Social Business, Social Media Strategy

Should Your PR Firm Be Your Social Business Advisor

The folks at Edelman announced today that they have “Launched Social Business Planning to Help Organizations Create Business Value in a Connected World.”

Amongst the big thinkers, social business is elbowing out social media as the business cause celebre. I even co-wrote a book called The NOW Revolution that is in part devoted to the social business transformation. It’s a very complex issue, but generally the intellectual moorings of social business are:

  • Social is inextricably tied to corporate culture and business structure.
  • Social is about more than marketing, it impacts every corner of the organization.
  • The dividends from being a social organization are just as important internally as they are externally.

I’m all for social business. I believe in it. I chronicle it when I see it. I weigh in on it for my clients on an ad hoc basis. But I don’t provide social business consulting, for two reasons.

First, I don’t think I’m qualified. Despite the fact that I’ve owned five companies and worked with hundreds of brands since 1994, I am not a business management consultant, and do not have the finance and operations credentials (in my estimation) to go there.

Second, I don’t think my clients (many of whom are large companies) want to take complex, transformational, years-to-go-before-we-get-there, this changes everything, reorganize all your people counsel from their social and digital marketing consultant (even a very good one, if I may be so bold).

And that’s the question. Do companies want incredibly serious business advice that impacts the core of their existence from their PR firm? 

I know many of the people in the social business practice at Edelman. They uniformly strike me as a smart bunch. But even though they’ve rolled out an “Edelman Consulting” brand as their business advising division, they are still marketers and social scientists at heart. I looked at the Linkedin profiles of the 8 team members listed in Edelman slide deck about social business released alongside their announcement.

Here are the degrees and first jobs of each:

  • BS Journalism | MS Communications Management | Staff Writer
  • BS Computer Engineering | Management Consultant
  • BA Political Science | MAP Political Science | Manager of Research
  • BS Advertising | MBA Direct Marketing | VP of Marketing
  • BA Business | MS Integrated Marketing Communications | SEO Manager
  • BA Political Science | Vice President, Public Affairs
  • BA Secondary Education | MA Sociology | Event Manager

Even David Armano – who leads all social/digital globally for Edelman, and is by all accounts a sharp guy – is a graphic designer and creative director by trade and training.

A key point about social business is that it’s not all about marketing but about the entire enterprise (as illustrated on this excerpt from the Edelman slides). If that’s the case, does it makes sense to have a group comprised almost entirely of marketers (and almost entirely devoid of degreed business experts) leading the charge?

If you’re a major corporation that’s convinced you need to make some serious changes to prosper in a rapidly shifting future, do you turn to your PR firm, do you turn to a legacy management consulting firm (Bain, Accenture, McKinsey, Deloitte, et al), or do you turn to one of the new breed of specialist firms (Altimeter, Dachis, et al)?

In Edelman’s case, they have laid a lot of groundwork in the past two years, and have the personnel and the client base to make this work. I think they’ll succeed in re-positioning the firm, and certainly it’s a lot easier to generate project and retainer revenue for your agency when you’re having transformative, long-term conversations with the C-Suite about social business. This move elevates them in the vendor hierarchy.

But what about the other shoe? What happens when second, third, and fourth-tier PR firms, digital agencies, and other flavors of marketing-oriented professional services firm decide that social business is the new ticket to revenue generation and credibility?

Will companies take serious business advice from their agency? Is Edelman the exception that proves the rule, or just the first group to have the unabashed cojones to crash the party?

Facebook Comments


  1. AbbieF says

    Interesting post…had to read it a couple times. Edelman is certainly a big player, they can re-brand their business on a regular basis. As one of the other tiered agencies you refer to, we certainly are looking for ways to increase revenue…who isn’t? We want a seat at the table when converations are happening about business strategy. Should we be the only advisor in the room, I would hope not. We offer a perspective that should be considered. But so do the other consultant-type firms that you mention. Smart business – big or small – should recognize that can be a valued partner.

    • says

      @AbbieF Thanks Abbie. I appreciate the smart thinking as always. I certainly do not know what the answer is, or how the market for these type of services will shake out. What I believe, however, is that if we preach that social business isn’t about marketing (or is about more than marketing) we probably need non-marketers at that table. Otherwise, the whole thing appears a tad disingenuous.

  2. tdhurst says

    I’d be looking for more sociologists and psychologists myself. Isn’t social about how people interact with themselves or each other?

    Not that a biz degree wouldn’t be valuable in this case.

    Edelman is simply offering a service they know they can sell. Corporations have a lot of money they feel compelled to spend and Edelman is likely to be approved.

    • says

      @tdhurst True Tyler. And in practice, Edelman has already been doing this work. They are just making it official now. I like your angle on sociologists and psychologists. Interesting.

  3. Britopian says

    Jay — ah, now I see why you were reviewing my LinkedIn profile. You bring up a lot of good questions for sure. I wonder what an analysis of Altimeter’s or Dachis’s educational background would entail? Have you looked?

    Not sure that educational background is enough criteria to support your hypothesis though. Truth is, and as someone mentioned in the comments, we have been doing this for quite sometime with clients. I worked in the enterprise for some really large organizations and guess who has the CEO’s ear? PR, yes and even though I have never performed any “PR” related job functions, many PR people are super smart, understand business, change, etc.

