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Despite Edelman’s recent announcement that the PR firm is going to stick with what they’re best at (PR / Earned Media), there is no doubt that most agencies are converging their offerings, crossing swim lanes and aiming for the “integrated” value proposition. As a smaller firm (425 employees is relatively small in the agency world), W2O Group has been able to pivot and grow in this direction more quickly than others. Rather than hearing, “Oh, you’re the PR firm,” or “You guys are the digital agency,” we’re frequently hearing, “Where do you guys fit? Who are your competitors?” For us, this is a great place to be.

As we made the transition from a PR heritage, there is a critical but often overlooked mind shift that accompanied this change. This is the mind shift from people asking, “Can I Do It?” to instead asking, “Who Is the Best Person to Do It?”

Traditional public relations is inherently a “jack of all trades” or generalist discipline. Although things have evolved and become increasingly specialized in recent years, traditional PR firm staffing charts really showcase only one kind of talent – “Account” people. These people may be better or worse in different areas, but for the most part are responsible for planning, monitoring, writing, executing, client service, measurement, etc. In this sort of agency structure, people are rewarded for “wearing many hats” and being able to get things done on their own. In a nutshell, when a project comes in, they learn to first ask, “Can I Do It?” and if the answer is no, then look for help elsewhere.

Advertising and digital agencies, on the other hand, are inherently specialized in their staffing mix. You’d never find a copywriter also doing the measurement report or executing a media buy, and digital agencies are required to work more collaboratively given the diversity of technical skills that are required. In these constructs, people are rewarded for efficiency in their tasks, fitting into the supply chain, and knowing their role. When a project comes in, they learn to ask, “Is it My Job?”

Over the last 5 years, W2O Group has transitioned from a PR firm into an integrated marketing leader in the digital world. Perhaps the most important learning has been defining the middle ground between the generalist approach of PR agencies and the supply chain approach of Advertising agencies. Successful integration requires a different staff mix and approach to the business than either legacy model. Three things stand out as being critical:

  1. Having the right structure – if PR firms are a soccer team (anybody can score, defend, etc.) and Ad agencies are a basketball team (the Creative all-star with a team of supporting role players), the successful integrated marketing firm is a football team with a strong quarterback and a wide variety of players who are all excellent in their positions.
  2. Having the right people – not everybody wants to be integrated or specialize in their position, and lots of people would prefer to pad their own stats rather than let somebody else carry the ball when it’s the right play call.
  3. Having the right mentality – there are two mission critical perspectives.  The first is to always start by asking, “Who is the Best Person to Do It?” and the second is to approach every conversation by first assuming your colleague wants to do the right thing.

It took us a while to first understand, then plan, and finally institutionalize these three success factors at W2O Group.  And, as some people opted out for more traditional jobs, we learned that it wasn’t what everybody wants.  But, as the fastest growing agency of our size for several years now, we’re pretty confident it’s what clients want, and where the market is going.

One thing Richard Edelman nailed in his AdAge interview – the marketing mix is going to be jostled over the next decade, and Paid Media will no longer eat like a King while Earned, Shared, and Owned fight over scraps from the table.  We believe clients will need integrated partners to navigate this transition, much like Edelman believes they will need agencies who are good in their traditional disciplines.

 

With all of the hiring W2O Group/WCG have done recently, we wanted to take a little time to let our partners/customers/employees get to know some of these new employees better. To that end, we are conducting a blog series that asks some of our new employees to answer five questions — some straightforward and some that show our more playful slide. Via this process, we’re hoping to give our readers a little better sense of who we are. In the sixth installation of our series, we talk to our newest Director of Search, Sri Nagubandi.

