Do companies using PR agencies trust them to understand social media?
That question is at the heart of a survey of more than 640 PR professionals conducted by Jennifer Leggio, a ZDNet columnist and social media expert. Jennifer published the results of the survey yesterday on ZDNet.
The findings were bad for PR agencies. While most companies were at least fairly satisfied with their agencies – the respondents found that PR agencies did not fulfill the promises made during the initial engagement – especially around quality of coverage and social media.
Jennifer wasn’t afraid to name names either. She said the survey found that six agencies performed the best overall for client satisfaction and social media know-how: CloudSpark, Horn Group, OutCast, Perkett PR, SHIFT Communications and Sterling Communications.
Jennifer was gracious enough to agree to an interview with HighTalk yesterday about the survey and its findings.
HighTalk: What was the biggest surprise from your research?
Jennifer: The biggest surprise to me is how big the disconnect is between agencies and their clients. I knew there would be some disconnect, of course, but I did not anticipate that so many would be dissatisfied with quality of news coverage or be underwhelmed with the social programs being offered by their agencies.
HighTalk: How important do you think social media is to a strong PR program?
Jennifer: It really depends on the program. For some companies, who cares? For others, they’d be missing an opportunity. The important thing to note here is that some elements of social media (i.e. blogger relations, social network monitoring, engagement via socnets) should be part of a basic, standard PR program for every company.
HighTalk: If you were a client looking for a PR agency with strong social media skills – what would you look for?
Jennifer: Honestly, even as a social media fan, I would still look for traditional PR skills and good business understanding above all else. Especially the latter. Without a good understanding of how business, and even broader marketing works, how could a social campaign ever be successful? What I would absolutely avoid is agencies that push their social media skills first. It would make me think they are overcompensating for a broken foundation.
HighTalk: How can PR agencies get better at delivering social media to clients?
Jennifer: How can agencies get better at doing anything? Listen. Heed best practices. Educate clients. Throw out the blanket approach and bring in a method for tailoring programs based on business need.
HighTalk: Why do you think PR agencies fall short on delivering social media?
Jennifer: Because they aren’t paying attention, simply. And they are so focused on jumping on the social media bandwagon that they are not fixing issues with their existing PR practices. The two paths need to meet somewhere, you know?
HighTalk: Were there any consistent factors among the PR agencies that did social media right?
Jennifer: Unfortunately I didn’t dig into specific tactics enough to do a side-by-side comparison of what the agencies were judged on. However, Nicole Jordan and I are working on a second part to this survey that does just that.
HighTalk: If you had to advise a company on one golden rule of social media, what would the rule be?
Jennifer: If your friend jumps off of a bridge, will you do it, too? Take careful consideration before making any moves with social media. Pay close attention to your reasons for wanting it, the drivers behind it and your desired results. Then decide if you want to jump.
HighTalk: Anything else you’d like to add?
Jennifer: What this survey helps to support is that there is a continued need for PR. Contrary to what Michael Arrington (TechCrunch) and Robert Scoble have said in their “PR is dead” memes, clients are clamoring for more from their PR agencies. I think this is a good sign. However, especially given the current economy and companies bringing PR in house, agencies need to figure out how to improve client satisfaction and evolve their programs to meet these new needs. And they need to do it soon.