    But then again, this comes from a guy with a marketing degree.

    • says

      @Britopian Hey Mike. Yes, I did look at some Dachis and Altimeter folks. Definitely some marketers there (Brian Solis, Jeremiah Owyang). But also some with more classic business consulting backgrounds (Charlene Li, Peter Kim).

      I know what you’re saying about educational background. It’s really a straw man argument for purposes of the post. I wasn’t trying to diminish Edelman, and I hope it didn’t come off that way. My point is that the premise of social business is that it’s not about marketing, yet most of the practitioners (to date) are marketers.

      And then the other question is that does the historical positioning of PR firms allow them to elevate to this level of business consulting, or is Edelman alone (or mostly so) in that capability. Certainly, you’ve invested in the personnel far beyond nearly any other agency (PR, advertising, or otherwise). Time will tell whether others from outside the management or boutique specialty ranks try to grab a piece of this pie.

      As to PR people, of course they are really smart, etc. That’s why they’re able to make a living in a crazy business, where success is partially determined by other people over whom they have little control. In fact, the majority of my clients are PR firms, which is why this issue resonated with me so much.

      • Britopian says

        @JayBaer didn’t take it that way at all sir. I value your opinion and you ask some really good questions in the post. Thanks for driving the conversation around this.

  4. says

    PR firms acting as social business consultants is a recipe for screwing the pooch. They lack the business acumen and technology to develop a sound strategy, implement a change management program or integrate technology in any meaningful way. If companies seek social business counsel there, they will be overcharged and underdelivered.It takes true enterprise consulting skills and a deep technology bench to make this transformation pay off. The vendors with the most to gain (i.e., salesforce, et. al) have a constellation of third party consultants who’ve been there and done that. If you can afford it, why not go with an organization that has the experience and skill set to identify which parts of a business stand the most to gain and act accordingly.

    I’m afraid the end result of PR firms pursuing this business with be the further denigration of the “social guru.” Know what I mean?

    • says

      @Mike McGrath Hi Mike. Indeed, that denigration is what I ultimately fear. In Edelman’s defense, they have a pretty serious and deep team over there. It may not be a classic business consulting team from a background perspective, but as @Britopian mentions below, they have some experienced practitioners. I just wonder what happens when the “me too” starts among firms with far less capability than Edelman?

      • says

        @JayBaer@Britopian Agreed, I should know more about Edelman’s ability to set strategy, vet vendors, manage change and integrate solutions. As I suggested to Michael via Twitter, I’d rather see Edelman partner with my old employer, Sapient or another tech-heavy consultancy. Sorry for the phrasing. I don’t get to use screw the pooch very often. I’m just hoping that companies don’t get burned by second and third tier players and then get turned off to anything social. Makes it harder for the rest of us.

  5. says

    Great post, Jay. Sadly, I can tell you from personal experience that some of those second-tier agencies are already trying to pull of this masquerade.

  6. peterkim1 says

    I think both experience and education matter, as evidenced by how we built Dachis Group early on. Jeff co-founded Razorfish. I had been a strategy consultant, brand marketer, business manager, and industry analyst. Kate Niederhoffer, employee #3, has a PhD in social psychology and came to us from Nielsen Buzzmetrics. David was part of the company and brought graphic design and digital thinking. Jevon MacDonald brought us Enterprise 2.0 / IT depth. It was this team that created the concept of “social business” that has become commonplace today – naturally it took a broad cross-section of backgrounds to invent something that complex.

    My company has evolved quite a bit from those early days and today over 250 people offer a diverse range of backgrounds and skill sets. I can’t speak directly to Edelman’s new offering, but I can see how the work of Dachis and Altimeter has inspired their new offering. In that sense, it seems distinctly different from a traditional PR set of services – but given that we are even having this discussion, it seems that the group’s biggest challenge will be leveraging a great asset (the Edelman brand) to overcome a potential challenge (preconceived notions of PR firms). Michael and David note that they’re already doing this work, so perhaps it’s a moot point, only to be debated by “the industry” while we all keep on doing what we’re all already doing.

    • says

      @peterkim1 Well said as always Pete, and thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree that the crux of the issue is whether Edelman (and potentially, others from a legacy PR background) can successfully reposition and redefine their role with current and future clients. Part of that of course is having the talent to do it. Part of it is having the track record. But part of it is the perception of what PR (and marketing services in general) can do for a company. And that’s the element that will be fascinating to watch in the coming months and years.

  7. says

    It’s already been happening (second, third, fourth, and sixty thousandth tier). We’ll definitely see more of a shift in the social direction, especially once brands (and agencies) start realizing how much influence it will have on search… and later… apps like Siri.

    Problem with PR folks is that they tend to be fairly close minded (at least in my experience), where they believe in straight up “earned media” and bash marketing / advertising to no end. While they ARE the best positioned to take advantage of social… they’ll miss the boat with purist and uncompromising attitudes.

    It’s also interesting to say that it’s not the folks with a business pedigree who are making waves in social… but rather those who HAVE social, psychology or behavioural background.

    – Ernest.

  8. says

    t’s already been happening (second, third, fourth, and sixty thousandth tier). We’ll definitely see more of a shift in the social direction, especially once brands (and agencies) start realizing how much influence it will have on search… and later… apps like Siri.

