Social Challenge for Clients, Shops

NEW YORK As if it weren’t already abundantly clear, marketers and agencies are being reminded yet again of the growing influence of social media.

Last week, Facebook surpassed 300 million members worldwide and MDC Partners took a stake in New York social media player Attention Partners. And now, a new study from RSW/US, the Survey of Social/Digital Landscape: Marketer and Agency Perspective, further illustrates just how hungry client executives are for social media expertise, be it from an ad agency or public relations firm.

RSW/US, a Cincinnati-based consultancy, polled 338 client, PR and ad execs, and found wide discrepancies between how agencies rate their social/digital media capabilities and how involved they are in the space, and how clients feel about the level of service they’re getting.

Less than half of the 62 client executives who participated in the online study agreed with the statement that they’re “cutting edge” in the use of social media, compared to more than three-quarters of the 182 PR execs and two-thirds of the 94 ad execs. Also, two-thirds of the PR execs and 55 percent of the ad execs feel they’re actively involved in their clients’ social media efforts, yet only 39 percent of the marketers say they’re getting the support they crave.

Among the marketers represented in the sample were Nestlé, Chrysler, Henkel, Kia, ConocoPhillips, Kraft, Campbell Soup, Sanofi and Panasonic. RSW/US president Mark Sneider declined to identify participating PR and ad agencies, but said they ranged from global networks to boutiques.

“There’s a disconnect,” Sneider said. “Marketers aren’t satisfied with the level of support they’re getting.” He added that agencies need to realize “just talking the talk is not enough.”

Many agency leaders these days tout their skills in blogging and tweeting, for example, given heightened awareness among clients that such efforts are vital to connecting with consumers online. But even they realize they can’t always close the deal. Asked to identify the biggest challenge in building a social/digital practice, 41 percent of the PR respondents and 39 percent of the ad execs cited selling such programs to clients. The next biggest obstacle? Competition from digital shops, indicating that if PR or ad agencies don’t crack the code, someone else will.