ImageIn the past two years, I have seen at least four 100K+ online reputation projects go to pure play digital agencies. By virtue of their approach and subject matter (issue management and public affairs campaigns) these should have gone to PR agencies. So what happened? If you work in PR, or know someone who does, then take note of this wake up call. The growing market for online reputation services is a threat for the PR industry. The irony of this is that, while the lines between marketing and PR have always been blurred, reputation is one area where PR companies should be shining.

Now, please don’t get defensive if you work in PR! I know that you have set up a twitter account or two or tacked a social media component onto a larger promotion strategy. But the pitching and closing of a full scale social media reputation campaign is another ball of wax altogether and there are good reasons why you have not been prepared to propose at this level. In the post below, I will briefly analyze why significant online PR business opportunities are going to pure play digital companies and what patterns and habits built-in at PR agencies may be responsible for this loss of market share.

Media relations vs. managing a medium

To define the vast divide that separates traditional PR activity from online reputation campaigns, I would say the following. While traditional PR worked with media to manage awareness  and perceptions, online reputation is best handled by creating and managing owned media. That is, the agency becomes the ringleader responsible for activating its clients’ digital platforms, finding and engaging their audiences and producing their content on a daily basis. In other words, to become heavily production and delivery oriented. And permit me here to add a nuance. With the advent of a networked society, the media channels created online for digital PR clients must be channels of engagement, not broadcast. This adds another level of complexity for the PR strategist and requires a deep understanding of social so that the core of the project establishes a ‘reason to engage’ for its audiences.

Ultimately, if PR companies want to reclaim the online reputation market that is rapidly slipping out of their grasp, then they must face up to the following challenges:


Social should not be an afterthought. Big ticket projects need to be completely oriented towards the interests and needs of the target community and need to give them a meaningful role in the communications process.


Running a large social reputation project requires a rapid content production schedule and tight project management. No more easy retainers!


If your client is  in Corporate Affairs, they care less about pure reach and more about how the project is changing perceptions. Tracking these indicators requires advanced use of monitoring software to follow the evolution of Share of Voice , topic distribution and overall sentiment trends.

In the presentation below, I present 3 notable Social Media Reputation projects that went to digital agencies. This is best viewed in full screen mode (click the option bottom right of viewer).