    Problem with PR folks is that they tend to be fairly close minded (at least in my experience), where they believe in straight up “earned media” and bash marketing / advertising to no end. While they ARE the best positioned to take advantage of social… they’ll miss the boat with purist and uncompromising attitudes.

    It’s also interesting to say that it’s not the folks with a business pedigree who are making waves in social… but rather those who HAVE social, psychology or behavioural background.

    – Ernest.

  9. armano says

    So is the question who is qualified to conduct social business? Where did Scott Monty get his qualifications—does someone who comes from a marketing background have a right to lead social initiatives at one of the world’s most prominent auto brands? As Peter noted, Jeff Dachis founded Razorfish—a digital agency (who by the way understood how to solve complex problems). Altimeter employs folks from diverse backgrounds including marketing and PR (Brian Solis). Of course backgrounds matter, but the issue around what firm has the “right” is irrelevant. It’s not the firm—it’s the people (as you’ve outlined here) and we have some of the best with real world experience leading social efforts from companies like Intel and H&R Block and yes, even business/IT consulting from places like Gartner. I’m sure that many people watching this space who aren’t currently employed at places like McKinsey are saying to themselves “what’s the fuss—we’re doing this work now”. If we’re going to put a spotlight in the professional services arena it should be to ask why the consultancies haven’t made more of concerted effort other than to produce research.

    Aside from some of the shops mentioned in this thread, IBM is the only one who comes to mind who has at least made a serious leadership effort recently. And to Pete’s point—Dachis Group was one of the first to get the conversation started. BUT…None of this really matters. The issue on the table is disruption and opportunity. Some companies will decide they need external help and others won’t. If I was a decision maker on the “client side” I would want a professional partner who lived and breathed this space over one who knew how to work excel spreadsheets. I do think it comes down to this in the end.

    • says

      @armano It’s about stitching together the enterprise with tools that leverage social data. Salesforce has a vision and they’re on an acquisition tear that will make them more formidable than they are today: isn’t a professional services organization. They rely on their partners for that. The social wave is not unlike the CMS or ERP waves in the past. It’s a BIG job and with any luck this vein can be mined for a decade, at least.

    • says

      @armano It’s about stitching together the enterprise with tools that leverage social data. Salesforce has a vision and they’re on an acquisition tear that will make them more formidable than they are today:

      Salesforce isn’t a professional services organization. They rely on their partners for that. The social wave is not unlike the CMS or ERP waves in the past. It’s a BIG job and with any luck this vein can be mined for a decade, at least.

    • says

      @armano I don’t think it’s about who’s “qualified” because that’s a call every company has to make for themselves when they choose to retain outside counsel or not. But I do wonder whether PR as an industry will be able to make this move, or if you guys are alone in that capability. Although from what I’ve seen lately from Wag Ed, they are heading that way too.

      i also believe that if we’re serious that social business is about all corners of the enterprise, the best firms will have the most well-rounded teams that extend beyond marketing roots. Not just MBAs, but customer experience specialists in the mold of Frank Eliason. Social psychologists. HR pros. The lack of legal expertise among the current practitioners of social business is interesting too. Perhaps not relevant today, but I’d wager it will be eventually.

      In the case of Scott Monty, he of course has a marketing background, but his original field was health, and he has a MBA in health science. I would also argue (perhaps incorrectly, as I don’t work with Ford) that while indeed Scott leads social initiatives there, many of their big wins have been on the marketing side, and less on the internally facing social business principles that you espouse and hope to charge people to implement via this new venture.

      • says

        @JayBaer@armano What you also have to keep in mind as well, especially with the larger organizations (like Ford, RIM, etc), is that many of their wins comes from external agency expertise, not the leads themselves at the company. So the expertise question does come into play in that respect.

      • says

        @JayBaer@armano One important thing to note is that those external wins act as something of a red carpet internally, as they publicly demonstrate the effectiveness of such actions. When employees see the results and get excited about it, it becomes much easier to sell through internally than without those examples.

        As someone who presented the importance of creating a social business to Ford’s entire executive team (without an external agency, thank you very much@DannyBrown ) and who completely converted our CFO from skeptic to champion, I can tell you that it takes vision, relationship building and a keen understanding of the organization and its culture to make that happen. Can that come from a PR agency? Sure, but it can’t be just a traditional agency. Can it come from the marketing agency or a management consulting firm? Absolutely. But all of the above holds true.

        And Jay is correct, David: I did come to this role with an MBA – something that was required for the job. I’ve always said that this isn’t a matter of understanding the technical minutiae; it’s about understanding business strategy and culture. The fact that our chief communications officer reports directly to the CEO should give outsiders a sense as to how important it is to have Communications as strategic advisors to the business at Ford and how we need more than just PR experience to be effective.

        • says

          @ScottMonty@armano@DannyBrown Thanks so much for jumping in Scott. I think you nailed it. Social business is about culture and change management. We’ll all agree on that. Sometimes that can come from within, and ideally it probably should. In reality, however, most internal champions don’t have the stick to make it happen without external forces leading or at least saying “yeah, he/she is right.”

          So, if for no other reason than to ratify internal thinking, most companies will have some type of outside counsel re: social business, the same way they have outside attorneys to augment in-house attorneys.

