It’s not just newspapers. The web is upending the traditional public relations and marketing firm model, too.
For the more than 60 public relations and marketing firms in Richmond, that means it’s time to adapt, and quickly.
In part that’s because ad spending nationwide is down at least 20 percent from last year. One local firm has taken on work for free just to keep employees busy.
For most businesses, the marketing budget is often the first cost to be cut when revenue slows, and that has trounced the local marketing industry.
A handful of local firms are betting that the social networking craze is the lifeline that will pull them out of tough times.
In interviews with more than a dozen local firms, established ones say they are learning social media at the request of their clients, while the younger firms are actively pitching their social media acumen to potential clients.
There is even a social media club.
“At first businesses wanted a logo and a branding campaign,” explained Garland Taylor, a partner in TaylorWeirup Marketing, which was started in the late 1980s. “Now my clients are reading up on it and hearing it from their children. I’m feeling a certain responsibility to learn about it.”
As marketing spending in Richmond plummeted (several local firms relied heavily on work from Circuit City, LandAmerica, S&K, etc.), local firms are scrambling to find ways to connect clients and customers through social media – the platforms du jour are Facebook and Twitter.
The strategy is a gamble: It’s unclear how much businesses will pay for the services. Marketing firms generally charge between $100 and $150 an hour for social networking services. One-day seminars can cost around $350.
Still, several local companies, including CarMax and Snagajob, have a dedicated staffer who works on social media. That would suggest other companies may want to outsource that responsibility to a marketing firm.
Several business owners contacted by BizSense said they were more willing to possibly pay for a one-day seminar than outsource Facebook and Twitter, in part because they are so easy to do.
That will be the challenge for any emerging business models that rely on social networking. Still, it may be hard to sell it, considering it’s free to use.
Enter the social media expert
“Nobody is an expert,” said Bill Bergman, who runs the Richmond-based Bergman Agency. “It reminds me of those marketers back in the early ’40s, running around claiming to be experts on TV advertising when TV was brand new.”
Aaron Dotson, a principal at the firm Elevation, said most of his clients are asking about social media, but he concurred that it’s too early to become a guru. “If anyone walks into a room and tells you they are a social media expert — then walk out.”
The other risk is that too much emphasis on social networking will disrupt the established value of PR and marketing. Take PR firms, for example. One local PR professional who spoke on background said that if a PR firm sends a story out on Twitter instead of to a local news outlet, they may lose the ability to get that story in the media. In a sense, they could scoop themselves.
The rush to social networking may also put PR firms and marketing firms into more direct competition with each other, as both are actively pushing the same services, whereas previously the professional lines were more clear.
Another risk is that social media is part of the public domain and any Joe Schmo can comment on it, and those comments can be more popular than the original post. That’s been the case with blogs for a while, but pushing hard into Facebook and Twitter could invite even more attention. For a warning on this, click here to read about a PR fiasco at Domino’s.
“One of the dangers of relying too much on social media is that businesses can’t control the message,” said Holly Rodriguez, a marketer at the University of Richmond. “You can lose control of your brand very quickly.”
Added Kelley Slothwoer of Big River: “I say that if you don’t allow your employees to talk openly or you just don’t have anything interesting to say, it’s not for you.”
Social media strategies give hope to ad agencies, Boston Business Journal
David Larter covers marketing for BizSense. Please send news tips to [email protected]
I think it’s all about first figuring out the technology and then figuring out how to use it purposefully. When I started hearing about Twitter, my first thought was, what the heck am I EVER going to use THAT for? Then a writer friend came up with the idea of launching a six week live murder mystery based entirely on characters tweeting back and forth to each other. 9 of us signed on and since we launched Tweet Mystery of Death on June 15 we’ve been having a blast with the whole thing. As far as PR goes, we’ve talked… Read more »
this city cant get out of its own way..always looking back and following instead of leading….
Besides SAJ someone identify anything else new truly going national/global from the city…
Does this mean we get to go to the networking events and listen to people claim to be “social experts” for hire now?
I cannot agree with the assertion that there are no social media experts out there. True, I remember in 1995 when companies advertised looking for “world wide web” expert site developers – a time when the Internet and HTML were just becoming public – but this time it is different. Social media sites (aka, Web 2.0) was in its infancy five years (or more) ago… simply look at the histories of Wikipedia, MySpace, and Facebook – the relative “old guys” on the social media block. There are tenured “social media-ites” – I dare say experts – who have already amassed… Read more »
The assertion that nobody is an expert misses the point, and seems to promote an attitude that since nobody knows eveything, they bring little value and should be ignored. “Expert” is a relative term. There are many who support social media and “champion” the benefits that social media can bring for creating and optimizing brand awareness, for both existing, or small start-up companies. These expers are leading the charge for the new branding, marketing, and web 2.0 concepts. Their knowledge of social media and the wilingness to share their findings with others leads them to be viewed as “experts” by… Read more »
I tend to agree with Chuck, that there has been time for some to have become “experts” in social media
“True, I remember in 1995 when companies advertised looking for “world wide web” expert site developers – a time when the Internet and HTML were just becoming public – but this time it is different. Social media sites (aka, Web 2.0) was in its infancy five years (or more) ago” That is my point exactly….In 1995 they werent just becoming public…Richmond was just figuring out what they were…Yahoo, Amazon, AOL, etc all existed and were planning on taking over the world…RIchmond was busy figuring out (or not) how to lose all their banks to NC… Social media sites were not… Read more »
David, Your article would suggest that there are no social media experts in Richmond (or anywhere for that matter). You and Mr. Bergman and Mr. Dotson are wrong on this. Mr. Swaim is right to disagree with your assertion. His point is clearly demonstrated that the writer is uninformed as are the people he interviewed for this piece. We have several at our firm, and we’ve been putting our clients in the space for 3 1/2 years, and we do seminars every month (www.nemediaseminars.com) and we’ve been recognized by the national pubs like Wired, Wall St. Journal and the Washington… Read more »
Like Dave Saunders, when I was interviewed for this article I explained several of the ways social media can be used to help businesses and individuals. But almost none of that found its way into the article. The ability to do real-time research is one of the key opportunities offered by social media. Ask a question and get lots of answers (some useful, others not so much) or directions to companies, articles or people who have answers. All at no cost! Can your local research company match that price or give you results that quickly? Another key use of social… Read more »