer a dead time for getting attention. It is merely a dead time for people seeking it. While I was away I checked on the news, industry and otherwise, everyday on my iPhone and I’m not that unusual. With today’s technology people hear about the news whether they are at work on a south pacific island. So it makes me wonder whether companies should rethink summer media madness and use the fact that attention is easier to get to their advantage. Perhaps, therefore, it’s time for us communications folk to go back to school…
TV shows like 30 Rock, The Office, Modern Family etc have all come to an end for the summer and will kick off again in September. The break is a well established system for sitcoms and drama series. It gives the actors a chance to have a break and the writers a chance to create new material during the months where viewers spend less time in front of their TVs and more time outdoors. For those still glued to their screeens there’s plenty of reruns to keep them happy. At least that’s the theory. But with more and more people spending time online versus sitting in front of their TVs and with more people using their smartphones as a means of accessing the internet, there is a real danger that during this summer hiatus, viewers will find more reasons to avoid their TVs and unlike migratory birds, not return. After all, Facebook and Twitter don’t show rerun updates and tweets over the summer. Can you imagine of they did?
For this reason I wonder whether the networks need to rethink the summer hiatus. I can see it being tough to change and it brings with it a fresh set of challenges. One of the benefits of having short seasons and breaks is that low quality content and production values get the boot. We’ve all noticed when a show runs out of ideas – Happy Days, invented the expression ‘Jumping the shark’ which means a show has taken things too far and lost the plot, when it had the Fonzie, literally jump a shark on water skis. We can also tell when actors tire of a role. So perhaps there is a role for the break. Perhaps the formula is what needs a rethink. Instead of putting all the best shows in the Spring and Fall, they could experiment by putting some of the stronger shows during the summer to keep the eyeballs on the TV and off their computer screens. After all, I’ll say it again, can you imagine if Facebook and Twitter took a summer break? Bring on the re-retweet. Not.
This week we introduced the first annual report that is also a blog. I’ll be honest when we had the idea a few months ago I was rather surprised nobody had done it before and felt sure that by the time we launched someone would have done it. Well, unless our Google searches are wrong, they didn’t and we were the first. I don’t think our blog is the greatest blog on the planet but I do think it will be the start of something. I’m pretty sure that in a year or so thousands of companies will be opening up their annual reports in this way. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Today lots of investors go to chat rooms and so on to get their insight. This approach allows them to have a direct access and it allows the company to take part in the debate. Now of course in many parts of the world there are still limits on what a CEO or CFO that is blogging can say but the success of may executive blogs such the one by Sun CEO, Jonathan Schwartz make it clear that people like the idea of an open door policy to communication.
As for my headline to this piece the question is what you call an annual report that is also a blog. The two listed, flog (financial blog) and slog (shareholder blog) are the most common suggestions to date.
You may think I’m getting obsessed with Google News these days. I assure you I’m not but I did think it was quite revealing that when I searched on ‘Edelman Walmart blog’ I got twelve news responses. When I used the site to search for blogs with the same criteria I got 1,458 responses. That means for every news item there were over 120 blog mentions. Going back to my HP item the ratio was more like 1.5 blog mentions to each news item. I guess this shows how the blogging world works.
Last summer PR companies were still scratching their heads trying to figure out how to deal with the emergence of blogs and wikis as forms of communication. Debates raged on whether separate groups should be formed within agencies or if we should even be forming new types of agencies. A year later may of those debates still continue. Some small firms do exist solely to serve this market but they are mostly one or two person outfits. As yet there are few real consultancies in the space, though I did note earlier this week that Magnet has set itself up to focus on comms like this (they have a broader remit than blogs and wikis it should be said). I am keen to see how this venture does in the next six months. If they do well perhaps we’ll see a rush to emulate this approach.
One observation I will make is that a year ago when agencies pitched for new clients blogs were mentioned but only in passing and then not in every case. Today 99% of pitches have a section devoted to blogs and how the prospective clients should deal with them. This is something of a silent revolution. I wonder how far this revolution will have taken us in another twelve months? Will we have blog budgets? Will we have blog tours be as common as press tours?
The May 2nd issue has, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, a cover story on Blogs and how they’re going to change business, specifically your business. The article makes some excellent observations as well as some more obvious ones. That said as a piece aimed at the average business person that has yet to really discover the world of blogging it does a good job of getting you at least up to speed with this phenomena. The piece points out how blogs are changing various businesses and gives some examples of how blogs can be applied to a range of comms activities. Not surprisingly perhaps, the blog devotes a lot of space to talking about how blogs will change the media and of course to promoting a new Business Week blog – blogspotting.net. I would have loved to see this piece look more at how it’s really shaping business communication and thus business structures but perhaps that will come as they delve into things deeper. Anyway, if you have not read the piece I would, if only so you can comment on it when your clients ask about the piece.
Blogging has emerged as either the biggest change to the way the media works or just web sites with a bit more personality depending on who you talk to. For the PR profession the challenge is how to deal with this channel. Should agencies and in-house groups have people focused on blogs like HP and Cisco I believe now have? Or should blogging become something embedded into the way everyone does PR? This is of course reminiscent of the challenge the dot com revolution posed. Back in the 90s lots of PR firms set up dot com divisions, or even separate businesses in a bid to win lots of dot com clients. Of course these divisions and businesses were no more than a facade. The people in them knew little more about eCommerce than any other tech PR folk but at the time it was what the market wanted so they did it. The question right now is should the profession do the same thing for blogs? Looking back at the dot com PR era there are some interesting lessons to learn:
1. Most dot com agencies didn’t develop specific dot com products. Instead of using the Internet to create new types of PR products most simply adapted traditional products. Ask yourself, can you think of five new ways to do PR because of blogs?
2. The skills of most dot com agencies didn’t really change. Instead of hiring a new type of consultant with a new skill set, most agencies simply transferred people to the new agency. This is of course why most of the dot com divisions never really stood out. Again, ask the question, should you hire a different kind of person to focus on blogs?
3. The business models of most dot com agencies didn’t change. Sure some agencies took stock instead of cash (most of course now regret that) but that wasn’t a new model. A new model would have been a totally new pricing and staffing model. I think you can guess the question that comes here.
What does all this say? It says that unless as agencies we really plan on offering a totally new kind of service for those companies tackling the blogsphere then we shouldn’t even consider the option of creating a new division or agency. Instead we should simply add the blogsphere to our audiences. If, however, we are prepared to offer something truly different then I can see every argument for the creation of a new vehicle to offer a new way of communicating.
I’ve had a few compaints that I don’t update my blog enough. Well I do update it at least weekly but for some reason it seems my blog has become stuck in some time warp and to the outside world it has become mired somewhere back in February. I’m told this is probably just engines like Google and Yahoo that fail to crawl through blogs frequently enough. I was also told it could simply be that people have realized my blog isn’t worth updating. I was also advised to use pingomatic which I’ve now done. Whatever the problem is, I’d like people to know that my blog is still alive. I do, of course, promise to make sure nothing interesting appears here.