          As Scott says, can PR do it? Sure. But I don’t think just any PR firm can do it, as I’ve tried to articulate. And I believe that those that can make the leap are going to need to do so in a truly multi-disciplinary way that isn’t reality in most of today’s marketing-oriented social business teams. Yet.

        • says

          @ScottMonty@JayBaer@armano Hi Scott,

          I’m not doubting your lead in the wins (in case that’s the inference you got) – I was just mentioning that many come from the creative expertise of external channels.

          So even though Ford or RIM (who we worked on and provided an award-winning campaign for the launch of the Bold 9700 in the US) gains the plaudits, it’s often the agecny behind the campaign that brings much of the smarts to the table.

          Which, for Jay’s piece, shows that agencies have the skills – they may just not be able to highlight, due to NDA’s.

  10. DanielLally says

    @armano Semantics. Substitute “social media” with “telephone.” Technology changes. People … notsomuch

  11. says

    Adding a little business experience into a PR firm is not that hard to do and would create a very dynamic one stop shop for business reinvention to achieve levels of integration that was unimaginable even just a short time ago.

      • says

        @JayBaer Even though I spend more time with cows than people I am thoroughly intrigued by the endless possibilities Social can add to Business. The movement from adding a Social Layer to Business thought process and progressing to the weaving of Social into all other layers of business is similar to many other revolutions and might eventually be written about in the history books much like the Industrial Revolution is today.

  12. JustinMalvin says

    @Britopian @BeyondViral gets it. Would put our team against ANYBODY for custom SM solutions. Whole campaigns, no. Afterburners, hell yes!

  13. says

    I’m not a great believer in a company’s social media being completely separate to the companies employees because the most passionate people about your company and the subjects surrounding it are the people in the business, it’s better to have a strategy that has a mixture of the PR influence and staff involvement – what do you think?

      • says


        Yes, and if the company uses a good social media tool that can be collaborative used, where tweets can be allocated to members of staff that are passionate about that part of the business, it can pack allot of punches from a social media point of view

  14. mikekuczkowski says

    hi gang,

    great question, thanks for the interest in the topic. happy to give a bit more background later, but I just want to address the notion that edelman is not a strategy consulting firm. edelman is, indeed, a PR firm, but this effort is a partnership between our digital team and our newly formed consulting business unit (which I lead). edelman consulting is a strategy shop comprised of veterans from McKinsey and other strategy consulting firms, solving problems (like this one) at the intersection of marketing, communications and strategy. we will bring that kind of thinking, analysis, rigor or experience you describe to the table in this space. as the release noted, we have an ex-CTO and ex-CMO and other folks with operating and strategy backgrounds engaged in this effort, to round out the offer and offer something truly different.

    In this case, I’d argue that the PR background and perspective we bring from our PR company roots is what will help us dimensionalize this beyond the current offerings in the space.

    look forward to more discussion, should be an exciting ride to see how this all shakes out.

    • says

      @mikekuczkowski Thanks Mike. That’s a really interesting perspective, that the PR acumen is what makes Edelman different/better than Bain, McKinsey, et al. I really hadn’t thought about it that way, and I appreciate your input and applaud what you’re trying to accomplish over there.

  15. says

    Hi Jay – interesting discussion you’ve kicked off here. I moved, 18 months ago, to Edelman from one of the Dachis group companies. Why? Based on observations made during my twelve or so year career in digital media and twenty five years participation in what used to be called online communities, I recognised that those with the skills to bring internal and external stakeholders – staff, customers, investors, etc – closer to each other and business critical processes were most often found within the marketing or communications function of a company or organisation. I wanted to work more closely with the people at that focal point.

    People who work in communications and marketing frequently work across functions, departments and divisions, and through their work often engage directly with external stakeholders and customers. This makes them the natural (but not only) starting point for a successful social business strategy – and gives Edelman an edge in terms of both opportunity and understanding.

    I agree with the point made above that about a background in social science being a useful for any would be social business strategist. In addition to the BA in Secondary Education mentioned in Jay’s post (I’m one of the people listed in the Edelman release), I also hold an MA in Sociology, MPhil in Communication Studies and a Post Graduate in Law, and have published over half a dozen academic articles about social behaviour in digital environments. This background prepared me well for what I do every day – ask questions, gather and analyse insights, and turn that data into strategies to create meaningful participatory frameworks that align participation through digital platforms with measurable movement towards meeting business objectives.

    I find it a challenge to silo exactly what my job is – and quite frankly, don’t care if people think I’m in PR, social business, digital strategy, or whatever. Thankfully, so far, clients and potential clients haven’t been too concerned either. And that’s the key here – the name or sector of the company you work for is far less important to the success of social business strategies than the abilities of a team with a mixture of skills and experiences to deliver.

    • says

      @Cybersoc Thanks very much for weighing in. Indeed, I find that most people who are in this gumbo right now aren’t necessarily able to articulate their job function. For now, that’s probably a good thing, as we’re all totally making this up as we go along. Eventually, we’ll need to codify this whole show, and at least Edelman has committed to helping to make that happen.

  16. flt3 says

    Interesting post. I’m not really a believer that a lot of business consultants really grasp a business before making recommendations (having seen them in action when I worked at companies they “helped.” I agree with others that it is about the people, not their degrees. I’m assuming the firm got other presentations, as well.

