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Why the Digital Divide is Death to Your PR Firm

Posted Under: Digital Marketing
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Elizabeth009Web.JPGGuest post by Elizabeth Sosnow, Managing Director of BlissPR, a New York City based public relations firm. She develops and supervises strategic communications programs for major companies in professional and financial services, with a particular emphasis on the legal, consulting and insurance industries.

I recently had lunch with an old colleague who now works for a well respected and large competitor PR firm. He’s been relatively happy at his new job, but is looking for the next career challenge. Naturally, I asked about his interest in mastering social media for his clients.

His answer? “Well, I got to start a Twitter feed for one client, but we no longer work for them. Frankly, I don’t get a lot of chances to experiment since we have a separate digital department.”

I don’t believe in a “digital divide.” Every single person in a public relations firm should: 1) understand the impact of social media and 2) be able to activate that marketing potential for their clients. Honestly, as an employer, the idea that there can only be a select group of firm experts makes my blood boil. It:

  • Weakens Your Firm: Your agency is highly vulnerable to poaching since your “pocket of expertise” can walk out of the door. (And, they WILL walk out the door, since most agencies realize they at least need “skin in the game” and are actively recruiting)
  • Damages Other Employees: You have an obligation to help the next generation become the very best professionals they can be. Don’t cheat them of that opportunity. (Oh, and for those that think that “blogger outreach” counts as social exposure for your staff, don’t kid yourself. It’s a big world out there.)
  • Limits the Opportunity for Our Industry: In case you missed it, we’re not the only group chasing this particular “golden goose.” Advertising shops, SEO agencies, email consultants…the list goes on. If we continue to resist teaching ALL of our professionals how to develop and execute digital strategy, there are plenty of others who would be happy to absorb our budgets.
  • Threatens Your Personal Brand as a Leader: At the end of the day, clients and prospects want to buy your counsel — not your special departments’ and certainly not your junior staff’s. Stop delegating and start absorbing. Clients can tell if you are just spouting platitudes that you picked up from a two day immersion conference.

You Can Start the Fire

The good news? It’s possible to ignite a cultural change in moments. Here’s how to start:

  1. Instead of compartmentalizing your digital champions, turn them into teachers: They can still lead projects, but make sure they are rewarded by their ability to help others achieve digital breakthroughs.
  2. Instead of dismissing new, potentially valuable tools because of limited bandwidth, set up company-wide “assessment competitions” that allow everyone to get involved: Give prizes to the folks who use emerging tools to identify client opportunities and customer pain points.
  3. Instead of starting a blog, start a commenting presence: A number of agencies are putting out mediocre blogs, just so they can say they have one. Bad idea. Why not try spending time commenting in your targets’ community blogs? First, you’ll be “fishing where the fish are,” and second, you’ll be learning about what matters to your audience before you start “writing at them” in a blog. That’s the essence of a good social media strategy, anyway.
  4. Instead of assuming you can find/purchase all the answers yourself, admit you need external teachers: We all need role models. Your digital folks and your traditional PR practitioners need daily inspiration…and you can’t fulfill all of those needs and run a business. But today’s online environment puts a high premium on shareable lessons and insights. Pick 5 teachers to help you on your journey. A few of my favorites:  Jay Baer, Deirdre Breakenridge, Valeria Maltoni, Jason Falls, and Dave Fleet.
  5. Instead of proudly touting your digital department’s latest project, hold yourself accountable for personal and company engagement goals: Simply put, what do you want people to find if they Google each employee’s name a year from now? Then, define a social and thought leadership strategy to get them there.
  6. Instead of writing web copy for your client, see if they’ll let you assess their current site analytics: If you are a keeper of data, you have access to the quantitative insights we’ve always longed for as a profession. And, it’s harder to get rid of you and that “media relations” retainer.

A parting thought for the leaders of tomorrow. If your PR firm isn’t ready for you to evolve, gently, politely ignore them. Read, learn and experiment on your own. Find teachers, identify valuable communities, volunteer time to non-profit organizations who need your energy. Just get started.

Don’t let others decide the kind of professional you should become. And when it’s your turn to lead, remember that united we stand, divided we fall.

(photo by ellenm1)

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