PR agencies: There's been a terrible miscommunication

PR agencies: There's been a terrible miscommunication

Summary: Last month I released the findings of my "Social PR Survey," in which I asked more than 500 marketing decision makers about satisfaction levels with their public relations agencies and their desires for social media. To my surprise the survey results ignited much discussion.

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Last month I released the findings of my "Social PR Survey," in which I asked more than 500 marketing decision makers about satisfaction levels with their public relations agencies and their desires for social media. To my surprise the survey results ignited much discussion. This, of course, was the intended objective the survey in the first place -- to spark conversations about how agencies can better serve clients and leverage social media in a way those clients have requested.

Unfortunately that conversation spark turned into a wildfire, with agencies spinning parts of the survey into marketing material. This was not the intention. Nor is there anything scientific about the survey itself. As I said in the original blog post: "Treat this survey as you would any other blog on the Internet — informative but not gospel."

There are two untruths that are being perpetuated:

"ZDNet named us a top ten PR agency for social media"

There are two things wrong with this statement. One, ZDNet didn't endorse anyone in this post and neither did I. There is no ranking of  "top ten" agencies. Here's what I wrote:

Of all the 106 agencies named in the survey, a small portion were named multiple times (many respondents did not name their agencies). The top 10 named agencies include BluePoint Venture Marketing, CloudSpark, Connect2 Communications, Horn Group, Lois Paul & Partners, PAN Communications, Porter Novelli, SHIFT Communications, Tool Guy PR, Zag Communications and OutCast Communications.

Read what I wrote very carefully. These are the agencies that were named most often. That does not equal superiority. If you consider that the majority of the data showed that clients are unsatisfied and then consider which agencies were named the most... understand? This does not mean these agencies are at the bottom, either. It means that more of their clients were comfortable naming names. Should I have been more clear about this in the original blog post? Apparently so. Making this top ten "named" list is not an endorsement from me or ZDNet or anyone else.

2. "More companies are switching to us versus other agencies, according to ZDNet"

I won't rehash the "according to ZDNet" or "according to Jennifer Leggio" bit again. However, I will ask you again to carefully examine what I wrote in the original blog post:

In contrast, only six agencies were consistently named as viable considerations for clients considering an agency switch.

"Viable considerations" are not shoo-ins for business. It might mean that those agencies are likely doing a better job of marketing themselves than others. It's quite possible that these survey respondents heard of these agencies via word-of-mouth from satisfied clients. I am hoping that is the case. But this survey didn't ask that -- or show that in detail. Again, this was not an endorsement.

I've received a good bit of feedback on the survey, both positive and negative. It wasn't until I had someone write to me on Thursday and claim that the survey lost his agency a new business opportunity due to the way another agency was marketing it that I blew my cap. Realistically I don't give the survey enough credit to do that (nor would I underestimate a client in that way). However, it further exposed to me just what is wrong with this industry.

If I had to do it all over again I likely wouldn't have named agencies at all, at least not in the "who gets it" position. My mistake, my apology. This survey was intended to start a discussion, to bring to light some issues that clients are facing, not serve as a report card for agencies. And definitely not to be a marketing tool. I am sad and worried that some of these activities have diminished the value of the survey itself.

How can you make it better? Nicole Jordan and I designed a second survey to expose the challenges that agencies face when trying to manage clients or train new employees or work to get more social. We've received just under 500 responses so far (our goal is 1,000+ by March 31) which is, quite frankly, discouraging. I know there has been some trepidation in taking this survey but I am saying there is no need for such. A lesson has been learned and we'll focus largely on the data. We don't want to make the agencies look bad. Or good, for that matter. We're not here to market anyone. We want to examine the issues affecting everyone. Will you help us?

Topic: Social Enterprise

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2 comments
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  • I'm shocked, shocked to find that [lying] is going on in here!

    Two "untruths" from the 10 firms that received the most positive
    mentions in the survey. Untruth #1, 'ZDNet endorsed us.' Untruth #2,
    'we're taking market share from competitors based on our social media
    expertise.'

    Hopefully someone will dig up the deceptive PR of these firms.
    mlstotts
  • RE: PR agencies: There's been a terrible miscommunication

    How utterly <i>surprising</i> that professionals in the noblest of professions, the venerable and distinguished public relations industry, would perversely attempt to twist the words "the top 10 named agencies" into the words "the top 10 agencies." Who would've or could've possibly predicted such a crazy, convoluted turn of events? And notice the sleepy sound of crickets chirping here in this forum. Hello! Is anybody there? What a contrast to the gleefully boasting, back-rubbing daisy chain that appeared in the bountiful comments beneath the initial survey. It's sad, really, just sad. They missed the point, didn't they?

    HDS Dialin4Dollars