  17. pbehnia says

    Interesting post… On some level, it rather makes sense that a PR firm would also offer these types of services as traditional companies are magnets for silos and their restrictive thinking. Creating a symbiotic flow of communication for efficiencies would seem to be a good application of PR. My hope for Edelman is that they would either have strategic relationships withoutside consultants or create a team of business process consultants to manage some of the operational/financial pieces of change management and business transformation. There may be intent to create more efficiencies but without the ops/financials piece (where the rubber hits the road), Edelman’s impact may not go as far as desired.

    • says

      @pbehnia Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. It’s interesting because we are at such an early stage that “impact” is probably in the eye of the client. Certainly, Dachis/Altimeter/Edelman have put a flag in the ground as to what social business design consists of, but I dare say corporations are not fully clear on what to expect from those engagements just yet.

  18. SteveWoodruff says

    It all seems to boil down to this: can a company evolve, and outgrow its roots? I sure hope so – this is, after all, the NOW Revolution! Perhaps Edelman will be the test case. What I do fear is yet another buzzword to banter about. This is simply about business in a digitally-networked world. Otherwise called reality.

    • says

      @SteveWoodruff Thanks for the comment Steve. I would like to believe that “social business” is just the new business as usual. But in practice, it isn’t. Becoming social in all corners of the company requires (typically) real shifts in how you view your company internally and externally. Those shifts almost by definition require outside help, because employees are too close to the enterprise to fully appreciate the forest through the trees. The question really is “Who Ya Gonna Call?”

      • SteveWoodruff says

        @JayBaer The difficulty I’m having is with the term itself. To call something “social business” is to immediately put a limiter on it, and one that is distracting and inaccurate to boot. For instance, part of the revolution to a digitally networked world is that we will see the growing convergence of the Internet of people with the Internet of things (essentially, everyone and everything will be an IP address). “Social” may be an a relevant term for the way we’ve interacted person-to-person with our first-generation networking tools, but it is the wrong label for the integration of business processes, multi-media information, data-from-things, and people. THAT’s the big picture, and to sell the needed transformation to the C-Suite, we need to paint the mural in all of its breadth and color. “Social business” is too small a lens to look through (terminology wise).

        Who Ya Gonna Call? – to start, very smart people who see the future AND understand business. Wherever they can be found!

  19. Craig Daitch says

    My former colleague, Chris Boudreaux said it best in the November/December edition of Consulting Magazine. “The big [advertising and PR] agencies live and breathe media all day, every day, but they are challenged because achieving business outcomes through social media requires internal changes to business processes, systems integration, and organizational change management – and the agencies don’t know how to do these things.”

    And regarding consulting firms, Chris says, “Comapnies don’t need an army of consultants for implementations, so it’s hard for the larger consultancies to create offerings that generate significant revenue for them.”

    Did I mention that prior to joining Converseon, Chris was former Accenture?

    From the client side of the world, I can tell all of you with full confidence that I’m agnostic to what name is on the door of the company knocking on mine offering social business solutions. What I care about is who’s knocking and the experience they have in change management. If the perception of a CMO is that a PR agency shouldn’t be providing the level of organizational restructuring services necessary to develop real business outcomes through social media, then think about how you package your offering. Companies such as RAPP created Cultura – their cultural anthropology arm specifically designed to deflect any concerns over a direct marketing agency getting into the business of “people”.

    I’m rambling. I suggest reading the article I referenced Chris from.

    -Craig Daitch, Digital Communications, Ford Motor Company

    • says

      @Craig Daitch Thanks Craig. I’ll check out that article, and I’m interested in the positioning of Cultura. Wasn’t aware they were going that route at RAPP. Intriguing.

  20. says

    Great topic and conversation starter, mate.

    The biggest thing that stands out for me is whether this needed to be a “news release” at all? Reading the notes at the end of the release, where the outlined features are, then it’s something that any good business/practice is already doing, both internally and for their clients.

    Knowing many of the Edelman team, there are very smart folks there (looks like we’ll be working with the Toronto team imminently). Perhaps the “problem”, if you like, is that Edelman is still seen as a very traditional PR agency, while the product they’re talking about today falls within the digital field.

    By that definition, are Edelman possibly doing themselves a disservice by making it look like something they’re just starting to do, as opposed to something their teams have been doing for a while now?

    Interesting conversation, looking forward to seeing where it goes.

    • says

      @DannyBrown Thanks Danny. Are you guys working in social business design at present, or focused more on social media and less on the internal business workings? Just curious.

      • says

        @JayBaer It’s kinda a mix of both. Our beta offering is a social marketing platform for SMe’s, but our long-term model is a bigger stage thing, which really ties SM and social commerce to its natural progression. Scheduled for a Q2 release next year, would love you to have a look nearer the time if interested?

  21. says

    Not sure I entirely agree with the premise of the post, but certainly enjoyed reading the comments. Trying to pigeon-hole people by their academic background is a recipe for disaster, surely?

    The agencies/consultancies who are doing the best work in this area (Altimeter, Dachis/Headshift, Edelman, etc) are good because of the diversity of the people there, not the homogeneity of the people who work there.

    And are you being deliberately provocative by saying PR agencies will be rubbish at social business, or do you honestly believe it? If so, I think you’re underestimating the business consultancy (much of which derives from reputation management advice – which has always had to transcend internal business divisions) that the best PR consultancies (at least in the UK) are already offering?

