It was less than two years ago that Marsha Silverman, CEO of Ogilvy PR, said publicly during the 2007 Bulldog Reporter Summit that she didn’t know much about the online world, and even email was a nuisance to her. My intent now is certainly not to pick on Marsha but to try to get at why big PR agencies are so incredibly slow to learn and develop expertise in today’s fast-paced online world of new media, social media, and even, blogs.
The root of the problem can usually be found at the top. The execs who run big PR agencies are for the most part woefully unsavvy – individually and as a group – about what’s happening online.
Sure, the agencies all have their own branded digital components. Ogilvy has “360° Digital Influence,” of which Marsha is the head; Burson-Marsteller has its “Digital Perspective;” Fleishman has its new digital affairs team; Ketchum its technology practice; Edelman has “Micropersuasion;” and, Hill & Knowlton has a lifeless-sounding, “Digital Communication.” And, so on. But a clever title must be backed-up by smarts.
In most cases, these are recently cobbled-together teams within agencies that are playing catch-up and/or using a worn-out bag of tricks in response to an increasing avalanche of client online needs. As is the norm, these teams have been created primarily for the purpose of jacking up billable hours to feed the insatiable money appetite of holding companies (with the sole exception of Edelman).
While their sales raps all sound impressive, few have deep credentials in blogging, social media, and the tidal wave shift from mainstream/traditional to online media.
Why am I blogging about this? Because this is what I hear constantly through conversations with CEOs and top executives who, in some cases, are hobbled by a big, old-fashioned PR agency that’s often just faking it when it comes to the online world.
Big PR is not moving forward fast enough, certainly has not invested in learning, and remains too locked-in with the old ways of generating billable hours, and “making numbers.” And, each day, the dynamic world of online media speeds farther and farther from their grasp of true comprehension.