Social Media Marketing Debate: Ad Shops School PR in Cannes, But PR Still Rules Social Media

Bryan W. Alaspa

Bryan W. Alaspa, Client Services Manager/Social Media, K Squared Communications

As reported by Ad Age and multiple sources, ad agencies and creative shops cleaned house in the PR category at the Cannes Lions Festival this past week. Not only were 80% of the entries in the category from the world of advertising—but creative shops were especially strong in the “Best Use of Social Media’ and Best Integrated Campaign Led by PR” categories.

Despite this … PR is better at leveraging social media and truly integrated programs than ad agencies.

Let me explain: There is a fundamental difference between the way a public relations person thinks and the way an ad agency person thinks, even though the intended end result is often the same. In PR, we think about communicating a message in a subtle way, often using things like by-lined articles and press releases (in the good-ol’ days) that were not necessarily advertorial. The point was to convey the message and get the press to pick up the story and do the selling for us. In advertising, well, the point is to shout the message loudly, quickly and in a catchy way right into the intended customer’s face.  Billboards, print ads, commercials and the like are less about being subtle and more about being loud to be heard over the din of all the other ads.

In the world of social media, the blatant advertiser is often ignored. Those who push Facebook campaigns and do nothing but promote their own goods are un-friended almost immediately. The point of social media is to convey a message, interact and engage in conversation. In advertising, it’s traditionally more of a monologue than a dialog.

I often coach clients about Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogging. They all want to know how they can turn those social networks into advertising goldmines. I immediately tell them to think about it another way: Social media is not about advertising, it’s about networking. It’s the meeting on the golf course, or the lunch meeting, in the modern age.

I also tell clients to manage their expectations. Just because they create a Facebook page or write a single blog post does not mean that, suddenly, customers will be beating a path to their door. Social media requires a cumulative effort. One post will not do it, but many will. The entire audience for social media is different than those who watch television.

It’s not always an easy transition. If it appears to look like print, then the same thoughts about print advertising often try to sneak in. It’s often the same problem you run into when you get a by-lined article opportunity for a client. They immediately want to start touting all of their companies’ benefits, and you have to manage their expectations and tell them that it’s best not to even mention their company name, except in the author bio at the bottom of the page.

It’s the difference between shouting what you want into someone’s face and whispering it quietly in their ear. Too often, clients wanting more traditional PR think a single press release will mean their phones will start ringing off the hook. They often get frustrated when you tell them that PR takes a bit longer, often moves a bit slower, and usually has a cumulative effect. Just like a “conversation.”

As such, social media just seems tailor-made for PR experts. It’s more about being subtle and getting out the message without shouting or seeming like there is a message being delivered at all. I think the world of advertising is trying to figure that out, but they have lots of years of different mindsets to change first.


Bryan W. Alaspa is a client services manager/social media lead at K Squared Communications in Chicago.  He is also a self-published author, writer and journalist.



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  2. Brittany on June 30, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I used to always think that the marketing department should owned social media but when you take a deeper look at the principles behind PR – they go hand in hand with those of social media. Social media is all about real-time updates and viral messaging and PR is able to deliver that.

    If you take the stand that social media should be owned by marketing then you take the risk that your audience will start ignoring your brand posts and “ad like” images.

    I work with my clients’ PR and marketing departments together on all of my social campaigns and it has proven to be a success for me. I don’t believe it would work with just marketing alone.

    At the end of the day…marketing makes your messages pretty – PR get the eyeballs to your message!