    From my POV, the Edelman announcement was actually just a good publicity-generating tool – a means to package up the work that they (and others) have been doing in this space for some time now. People like @armano @Britopian and @Cybersoc are already well-respected by their peers in this space.

    Yes there will be rubbish ‘social business’ consultants, just as there are totally ridiculous self-proclaimed social media gurus in this space. But to suggest that PR agencies can’t perform in this space totally underestimates the work they’ve been doing already…

    • says

      @chris_reed@armano@Britopian@Cybersoc I don’t think I said that PR firms would be rubbish at social business. And I don’t necessarily believe that. But I do wonder whether companies will entrust legacy PR firms (Edelman and beyond) with these chores.

      Further, with regard to social business, my question is that if we keep saying it’s not about marketing, why are so many of the practitioners from a marketing background? I wasn’t using educational background to disparage the Edelman team in any way. I know most of them, and they are aces. But they are almost all marketers. Is that what is required for social business design?

      I’m not trying to take sides. I really do not know what will become of all of this, and I wanted to talk it out with smart people. I realize Edelman is already doing this work, and doing it well. But as I stated in the conclusion, does that mean that all PR firms are inherently capable of that? And should they aspire to provide those services? Saying that “Edelman and the best of the U.K. are already doing it” is a straw man argument in its purest form.

      • says

        @JayBaer Sorry, yes – re-reading your post, in light of this reply, especially the bits in bold make for a stronger narrative/argument.

        I reckon we’re starting to see a hybrid skillset developing. And those people may well be coming from a business-consultancy perspective, or a comms/marketing perspective. But certainly adopting bits of both.

        Either way they’ll make social business work when they can solve business problems, using effective (typically new) technologies to forge links in organisations between real people, not just between departments.

        Either way – a fine post which has kickstarted a lively discussion.

        • says

          @chris_reed Really interesting point Chris about a hybrid skill set. I wonder if Bain and McKinsey are hiring digital marketers and social media people to help them gain the marketing perspective they may not have in the concentration Edelman (and similar) possesses? Anyone have a handle on that? Perhaps chrisheuer is evidence of that?

    • chris_reed says

      @Britopian No worries. Keep up the fine work and keep the charlatans at bay… Happy holidays to you and yours…

  22. techguerilla says

    Interesting post Jay.

    In regards to the issue around degrees, first jobs, etc. Not sure that’s particularly relevant. The path of evolution is important since that forms the basis of relevant experience, but the starting point..whether single celled organism or something more fully formed…shouldn’t take away from the result. I have some of my deepest conversations in this area with Dave Gray, yet his original background would never stand the kind of scrutiny you’re putting forth for example. I came out of the technology arena early on before moving into high end consulting, facilitation and change management. Surely that doesn’t mean that my knowledge of business foundations is somehow ‘less’?

    The diversity of that evolution path is a bonus in my opinion. Armano, Peter Kim, Amber Naslund, Jeremiah Owyang, Dave Gray, etc. all view the world through a slightly different lens that informs and enhances my own.

    Can a PR firm successfully sell themselves as a Social Business consultancy? Probably not. Can they delineate an arm of themselves as being separate enough to do so while retaining the power of the existing brand? Yes, I think so. Predominantly because both sides of the fence can act as lead gen tools for the other vs. trying to do a massive separate branding exercise.

    My personal take is that clients are all over the map. Some want a pure play that acts as a one-stop shop (Dachis for example), some want a hybrid with a more diverse breadth of skills (Edelman possibly), some want pure play SB strategy without the perceived bias that comes with staffing ground level implementation folks, some want traditional strategy….you get the idea. There’s no such thing as a single ‘right answer’ here. Nor should there be. Client comfort with existing relationships, their own unique needs, the starting point of where Social Business is taking seed (rarely does it start at C-level, even though that would be ideal), etc. all can and do influence the best partner for a particular client.

    Just my .02 cents.


    Matt Ridings – techguerilla

    • says

      @techguerillatechguerilla As with my comment to Chris below, I think you’ve misread the post, my friend. I did not say (and do not believe) that the Edelman team or anyone else is somehow “less” or unqualified. But I do wonder why if we keep saying social business is about more than marketing, why the majority of its practitioners are from a marketing background (including to some degree, you and me)?

      And I agree that diversity of expertise and evolution path is terrific. Yet, I don’t think most firms really have that yet, because these social business practices are being spawned by marketers. Pete says in the comments below that Dachis is different in that regard. And they may well be.

      I concur that clients are all over the map, especially since they have no idea what they are buying, what it should cost, or what the outcomes might be. This is selling websites circa 1997, but with much higher stakes. Eventually, clients DO figure it out though, and that’s when there will be conventional wisdom re: who is best to turn to for this stuff.

