There’s been a lot of commentary about the amount of money people are paying to get a slice of Facebook and the valuation that’s placing on the business. Seven year old Facebook was recently valued at $82.9 billion on secondary exchange SharesPost Inc, making it more valuable than a host of businesses that have been around for decades. The reason people want in on Facebook, Twitter and for that matter Zynga is because the world knows that majority of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on marketing are moving away from traditional media outlets to these new social and gaming platforms. Investors believe that these platforms will grow at alarming rate over the next few years as traditional channels continue to decline and even collapse. These valuations are therefore an indicator of where agencies need to be devoting their attention. If agencies are not focused on how to use these channels to help brands attract customers, investors, staff etc, then they are in a dying business. Facebook is adding millions of users a month and it owns the most important demographics making it a near perfect marketing platform. The same goes for Twitter. So the question every agency should be asking itself right now is: are we experts in these platforms? If the answer is no, then you’d better start investing and fast. The rate of growth of Facebook and others demonstrates how quickly the old agency model is declining. So next time you read that Facebook’s valuation has increased by a few more billion, ask yourself if your business has also moved forward in its social capabilities. The answer will make it all too clear what you have to do.
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.
In the last few years, PR people have rightly stopped talking about stories and started talking about conversations. The idea being that brands can start or join conversations that their customers are interested in, or are already having. They can do this by contributing news, perspective, insight and raw content. This shift is both important to the way PR is carried out and to the role it plays in the marketing process. It opens new doors and new budgets for an industry that has long believed it deserves a bigger slice of the marketing pie. But I’d like to remind PR people about something advertisers have known for a long time. Getting our attention doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in a conversation with us. My daughter’s laptop can often get her attention without any information being exchanged. She simply enjoys watching entertaining content, or playing some mindless game. She is no different from any of us in this respect. We all have parts to our day when we simply want someone to take over our brains and let us escape. Advertisers have figured this out to the extent that during some computer games, such as a car racing game, you will see billboards advertising products. They recognize that the brands that ‘sponsor’ escapism are as important as the brands that sponsor educating us about the important issues of the day or the decisions we have to make.
Now the idea of creating content that helps people escape isn’t something you hear a lot in PR meetings. PR meetings tend to be all about getting the message across in an increasingly noisy market. But what if you created content such as a game or a video that was just so darned entertaining that people WANTED to watch it AND they knew your brand had sponsored this little mental vacation? Wouldn’t that be just as powerful as that major news item you were hoping to get someone to blog about? I’m not for a minute suggesting that we all ditch conversation management and move to entertainment. I’m simply suggesting that digital channels open the doors for PR to much more than just conversations. Try this on for size in your next PR brainstorm. Oh and happy 2011.
As the terrible news unfolds about the earthquake in Haiti, companies are trying to figure out how they can help but also how they can get credit for helping. I’ve talked to several clients on this subject and they all raise the same challenge: how do we get credit for the help we give without it coming across as though we are only helping so that we get some positive press. The reality is of course that good companies won’t try and exploit a disaster to get attention. Good companies will do the right thing and if in doing the right thing people notice, then all well and good. I know that many PROs will be encouraged to try and get people to notice the good things being done to help the people of Haiti but I for one would prefer to all the effort go in to helping people rather than into publicity. Now if publicity in turn helps people by making more people give money or time then go get that publicity. In other words make your relief efforts genuine and not a thinly veiled advert for the company.
When Katrina struck, a poster child for good action was WalMart. They loaded trucks with basic goods and drove to the region. They didn’t send out a press release telling people. Truly good acts don’t go unnoticed. Sometimes it takes time for people to notice but notice they will and word of mouth will eventually make sure people find out. I’ve already noticed that major online brands such as Google, Amazon and eBay have links on their homepages so you can help the people in Haiti. Interestingly though I can’t find a major offline brand that has a similar link. There’s no good reason I can see for that. Follow Google’s link for example and it tells you how you can donate. It doesn’t tell you what Google is doing itself. There’s no reason why Ford, Bank Of America, Coca Cola, Next Fifteen or anyone else couldn’t do the same…
At the end of the day, good corporate social responsibility boils down to: Doing what’s right and doing what you can.