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Is the PR industry beginning to walk the walk in social media?

September 17th, 2009 by Lloyd Gofton

This week has been a very interesting one. Among a number of realisations that have hit me, has been the real sense that digital skills are finally being taken seriously and valued by the PR industry.

You might say this has been taking place for some time, and you would be right in many sectors, but in terms of digital creeping up the agenda for the PR industry as a whole, and being invested in, it’s been a slow and frustrating process.

So what has changed? Well, there have been a number of ongoing conversations around the importance of social media and understanding the digital landscape this week. For example, PR Week published the findings from research by the Oriella PR Network’s European Digital Journalism Survey 2009, which shows that: ‘the digital revolution in the media has created more opportunities for PR professionals. Specifically, of the 354 journalists that were polled for the survey, 40 per cent said they were expected to produce more content and almost 29 per cent had less time to research stories in person.

The poll also found that many of the journalists surveyed said that the impact of digital had changed journalism for the better. Nearly 40 per cent of respondents said that the quality of their organisation’s journalism was ‘better’ or ‘much better’ than before and only 20 per cent felt it had declined.’

So knowledge of digital is an essential part of any PRs tool kit.

Furthermore, the recent Digital Readiness report, which Jason Falls originally blogged about last month and Fiona Mackenzie, overviewed this week, looks at the strategic and tactical digital communications skills that employers are seeking from public relations and marketing job candidates. This is a report dedicated to getting PRs skilled up in digital and social media.

Perhaps the most telling piece that brought me to my conclusion was the post that Adam Singer posted on Top Rank Blog, which was later reworked by Lee Odden on Brian Solis’s Blog. This looked at the skills and capabilities that are needed to succeed in a digital environment and the questions that brands should be putting to their PR and marketing partners to make sure they can deliver.

All of these posts have excellent and insightful comment that I agree with, it’s very positive to have so much emphasis placed on real social and digital understanding and skills, and the abilities of agencies to deliver on these skills. Moving away from just saying ‘we do social media’ or hiring in one individual responsible for social media across the agency, but going beyond the offering and looking at the practical implementation of services and the importance of SEO and web development skills.

You might say that Brian Solis and Lee Odden talking about the importance of social media is no surprise, they have been doing that for years, but what interested me is the depth of investigation and conclusions that are wide ranging and go beyond the social media evangelists alone.

We’ve all seen a dramatic rise in the number of agencies and ‘specialists’ offering social media services over the last few years, and assuming these people are putting the work into understanding their environment, including the basics of search and web development then it’s a positive move indeed. However, we’ve also seen a lot of agencies talking the talk but not walking the walk.

For example, A few months ago we were invited to pitch by a brand that was looking to change their PR partner. When I asked why the brand was looking for a change their answer was simple: The incumbent agency had done a great job to date and achieved excellent traditional PR results, but the brand wanted to step up its focus online and needed an agency that could deliver social media services, something their existing partner could not do. This seemed straight forward enough, but I had already looked at the existing PR partner’s website before the meeting and smack bang in the centre of the home page was a big push on their social media offering. So why the disconnect? Had the agency forgotten to tell their client about their services, or was it a case that the reality was very different to the promise?

So, I support the discussion around skills and implementation, I welcome brands being forearmed with specifics to reference in a meeting scenario with agencies because I hope this will truly show the PR industry the importance of not just advertising social media services, but actually having the skills to back it up.

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