      • techguerilla says

        @JayBaer Let me put it this way. Thought leadership is evolving to the same place, but from different fronts. It’s why there’s always disagreement between folks on trying to distinguish between Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business for example. I think the perception is slightly skewed simply because the circles which you have more visibility into happen to be more marketing oriented. ATOS, Cap Gemini, IBM, etc. all are pushing on this front (from their own perspective). From an application of resources and investment perspective I’d have to say they have as much skin in this game as anyone, they just aren’t as visible in the circles that grew out of social media and evolved beyond it. Now, as far as social media is concerned it has been predominantly a Marketing and PR movement. Those early practitioners have evolved and said “I see where this is going, and it’s beyond my current scope so I have a decision to make…”. Edelman is one example of that, as are others. Because they were housed in a firm interacting with marketers they happened to have some smart people who had moved beyond social media, thus a marketing oriented background. That doesn’t mean they don’t fully understand the implications and possible solutions. They may inherently have less experience with change management at that scale but that can be hired and/or developed.

        But one way to look at is to flip it on its head and say “Does IBM have as much experience with the external facing side of this beast as someone who came from that angle? If not, does that mean their proposed solutions will not be adequate because the implications were not taken into account?”

        • says

          @techguerilla @JayBaer As to your IBM question, yes. If they were providing externally-facing social business without marketing expertise, I would indeed look at it with a bit of a jaundiced eye. Integration is the key. Of process, and of expertise.

      • hospitalityfan says

        @JayBaer@techguerillatechguerilla Mr. Baer, really appreciate your insight regarding your own strengths and opportunities. All great leaders know what their strengths are and understand what they need to do in order to compensate if necessary!

        I could not agree more with your post! Anyone who has worked with the different functional areas (eg. Marketing, Finance, Ops, etc.) understands that at a basic level they operate very differently and many times unfortunately have different agendas.

        Whether “Your PR Firm Should be Your Social Media Advisor” seems most dependent on the outcome desired by leadership. Love the way you articulate your points!

  23. jaybaer says

    @armano Do you think that was the last good year for blogging? I’d say it was the last good year for comments.

  24. redslice says

    Great post, Jay. I’m enjoying the lively debate in the comments as well. My take:

    1) I feel many agencies within the larger marketing stratosphere take advantage of client confusion about specialities, and simply scream, “Yep, we can help with that, too.” Some of them indeed can do it all; most cannot. People are already confused about the different marketing disciplines and leading them astray by saying you can offer something because you know what the acronym stands for is irresponsible. Many clients have come to me saying, “My website developer said they could help me with branding and messaging and I paid a boatload for it and it’s horrible.” Not saying this is everyone’s experience, but there are a few bad apples.

    2) I agree that education does not imply expertise. Many people without the right degree are very skilled. You’re not saying that . I think your point is if social business does not just impact marketing, but the fundamental culture, operations and infrastructure, then shouldn’t those skills be present at the table as well?

    I’m sure Edelman’s folks are amazingly qualified, given their reputation. What I fear is this being one more encroachment that PR firms try to make – outside of their core competency – just to make money from the latest trends – off the back of a confused client who doesn’t know better.

  25. DaveKerpen says

    Interesting post, Jay and even better discussion! I’ve struggled with how to best approach social business consulting myself. Many of our @LikeableMedia clients have asked for it, and we’ve done what we can, mostly as value-added service. But I’ve felt our social media strategists, community managers, and social designers, as talented as they are at what they do, are simply not qualified for management consulting yet.

    Clearly the market is in need of social business consulting though, and whether Edelman, Dachis, IBM, McKinsey or others will best deliver that, well, the market will decide. It’s going to be an exciting few years to figure it out.

    • NathanRKing says

      @DaveKerpen@likeablemedia Great point – social strategists, community managers and other similar similar roles are not management consultants. For this to really work, does the management consultant need to expand their role to include social media? At the same time, can a social media strategist learn management consulting? Obviously, neither can just go take a few classes and jump right in. If the market is indeed geared up for social business consulting, maybe these business decisions need to happen through a select committee of both roles.

  26. NealSchaffer says

    Great thought-provoking post Jay. I have always thought that, since social permeates the entire organization, it would take someone who has managed organizations and worn many different hats to be able to do social business consulting because of this fact. I do believe that the problem with PR agencies going after social is that they are “bending the pipe” to make social fit their business offering. Same goes with SEO firms, web design firms, ad agencies, and the rest of them. Having a pre-existing relationship with their clients will help them get their foot in the door, but because social is not at the strategic core of their offerings, there are bound to be issues that will arise over time.

    The only way to provide social business consulting is to be completely dedicated to social, have a track record in social, and be able to truly speak to how social affects all of the different corporate disciplines. Impossible for one person or people from a singular discipline to do – but not impossible for a team who are experienced in social across all of the disciplines coming together to form a new kind of dedicated social media agency offering strategy consulting that we will see emerge in the not-too-distant future.

  27. chimoose says

    This is a great post, Jay, as evidenced by the thoughtful comments that span a number of different opinions. As someone who was honored to be featured in “The Now Revolution,” there are a few premises in your post with which I thoroughly agree. Chief among them:

    – Social business is about much more than PR and Marketing

    – Traditional PR agencies, as entities, don’t necessarily understand the corporate dynamics necessary to consult on Social Business

    A few comments, though, from the vantage point of someone who spent 20 years in corporate (17 in HR) before joining a consultancy:

    PR was the first corporate function to begin grasping the power of social – so it’s fairly logical that their POV would be the first to permeate the corporation as a whole, and agencies with PR expertise would be the first to consult on what social business might look like.

    Business consultancies, on the other hand, typically do NOT understand social, and have been very late to the party … in fact, many of the biggies are partnering with smaller communications agencies to learn the nuances of what social really means.

