by: David Polinchock
This article by Joseph Jaffe over at Adweek generated a whole lot of negative comments when it was put up earlier this week. Most of the comments seems to take Jaffe top task personally, for using the Adweek platform to support his own company, which may well be the case. The problem, however, is that a real message is getting buried in a lot of language that's not really the point.
Where I disagree with him is that social media is something that sits at the intersection of everything. And I certainly don't agree that it is "arguably-the most transformational opportunity we've been given in our professional lifetimes," as Jaffe claims. I think it's cool, it can be powerful and it can even generate some great results. But for everything he listed in his article that wasn't SM, I haven't really seen anyone define what was SM.
Of course, in our language, it's the experience that sits in the middle since SM still actually leaves out lots of place-based activities. Retailers are scrambling to keep up with online social tools, and yet almost none of them are looking to create SM at their physical locations.
We spent about an hour yesterday at the Burton store here in Soho with a group of retailers from South Africa and one thing that came through loud and clear is that they use the store as social media. Buses run every Saturday to a local ski resort and they've created a real community around the store. Yes, they use online tools to reinforce their relationships, but they start at the store, with the store employees. I'm not sure those relationships would be as strong as they are if it didn't involve the in-store experience.
As reader's of my blog know, I don't think that social media is something that should be broken out from everything else. I don't think there should be a social media AOR, it's sort of ridiculus when you think about it. With SM being so broadly defined as it usually is, so many parts of the company should be involved in the SM process. Today, no one form of advertising should sit in it's own silo. I actually agree with with Jaffe's conclusion that there needs to be someone sitting in the middle and I agree with his reasoning.
I won't go as far as to say everyone does it, but when agencies with different skill sets sit down at the table, even when they're part of one, big, happy, holding company family, they're still fighting for their piece of the pie. So most times, they're pitching that the most important thing a client can do is whatever they do. If it's an interactive agency, then interactive is the solution and the best use of their money. If it's an event marketing company, then event marketing is the answer to their question and the best use of their funds. I know that not everyone does this, but face it, when your salary & potential bonus are tied to your P&L, that might occasionally cloud your thinking.
When we started the Lab 6 years ago, we talked about brands needing a master storyteller. That brands needed someone who sat in the middle and protected the brand's interest. Yes, it should be someone at the brand, but they don't always have the skills needed to do this either. It was pretty easy in the older days of traditional media, when you only had a view ways to reach your audience.
Now, with so many choices available to communicate the brand message, brands really do need someone without a vested interest in a specific tool or tactic, to help them navigate the waters. As I've said before:
But the discussion by most in the ad industry about social media is just the latest tactic du jour. We had branded content, Second Life, viral, WOM, and on and on. Read the trades and look at how many times over the past couple of years, a slew of companies were built around chasing the tactic du jour. How many social media companies have been started in the past 6 months? But we do this instead of helping clients understand the true value of connecting with their audience by any means possible and appropriate. For many agencies and clients, they're just tactics that we jump on and jump off like they were a trampoline.
But a master storyteller, they own the story. They're making sure that the right story gets delivered to the right audience, in a way that gets that audience to act (and I don't always mean purchase. We could be asking for other action to be taken.). It doesn't matter to this person if you're using network TV (still the best way to reach my Mom) or Twitter, it's using the best tool for the audience and the brand. And, usually it's using more then one tool, all working together to deliver the same brand message.
The truth is, some of the traditional agencies could be great in this role and maybe even some are. But from what I hear happening out there today, lots of agencies are still more worried about protecting their turf then they are about delivering the right solution to their clients. That's how agencies like Naked and Mother and BBH and Crispin and R/GA and others got the foothold that they've gotten and why today we'll see even more, new agencies stepping up to really become the master storytellers. Because you should be protecting your clients turf, not your own.
And yes, we're one of the companies that we hope you'll call if you're looking for help in this area!
Perhaps the solution is to return to the clichéd "integration" drawing board and figure out how to ensure that all three sides of the equation are equally represented around the table. In this scenario, there's a definite and defined role for an "integrator" -- an independent third party (internal or external) that is the generalist to the physical, digital and virtual specialist verticals, with less interest in ensuring success in any one world than in simply ensuring your success, period.