Charting the Industry: Ad Agencies Say PR Is Better at Social Media

PR and advertising have always had a tenuous relationship. But a finding from a recent study has the two agreeing on something: Both PR and ad executives think PR is using social media more effectively.

The joint study by the Worldcom Public Relations Group and the Transworld Advertising Agency Network (TAAN), an organization of ad agencies, finds that 84% of PR respondents are pleased with their profession’s approach to social media campaigns, with 20% saying it was an “innovative marketing communications leader” and another 64% saying it was “keeping pace.”

By contrast, only 52% of the advertising respondents rate their profession either “innovative” (12%) or “keeping pace” (40%). Moreover, another 40% said the advertising industry was “falling behind.”

Asked to rate their sister professions, the results were similar. The advertising respondents gave PR a positive rating of 67%, with 13% calling it “innovative” and 54% “keeping pace”—higher grades than they gave themselves. In fact, the PR respondents gave advertising higher marks than did the ad chiefs, with a positive rating of 68% from 20% “innovative” and 48% “keeping pace.”

Both PR and ad agencies forecasted growth in their social media via estimated fees for 2011, proving that there’s enough work to go around for both parties. Note: Numbers are agencies that responded to the survey; % equals percentage growth in fees.  Source: Worldcom PR Group/TAAN


To Steve Cody, cofounder and managing partner of PR agency Peppercom, these findings validate what he’s been saying all along. “Even ad people realize that we are best equipped to lead the social media revolution,” says Cody. “We’re conversation experts, and it’s all about engaging in conversation. Traditional advertising is all about inside-out thinking and talking at people.”

Both parties, says Cody, are fighting tooth and nail for a piece of the social media pie—for some time he has seen ad agencies hiring out-of-work PR people for their social media divisions.


Yet the study finds that the pie is large, and both parties should each have a big slice. Both PR and ad agencies see good returns on social media business (see charts). Which means neither will yield an inch on acquiring clients with social media needs. That, says Elizabeth Sosnow, managing director/director of social media, at BlissPR in New York—Sosnow directed the study on behalf of Worldcom and TANN—means there’s room for collaboration.

“While PR and ad agencies want to protect their territories, a lot of money is at play here, and it behooves both parties to be collaborative,” says Sosnow.

Ilya Vadrashko, VP of research and development at ad agency Hill Holliday in Boston, agrees with Sosnow’s assessment. “PR and ad agencies are in the same business of telling brand stories, but historically they have developed relationships with different kinds of partners to support their own work, says Vadrashko. “These types of professional networks are the main distinction between the two industries, and they are what each side brings to the table when they sit down to work together.”

But to Cody, sitting down with an ad agency would be akin to the reconciliation after the Civil War. “PR ends up like the South—the junior partner,” he says.

Peppercom does collaborate with ad agences on social media initiatives, says Cody. He’s found that the ad agencies jealously guard the market research, “meting out research in dribs and drabs,” he says. Cody adds that conducting market research is something that PR could improve upon.

And yet, PR pros should be proud of what they’ve accomplished with social media—now that there are some findings to prove it. PRN


Steve Cody,; Elizabeth Sosnow,; Ilya Vedrashko,

Comments Off

Deals of the Week

Get $150 Off PR News' Social Media Summit

SMS web ad 180x150Join PR News at the Marriott Marquis in New York on Oct. 5 for the Social Media Summit, where expert communicators will share in-depth case studies from their social efforts. You'll be immersed in the strategies and tactics that you can apply right away.

Use code “150” at checkout to save $150 on the regular rate.

Get $50 off PR News' Crisis Management Guidebook


Crisis management is an art, not a science. In this edition of PR News’ Book of Crisis Management Strategies & Tactics, you will discover many different views on this art, and you are certain to find takeaways that will transform the way your organization handles crises. 

Use code “50off” at checkout.

Save $100 on a PR News Subscription



Let PR News become your weekly, go-to resource for the latest PR trends, case studies and tip sheets. Topics covered include visual storytelling, social media, measurement, crisis management and media relations.

Use code “SUBDEAL” at checkout.

Comments are closed.