    Smarter consultancies (and I certainly think Edelman fits this description) understands what they can and cannot do, and are beginning to hire more people who have a radically different profile, and who really understand how corporations really work (cf @zenaweist). That’s why someone like me (a corporate guy if there ever was one) is now doing consulting work – and finding that my background and credentials are appealing to my clients.

    Thanks again for the great post!

    • says

      @chimoose Thanks for the simply fantastic comment. I agree, people like Z bring the holistic corporate background (with social sensibility, natch) that can be a real difference-maker.

  28. zenaweist says

    @chimoose really appreciate the shout-out. Agree w ur comment wholeheartedly. @jaybaer’s post sprang forth even more great discussion.

  29. armano says

    @sebastianvasta @jaybaer actually, I say it doesn’t matter as much as we think. Professional services firms are all blurring svs. these days

  30. KarenBaglin says

    @armano Awesome post/comments! Agree relationships will rule; ideally biz should incorporate social w/ own peeps who know biz & audience 1/2

  31. says

    I don’t understand Jay… So you are saying an organization should have expertise and experience in an industry before selling products to their clients in said industry? Boy, that would change things.In all seriousness. It is just as inevitable as every agency (ad, pr, design, digital, et all) getting into social. They will follow the money. And frankly, social media marketers, the good ones, are needed greatly in the conversation. So are the traditional corporate consultants and finance hands. Social media marketers just happen to be the technology and human experts. Ok, done preaching to the choir. Let’s regroup this time next year and point out all the agencies doing social business. Will be interesting to watch.

    • says

       @jasonkeath Not necessarily. But I am suggesting that if you’re preaching that social business is about more than marketing, that to have mostly/all marketers on your team is an interesting HR scenario. 

  32. JohnPerls says

    Are the lines between ad agencies and pr firms really blurred?

    I’ve heard a number of pr folks talk recently about the murky lines social creates between ad shops and pr firms, but to me, it seems pretty crystal clear. Ad agency personal are trained to speak to consumers, whether it be general advertising or direct response. It’s about research, billions of dollars in research, human behavior, brand awareness, brand loyalty, competitive advantages, etc. and ultimately finding that unique insight that does much more than sell. It’s about connecting with consumers based on that unique insight and then developing creative that inspires someone to consider a brand more than they would have without us. And that’s called marketing. So what’s social mean to agency folks? It’s a crm platform that launches direct response of the 80s into the stratosphere. I don’t buy the line that because social media is earned and not paid it earns pr firms rights to carry the social torch. But let’s go easy on pr firms for a second. And let’s just say the can carry on a consumer conversation on Facebook or tweats on Twitter. We’ll give most firms that. But, what about creating provocative like-gates that entice people to like a page. Is that any different from enticing a consumer to pick up the phone, visit a website or make an online purchase? And what about Facebook application design and development? We’re talking sophistication beyond any media to hit the planet since the printing press. I mean, we can create campaigns, launch them and engage with consumers all within a few hours of each other. That’s marketing bliss! Yes, pr firms are certainly In a bind. Consumers are becoming more influential than any publication on the face of the planet. 500 million folks on Facebook each day folks. So pr firms are ultimately trying to save themselves. But if they are going to serve their client’s well and develop a lasting model, they’re going to need to build a different kind of recruitment department that knows what to look for in researchers, planners, media and creative talent. But hey, wait a second, isn’t that what the core of an ad agency is?

    John Perls



    • says

       @JohnPerls  @CrazyMouseMedia You’re exactly right John. The issue is that PR struggles with the creative execution side that social demands, so they gravitate toward the less technical consultative side. And that’s where they start butting heads with the business management types. It’s a vise, to be sure. Great comment. Thank you!

  33. Chris Estes says

    This is a great post, enjoy reading the responses… A quick scan of Edelman on LinkedIn, no employees with past companies at E&Y, KMPG, Accenture, PwC, D&T, two from IBM, one from Booz Allen and one from BearingPoint. I think social media is following a similar maturity curve as the internet from informational to transactional. Large scale Commerce will occur (in, though, with) social media. When thinking about sCommerce, start thinking new channel. All the tools built for eCommerce, mCommerce (mobile) will be needed and integrated with sCommerce. This is channel which requires large systems integration, large project and business transformation experience for enterprise size companies, Edelman can hire this…

  34. Chris Estes says

    This is a great post, enjoy reading the responses… I think social media is following a similar maturity curve as the internet from informational to transactional. Large scale Commerce will occur (in, though, with) social media. When thinking about sCommerce, start thinking new channel. All the tools built for eCommerce, mCommerce (mobile) will be needed and integrated with sCommerce. This is channel which requires large systems integration, large project and business transformation experience for enterprise size companies, Edelman can hire this…

  35. ChrisEstes says

    This is a great post, enjoy reading the responses… I think social media is following a similar maturity curve as the internet from informational to transactional. Large scale Commerce will occur (in, though, with) social media. When thinking about sCommerce, start thinking new channel. All the tools built for eCommerce, mCommerce (mobile) will be needed and integrated with sCommerce. This is channel which requires large systems integration, large project and business transformation experience for enterprise size companies, Edelman can hire this…  Edelman is filling a market place gap because the big systems integration firms are still working through social… the big firms will be there soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *