Sunday, 10 May 2009

Ad tanks on PR's lawn

Volvo's decision to appoint a media buying shop to handle its social media has triggered an outbreak of public relations angst, reports PR Week. The magazine suggests PR agencies face a growing threat from advertising agencies hungry for a bite of the growing digital and social media market.

Volvo UK head of PR Duncan Forrester explains their decision: " We have ended up with a marketing agency doing PR activities, but I am confident it can deliver on the brief. It is very clear that social media actually feeds into the SEO (search engine optimisation) side of the business. Can a PR agency do SEO as well? I think there are question marks around that."

PR industry figures fear this perception that PR is not up to the task of SEO optimisation could prove devastating to the distintiveness of the public relations discipline. "We must step up, educate our clients and widen our reach to include marketing and digital departments. If we do not, there is every likelihood that the PR industry will not exist in five years. We will become a commodity within the bigger, more powerful media and advertising organisations," Katy Howell, MD at digital PR agency Immediate Future, told PR Week.

Villager wonders whether this is simple commercial jousting as everyone fights for business during tough times or if there is something more fundamental going on. What is it about media buying and advertising companies which could make them more attractive than PR when it comes to optimising social media work by commercial organizations? It could be simply the technical skills needed to maximise and evaluate search engine presence. Or maybe the web and social media are attracting more aggressive business forces as traditional advertising weakens and companies fight harder for online gains? If so, there may be significant ethical issues as the notion of the digital world as a neutral public sphere is threatened by commercial power.

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