Here are a couple of posts that I’ve read in the past week, found very interesting and having been mulling over a bit. Read this one, from Jay Baer, first. Read this one, from Todd Defren, second, because it is at least in part a response to Baer’s post.
If you’re too lazy to read on, this line from the Baer post pretty much sums up the central questions:
And that’s the question. Do companies want incredibly serious business advice that impacts the core of their existence from their PR firm?
…well… will it make them money? Nah, I kid. Nah, not really. Well, maybe. I had a number of reactions to reading those posts, which I was going to put into a mammoth brainspill that covered tons of topics. I’ll cut it down, though.
As best I can see it, Edelman and Ogilvy and any of the rest of these large PR firms that are getting into ‘Social Business Planning’ are, as Todd says, grabbing their chairs in the room upstairs and not waiting for the music to stop. A more preeminent role for PR firms in the decision-making process of clients, especially large ones, so much recalls the tired sort of stuff we learn in class about ‘dominant coalitions.’
‘Dominant coalition’ is a phrase that all kids in 301 (Intro to PR) have to memorize and regurgitate on a test a few months later. It’s self-explanatory. The dominant coalition is a group of people who call the shots for your business. As we are taught, it is ideal for the PR folks to be a valued part of the dominant coalition, an integral component, a respected voice that stops the MBA types before they do something awful and soulless that we’ll have to defend. Y’know, that sorta thing. It’s the concept that by valuing your PR advice (which, do remember, is quite moral and keenly discerning in our ideal) you can prevent future crises. It’s a nice idea. It’s also kinda bullshit.
I outlined my thoughts in a previous post about the efficacy (or lack thereof) of content marketing for some businesses, namely those whose practices are less than magnanimous. Same deal with social business consulting, in my eyes. I’m sure the debate about business practices and tactics quickly moves into areas that are far more nuanced than the “do this and you screw people and make money, don’t do this and you won’t screw people and you won’t” construct into which my analysis sometimes fits. The people that’d be doing the consulting work for Edelman, Ogilvy and any of those other organizations obviously know a helluva lot more about this stuff than I do.
But from my detached, uninformed perspective, this move seems to be about what Todd says it is:
What I’ve been pondering is what a “Social Media PR Agency” like ours can and should tackle to stay ahead of the competition. For some time now, we’ve been pitted against the Big Boys in major-league RFP pitching duels. Sometimes we win. Sometimes not. The goal is to win more than we lose; to do that into the far-flung future is going to require practical, profitable innovations in our thinking and services.
The goal in that bolded part, which is my emphasis, is about being a thought leader but also evidently about expanding a business. Which is your goal, if you run a business. In terms of my (inexperienced, uninformed) answer to Baer’s question, I’m tempted to ask: ‘do they even care?’ As long as they’re sitting at that table and getting consulting fees, I’d imagine their firms will be expanding and while that expansion may not be priority number one, it’s generally not far from the top. But that’s a bit glib, even for my taste.
I suppose that time will tell whether social business consulting has legs in the long term. I dunno how much that’ll be connected to social media and content marketing, whose long-term legs are also unclear, although I’m personally optimistic about the chances of that stuff sticking around. In the short term, nobody knows whether it’ll work out. Competing with professional consulting firms to advise clients will be a new and exciting trip for whoever gets to do it. And if you also get some serious fees while performing this little experiment, well, that wouldn’t quite be a tragedy, would it?