OMG, Clients Don’t Need Us Anymore. Wrong!

Adrian Ho of Zeus Jones, writing in Adweek, sounds the alarm for agencies hoping to profit by developing social media campaigns for their clients.

…a growing number of highly respected marketers don’t actually see a role for their agencies in social media.
Writing on my blog, Barry Judge, CMO of Best Buy, said: “I do feel very strongly that people who work for companies have to participate as themselves in social media. Social means people interacting with people. You can’t outsource that. I am really clear on how we should be participating. I am not sure how agencies participate for clients.”
Words like this ought to set off massive alarm bells in the heads of everyone working in the agency business today. To an industry whose primary reason for being is crafting and disseminating messages, the idea that social media — which is rapidly becoming the primary way companies communicate with their customers — is better executed by clients themselves is a fundamental problem.

It’s an interesting perspective, but a bit overstated (by Ho and Judge) in my opinion. I agree with the basic sentiment that employees can and should take an active role in the firm’s social media opportunities. Where I differ is that it’s an alarming problem for the agency business. For one, agencies have never relied on income derived from social media, so in most cases, they won’t miss it. They’ll keep producing TV, print, radio, digital and experiential solutions and they’ll continue to be paid handsomely for their efforts.
Companies like Zappos with 448 employees on Twitter are the exception, not the rule.
Furthermore, there are still a lot that agencies can provide in the social realm. Judge may not want to outsource, but many others will. Twitter doesn’t require its users to be much of a writer, so 448 people working for an online shoe retailer can participate on Twitter. But blogs are another story. For a blog to work well as a branding tool it has to be well written.
Agencies can also recommend and create brand specific social networks, execute various programs across social sites (and for mobile), create outstanding content that’s delivered in a social setting and give consumers a thousand different ways to participate with the brand. Sure, many such attempts have so far fallen flat. So what? Agencies who have failed at a social media effort are like failed entrepreneurs–they’re better prepared to fight the next battle.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.