Assemble the dominant coalition!

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?


4 thoughts on “Assemble the dominant coalition!

  1. As someone who is a contrarian at heart, and a PR grad student I find this conversation very refreshing. The notion of the public relations function belonging “in the c-suite” and deserving influence over every aspect of an organizations operations is a concept asserted axiomatically in my classes. Yet, I suspect, because of the self-elevating nature of the assertion it is not given the same the rigorous evaluation we know we should give it (that I have seen anyway).
    My conclusion has been that Public Relations deserves a seat at the table, but it needs to develop an understanding of what that seat entails. My current opinion is that, in a way, we should think of ourselves as a complement to the CLO. They provide advice, guidance and they practice their profession in an attempt to not only minimize risk but proactively improve the organization from a legal standpoint. Public relations managers should do the same, but from a “public” standpoint (perhaps, a “social” standpoint).

  2. I think that’s a very fair way to look at it. Part of what irks me whenever I hear ‘dominant coalition’ talk is that it often seems detached from reality. I think it is probably a bit less detached than I might imagine because not too many businesses have practices that I’d find indefensible from a PR standpoint. More than a few high-profile cases, though, do fall into that category.

    So, and I think your comment gets at this, that seat at the table will entail signing off on some pretty questionable stuff instead of coming in after the questionable stuff had been done and trying to pick up the pieces. A more optimistic view would hold that the PR folks will be able to nip said questionable stuff in the bud, but, jaded cynic that I am, I’m not buying that. I think the examples of mismanaged social consulting will affect the reputation of some organizations but much more so in the eyes of their peers than the eyes of the public. Most people around have trouble defining PR*, let alone remembering the organization that defended Bhopal.

    * then again… so do we.

  3. Exceptional post. Really fantastic, and I appreciate the questions you’re asking and the link to my original post. To some degree, I think we’ve seen this before, when agencies had to “get digital.” (Although we called it “online” or “interactive” back then). It does appear, however, that growth in the marketing services industry is increasingly rooted in selling new services, rather than perfecting those you already sell. As an advisor to agencies, that’s okay by me. I’m just not certain that social business is the keystone for most agencies, who typically don’t have the business chops to do it well.

  4. I think that makes a lot of sense as well. I imagine that perfecting current services is still a possible way to expand but not as effective as introducing new ones. I also wouldn’t be surprised at all to see that, in some capacity at least, there are certain firms that will be able to have successful forays into social business advising. As to which ones will have that success with which clients in which situations.. well, we’ll all be watching.

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