A lot has already been said about last night's IPA Social event, just look up #IPAsocial on Twitter to track the various tweets and posts about the night. A few of us (Becca, Chole, Nicolas, Paula) went along last night, we had a really good time, it was very thought provoking and genuinely interesting. But, something even more interesting happened while we were at 44 Belgrave Square: a massive fight broke out, but it quickly turned into a really good conversation.
They started it.
The fight started after we'd listened to some thought provoking talks from Mark Earls, Neil Perkin and Amelia Torode. Mark shared a distilled version of the talk given at Proximity on Monday night, minus that really cool video, and our Mexican wave was much better than IPA Socials! Neil and Amelia's slides are available via the magic of Slide Share on the IPA's site.
Commercial Break: That cool video from Monday night for those who missed it...
The scary bit
After the main presenters had spoken we had to break out into groups and attend 'hosted' conversations about related subjects. Scary because I don't think any of us signed up with the intention of actually speaking about anything. After some egging on from Paula & co., I hosted a conversation entitled: 'which agency discipline is best for social?'. Thankfully, I was joined by Paula, Becca, Chloe and Nicolas (so plenty of backup!). We were joined by Charlotte from New Media Age, Tim at Cake, someone who's name I forget (sorry!), Robin Grant of We Are Social, Priyanka at Rapier and Katy at Naked.
The Royal Rumble
Obviously, with the brilliant Silver Lion winning work from Debi and the RNLI team I was convinced that agencies like Proximity with a direct background are best placed to do social. After all, we invented the concept of one-to-one communications. Here's a question for you, was it (a) our direct background, (b) our digital background, or (c) that we are a digital & direct agency that made the RNLI campaign such a success?
As you'd expect each discipline went on to fight their corner. Strangely, no one fought on behalf of traditional above-the-line "Advertising", which I thought was odd considering advertising's talent at creating emotional connections with crowds. A strong case was argued for PR: "experts at creating brand narrative", "good at speaking on behalf of a brand" and so on. But, as Becca observed PR agencies are used to presenting a company in a certain light, "spin", and social is supposed to be authentic, so is PR really the right way to go? Surprisingly, the Social Media specialists believed they were best. But, will there be specialist social agencies in the next 5-10 years?
The good conversation
The fight turned into a really good conversation when we picked up a point made earlier by Charlotte of New Media Age: 'which client department should own Social?' Is it PR, Marketing or Customer Services? Maybe we were arguing about the wrong thing, shouldn't social campaigns start within the client's business? In my opinion an agency can't speak for a brand, it'd be the equivalent of a ventriloquist act, someone would find us out. The exception to this being when there's a Meerkat like character who's obviously the creation of advertising. But, in every other instance the voice should be that of someone employed by the brand (Ford Motor Co. were shared as a good example).
All good to say that clients are best at social but...
Most client businesses aren't structured in a way that would make social possible, there are too many silos. And, it is not only structure but also ways of thinking that prevent conversation e.g. "we'll need to build in two days to get that tweet approved by our legal team?". So, for now clients still need guidance from agencies to create and continue conversations with their customers. And, where social is a "campaign" there's still a need for something agencies have always been best at - a creative idea.
And, if you're still wondering what type of agency is best for social campaigns just look at our RNLI case study.