There’s a massive collision happening right now, a violent convergence of ideas and business models that’s changing the agency world almost overnight. And while it is one hell of a mess, it’s also a tremendous opportunity for those smart enough to recognize how agencies are being reshaped, and what that opens up.
That’s the gist of a presentation I gave to a couple student classes and groups at Elon University in Burlington, North Carolina two weeks ago. A short version is available on Slideshare, and is embedded immediately below.
The basic idea behind the collision is this: as the media world radically shifts thanks to the rise in digital and in particular the emergence of social media as a consumer-driven force, smart marketers are starting to shift their budgets to align with the new reality. Agencies of all stripes – from advertising and creative to PR, Media, Digital, DM and on – are in turn chasing those dollars.
As a result we find PR agencies with fully baked in-house digital shops, and formerly TV-heavy ad agencies with more full-time social media strategists than the largest digital group. We find a surge in acquisitions of speciality social media agencies, who find themselves by foresight or happy accident sitting square in the most lucrative sweet spot.
From a client-side marketer’s perspective, things are both wildly confusing – “why is my PR agency pitching their HTML5 expertise again?” – and loaded with choice, variety, and cost pressures working in their favor. They might put out an RFP for a social media campaign, and wind up with a final pitch group consisting of a niche social agency, a full-service (and large) digital agency, and a global PR agency’s digital group squaring off against their own current advertising agency-of-record.
What’s stressful for the agency new biz guys is heaven for the clients.
All this is radically reshaping the agency world, as traditional lines between agency specialities are blurring. For smart, digitally- and socially-savvy aspiring employees like those I met with at Elon, the opportunities this chaos creates are endless. The market for their skills has grown dramatically, and no longer are they locked into traditional career paths (“oh, she’s an ad creative”).
Their expertise, as it grows, has the potential to be attractive to every type of agency that’s chasing those digital and social client budgets. Which is to say, every agency that intends to survive past the next 5 years or so.
The next 12-24 months in my view will see this collision in the digital and social center accelerate, amplifying both the confusion and opportunity I mentioned above. Should be fun.
When you live and breathe social media both out of personal passion and because it’s part of your day job, it’s very easy to become far too casual about “liking” and sharing. After all, it might no just be your friends who are paying attention.
Last week in AdAge’s Small Agency Diary, Greg Straface of PJA Advertising penned a few words of warning on the topic that I thought were worth expanding on:
Social media has been invaluable for zeroing in on client prospects. But be careful. The same social activity that gets you in the door or gives you pitch-worthy insights could be giving inside information to your competitors.
From personal experience, you’d be amazed at how often this sort of thing happens. It’s a small industry, and after you run a few new business pitches you quickly get a feel for who your primary competitors are. Spend any amount of time on Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, or Facebook and you’ll see many of them openly checking-in at the same company you just walked out of an RFP pitch with, or tweeting about how they just landed at the nearby airport in time for “a big meeting.”
Greg mentions some of the most common practices: connecting with your prospective clients via LinkedIn before the pitch is done, checking in at the client site, and so on.
By far though, the most insiduous inadvertent competitive research tool is the Facebook Like button. When you’re pitching digital or social to clients, of course you’re going to check out their Facebook presence and those of key competitors or peers, and more often than not the good content or porgramming is parked behind a fan-gate. It’s all too easy to get in the lazy habit of hitting those like buttons continually, without considering just how ridiculously well that activity can telegraph who and what you’re checking out in a business context.
Being too liberal with Likes in the name of research also has the often amusing byproduct of truly messing up your social profile in ways that render your data useless for ad targeters, and occasionally prompts some strange reactions from your friends (“Umm, why did you just like a lingerie brand, kids TV show, cruise line, and imported beer in a 5 minute stretch? What do you DO all day where you work?”).
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Spy vs. Spy stuff, and even if you know another specific agency is part of an RFP there’s only so much you can (typically) do with that knowledge. But it is a ruthless business, so pay a bit more attention to your use of all those Like buttons, LinkedIn connections, geo-tagged tweets, and Places checkins – after all, your competitors likely are.