  • [Aaron] Welcome to the W2O Team. We’re looking forward to working with you. For our first question, talk a little bit about your past experience.
    [Sri] I’ve spent 13 years in the digital marketing and analytics space, most recently at Razorfish where I led Organic (SEO) and Paid (SEM) Search and Social Optimization.  Prior to that, I was a Director of SEO at Rosetta. 
  • [Aaron] What is your “super power?”
    [Sri]  My super power is making the complex simple and the simple understandable and actionable. 
  • [Aaron] If you could work with any company as a client, who would it be and why?
    [Sri] Trek. Would have to be Warby Parker. They enter markets ripe for disruption, are willing to take risks, and they always give back while making a profit.
  • [Aaron] How do you stay up to date on latest trends/industry news?
    [Sri]  I read The Moz Blog, The PPC Hero Blog, Marketing Experiments Blog, and SEO By The Sea
  • [Aaron] Finish this sentence… “The agency of the future is ________.”
    [Sri]  The agency of the future is able to challenge clients, embraces change as a way of life and culturally entrepreneurial at the core.

Thank you Sri. To learn more about Sri, follow him on Twitter.

“It’s not about ‘best practices’ – it’s about ‘next practices’ as learned my new colleague Annalise Coady and I, when we excitedly touched down at the W2O Media and Engagement Summit in Austin.

We knew we worked with some forward-thinking people, but the depth and breadth of experience (along with general awesomeness) blew us away. Here’s a quick and dirty summary of some of the things we learned and plan to pioneer across the pond:

  • Media has evolved and PESO is the future: Day 1 kicked off with Head of Earned Media, Jim Larkin, demonstrating how media has evolved from the 1960’s, and how we as communicators have had to continuously adapt in order to connect with our audiences in new ways. Jim introduced the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model – the integrated future of media engagement for W2O.
  • Relationship is king – know your influencers and tailor your pitch to suit: Ex-reporters Ryan Flinn and Brian Reid, along with Earned Media Director Peter Duckler and blogger aficionado Carla Clunis, shared their insights into ‘What Modern Media Want’. The clear message being we must become part of the community we want to influence and ensure we’re always approaching media with meaningful and relevant content.
  • Bring in the experts, right from the start: When you see an opportunity for our client to integrate, deploy our experts across digital, social, creative and media fields.
  • Jump in the pool: Your career at W2O doesn’t have to be linear. Do great client work and pollinate across the company, teaching account teams to do what you do.
  • W2O’s new search capabilities are awesome: Creating content that’s not findable in search is almost meaningless. W2O Search, championed by Greg Reilly and Sri Nagubandi, enables us to ensure we’re always producing content that meets the needs of our audiences – and most importantly, can be found!
  • Influence can be created – passion can’t: 92% of word of mouth still happens OFFLINE. We have the capabilities to execute outstanding WOM campaigns allowing us not only  to keep track of what people are saying about brands online and offline, but also enabling us to insert ourselves into the conversation through the engagement of ambassadors to spread goodwill.
  • Our clients are looking for first class ideas, strategy and execution: As part of a panel discussion, ex-clients Jim Larkin and Lionel Menchaca shared what they look for in an agency:
    • Passionate and committed to the cause as they are
    • Know the ball park they’re playing in
    • Competitive zeal
    • Always offer strategy and counsel where possible
    • Constantly align agency work with client business objectives
  • W2O knows more about what physicians are doing socially than anyone else in the world: Sounds like a heavy claim, but our MDigital Life database has made it so – just ask Greg Matthews!

As a company at the forefront of innovation, we must continue to push the boundaries of conventional approaches; experiment and practice truly integrated planning for our clients, or as they say in Texas; “Always drink upstream from the herd!”

I’m excited.  Earlier this week, it was announced that Twitter bought Bluefin Labs and plans to integrate it into their offering for quantifying the value of the millions who use their “second screen” devices when their favorite television shows / movies are being shown.

For quite some time, the stats have been staggering.  According to Nielsen, 88% of tablet owners and 86% of smart phone owners are using their devices while watching TV.  The growing popularity of apps such as GetGlue (which claims 3 million users) and Dijit (which recently acquired Miso) shows that people are talking about the programs regularly, and these companies believe it contributes to either increased viewership and/or attention to the ads within the app themselves.

