Social media: Silo-buster or billing opportunity?

October 1, 2009 at 12:05 am

George Rosenberg, who blogs as the PR Coach (http://www.pragencycoach.blogspot.com), wrote in early September (OK, it takes me awhile to catch up on my reading) about what he called the Southwest Emerging Media Model (http://bit.ly/1bQSL9). The model he spoke of was the creation of a separate department to deal with new media, emerging media, social media…whatever name you want to use. He also spoke about the implications of creating such a department for public relations agencies.

His post has been on my mind for two reasons.

First, as comfortable as I’ve been riding my white charger as the ethical PR guy in our company, looking down at those advertising and marketing guys buying space and spinning their messages, social media tends to be an equalizer among communcations teams. While there certainly remain some differences in how everyone looks at and interacts with social media and search engine marketing, the Web makes everyone deal with customers, vendors, employees, fans and foes in many ways that used to be strictly the turf of PR folks. Two-way communications, transparency and relationship building are now the way my marketing and sales cohorts are doing their jobs. And I, for the first time in my career, am coming up to speed on how to purchase positon in the banner and stack ad sections of a Google page. Talk about foreign territory.

From where I sit, we need to break down some of the silos that have existed for years. Staff shortages and the additional work created by trying to have a robust, proactive and attractive Web presence without letting go of any of our other initiatives means we need to work even more closely, not build walls. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bring in people with more expertise in social media and search-engine marketing, but I don’t think there should be a separate “new media” department. Internally, that would mean another department competing for budget and for leadership in forming and executing communications strategies. As I’ve said before, the Web is a collection of exciting tools. It doesn’t change the need for a centralized, well-developed communications and messaging strategy. You can only have one of those.

Of course, for the agency world, I can see where this creates an opportunity. Everybody who works for an agency of any kind lately has tried to sell me on their social media and SEM prowess. Enough already! From my seat, it means another point of entry for agencies to pitch ideas that conflict with our current communications strategies and another way they can bill for additional time.  Many of the agencies I’ve worked with over the years haven’t needed the creation of a new media department to come up with new ideas to spend my meager budget. I can see coming to a meeting with a representative of my PR agency (if I ever get one again), my marketing folks walking in with reps of their agencies and –under this new model– the new media guys coming in with their agency or agencies. We’ll need to rent a hotel ballroom just for the meeting!

New media should be breaking down silos and not creating new ones. That doesn’t mean our budgets should be shrinking (although this economy is causing that to happen anyway) because we’re using Web tools. I can see where we would need additional resources to monitor and craft a solid presence. And I hope I can turn to a trusted and dedicated account manager for help in accomplishing that.  Unfortunately, I have this vision of agency bookkeepers salivating at the billing possibilities created by the opportunity to send in a separate Internet marketing team. It makes me squirm.

I’m curious: How are companies handling their new media efforts? Are you setting up separate departments? Hiring an internal specialist or an agency? Handling it yourself and letting something else drop between the cracks?

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