Part of my day job involves connecting with other agencies to explore potential partnerships, and as a result I see a lot of agency websites. While most, including our own, following a proven yet fairly standard structure and layout, every now and then I come across agencies who are deliberately throwing out the rulebook and trying something radically new.
Here are two that impress, and at the very least got me thinking. I may have quibbles with usability, but it’s hard to argue with their daring and originality.
A Charlotte, NC firm that build their entire site in a series of papercraft and sketch animation-style videos hosted on YouTube. They got a bunch of coverage back in June, but I stumbled across them again this weekend. Navigation can be a bit tough to get used to, but definitely unique, and why not just outright embed your whole site on the world’s most popular video sharing network?
I love the idea – showcase your agency largely by showcasing how the rest of the world sees you, through social links (Twitter, delicious, YouTube, etc), and then have your old site, minus the blog, essentially just be a navigation overlay on top of a SERP. Neat trick, though it broke at least a couple times when I tried to access it.
Both are a nice change from the Flash-bonanzas that still pass for most agency sites these days. Are there any other truly unique or inventive agency sites you’ve come across?
Has social media become so mainstream as a marketing/PR tool that it has lost the excitement of being shiny and new? Are the early adopters really starting to move on to newer and “shinier” things?
Perhaps – but I happen to think that now is the time when social media marketing will truly thrive and the really interesting stuff is just starting to appear.
So what do I mean by “shiny and new?”
There’s an interesting trend you’ll find in some slices of the marketing profession: Shiny New Thing Syndrome. It’s not something I’m going to bag on, because it can be fantastic, rewarding, even necessary. For all the many marketers and PR professionals that seem to be lagging adopters of new tools and concepts like social media, there’s a far more visible group that is laser-focused on being out in front, spotting the new trends, and leading change.
When that new stuff goes mainstream, their attention shifts to whatever’s next on the horizon while the rest of the industry settles down to developing best practices, refining tactics, and so on. In short, they are focused on whatever is shiny and new, and when the shine wears off, so does their interest.
I was inspired to write about this as Tac Anderson makes this point in a post discussing what happens “When Social Media Stops Being Shiny“:
Social media has made the big time. We’ve crossed the chasm, we’re mainstream, people are finally taking us seriously. We were right and they were wrong…
Every trend, even really big ones like social media, hit point where in order to be sustained the early adopters have to step out of the way and let people who don’t get easily distracted manage processes and create best practices. Things early adopters aren’t typically that good at.
I agree that for the most part, social media has crossed the chasm. It’s almost impossible to find a marketing, ad, or PR campaign that *doesn’t* include a social media element to it. User submitted content contests, “like” buttons, Facebook tab promos, etc are basically everywhere – many well planned and executed, many not.
From the early adopter standpoint, the point isn’t in if the medium has been perfected (far from it), but that it has simply gone mainstream. They are off to the next shiny, which in all likelihood sits somewhere between your smartphone and a cloud. It reminds me when blogging suddenly became passe, and Twitter all the rage.
Given all that, back to my opening point…
Personally, while I *love* the shiny and new, I also think that some of the most exciting stuff is yet to come in social media marketing.
Because there’s still a ton of experimentation happening that is well beyond the refinement of yesterday’s ideas. The discipline itself is professionalizing, and lots of incredibly smart people from diverse backgrounds are flooding into it. Big brands, having started to buy into social media as a viable marketing channel, are increasingly willing to bet bigger dollars on it. The tools and networks we use are continuing to grow and evolve at ever faster rates.
Also, the concept of social media marketing is itself extending outwards to embrace the shiny and new, as we can see with campaigns built around Foursquare, SCVNGR, and (soon) Facebook Places and those mixing mobile ads with social calls-to-action.
Throw it all together in one big, creative pot and all signs point to some pretty amazing things on the horizon for social media marketing. I love reading the thoughts of those who dive headlong into the shiny and new – as I myself do fairly constantly – but I’m also looking forward to seeing how social media marketing is going to mature now that some serious talent and resources are being focused on it. Good times ahead.
Photo by marfis75 on Flickr via CC License