In our work with analytics in the entertainment industry, I’ve seen first-hand how conversations happening online have correlated to sales and ratings increases.   And, I’m a firm believer that Social TV has been largely responsible for bringing back “appointment television.”  Don’t get me wrong.  I love my DVR, but for many shows it’s just more fun to watch with a crowd and feels like a modern day version of the 50s when everyone gathered around the television set for a unified viewing experience.   When that happens, I want to be watching live.

So the news that Twitter bought BlueFin Labs, along with their existing partnership with Neilsen is yet another positive step forward in validating what many of us marketers already know to be true, but have a hard time justifying – that social TV positively contributes to ratings’ success.  Take for example Bravo which saw that last year, nearly a quarter of their audience base followed ousted “Top Chef” contestants onto “Last Chance Kitchen” and the episode where the winner was revealed became the show’s highest rated episode of the year.

Widespread adoption of these standards within the entertainment industry is the next hurdle, but it’s on the way.  According to Forbes, this should start rolling out in this fall’s ratings.  And hopefully, finally, the value of social media will be articulated and quantified for all marketers to gauge moving forward.  Amen to that.

The paragraphs below are excerpted from my recently-posted article in PR Week:

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I recently contributed to another PR Week OpEd that asked the question:  What is the most important way in which the PR firm of 2017 will be different than the PR firm of today?

My answer was:  The PR firm of the future will not be focused solely on earned/unpaid media.  It will be a diversified firm that employs a variety of vehicles — digital, mobile, virtual reality — to deliver relevant content informed by predictive and behavioral data analytics to more precisely target customers, constituents and stakeholders and influence a desired action or decision.  It will deploy a strategic mix of paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO) media that can be monitored and measured directly in real time.

When I first saw the question my original thought was to answer that it wouldn’t be called a PR firm anymore.  But after more deliberation, I realized that was not at all the answer I believe.  I’ve long held that PR is a fundamental business function and can serve as a guiding light and central organizing principle for any business or organization …

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To read the entire article, please click through to the PR Week story; PR Firms will Thrive in Big Data, New Media Age

Recently, Flipboard and Levi’s partnered to release a social shopping experience just in Time for New York fashion week. the newly launched experience comes as part of a new brand push form Levis and has turned Flipboard from one of the best magazine readers, into a social shopping platform.

When Flipboard popped onto the app store a few years ago, It instantly became recognized as one of the most progressive takes on readers. With its wealth of content and social connectivity ( most notably Twitter favorites) it became a huge hit on iPad, but over the last year, things have changed for the upstart digital mag. Traditional print publishers have begun to see the toll that Flipboard’s free content has taken on readership, and many are beginning to restrict content to shorter articles or teasers. This coupled with the arrival of Instapaper and applications like Google Currents, have made it harder for Flipboard to maintain a top spot.

The partnership with Levis aims to change all of that.

By leveraging the popular platform and adding to it a digital magazine/lookbook/shopping experience. Flipboard now has a new chip to throw into the game. People can now browse through the interesting style visuals that Flipboard is known for and also have a chance to purchase the latest designs from Levis, in a format that they already know and love.

Flipboard is not the first application that has done this. Both Marie Claire and Elle magazines tried sell through their digital apps, but the  biggest difference is that Flipboard offers all of its content free of charge and is completely customizable by the user – something that traditional digital magazine apps have struggled with. Add to that, the fact that Flipboard, originally only available for iOS is now available for Android, and you’re looking at some serious competition for digital magazines.

This new partnership will undoubtedly give other magazine apps like Google Currents something to consider as they look for ways to monetize their offerings beyond media. Many brands will also be watching closely to see how this venture fares as more consumers abandon traditional shopping destinations in favor of social and mobile shopping experiences.