Can PR generalists cope in a social media world?

Social Media

Can PR generalists cope in a social media world?

A leading British digital strategist and long-time blogger, Simon Collister, (who, incidentally, is from the Isle of Man) thinks that PR agencies can’t respond to the structural changes of social media.

“The reason the PR profession has dragged its heels in terms of adopting and making the most of social media is its structure as a generalist industry where account teams are responsible for the full range of communication tasks…,” Simon wrote on his blog a few days ago.

“PR agencies operating with employees that are trained as generalists…simply cannot keep up to date with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed.”

If this true of some agencies, it’s not my experience. From the time I started Strive PR in 2005, it was already evident that social media was transforming public relations practices. By the end of 2006, organizations were getting to grips with blogs and other digital media, and I, as a PR generalist, was building a successful business on helping clients adapt to the new environment.

That was also about the time I became aware of Thornley Fallis as a PR firm that was breaking new ground to lead the PR profession in integrating social media into communications campaigns. Joe Thornley, Terry Fallis and many members of their team were blogging and podcasting to share their experiences and knowledge, and I learned a lot from them.

Little did I know at that time, that one day I would be on staff leading the charge in social media and content marketing. We don’t rely on a specialist social media team, as Simon suggests.  Instead our team is made up of qualified, experienced communications professionals, (or generalists as Simon would have it) for whom the Internet is in their DNA. Digital is part of everything we do.

In fact, to this day, our firm’s most successful business remains ‘good old PR’. It’s just that now PR is defined quite differently than 10 years ago. We specialize in devising and implementing channel-agnostic programs. This means combining insight, earned and paid media with traditional and online channels to provide meaningful connections for our clients.



3 responses to “Can PR generalists cope in a social media world?”

  1. simoncollister says:

    Thanks for following up Sherrilynne. I totally take you point, and perhaps my argument is rather unique to the UK context. I guess, what I see is PR agencies continuing to fail to grow in a market where agencies structured differently seem to be thriving. I think it’s going to be hard to scale a model where one person is expected to have the knowledge, skills and capacity to conduct research, know about planning, devise strategy, develop creative ideas, produce content, execute tactics, track, monitor and evaluate activity when all the time the complexity of both the media, ideas and technologies is rapidly increasing. Not to mention billing and client handling. This is why, too often, PR agencies lack strategic oversight, churn media relations as a commodity and fail to become as profitable as they perhaps ought to be. It’s definitely my own experience – even in big PR agencies.

    Also, in a way you also seem to help reinforce my point. You call yourself a generalist, but I can’t help noticing that your role in your bio is ‘content marketing and social media’ so, on paper at least, you *are* a specialist. 😉

    • The way you describe it you are right. No one person should be expected to know all those areas. It does take team work. Also, ‘on paper’? HeeHee!

      • simoncollister says:

        Ha! What I meant was…. your agency seems to back up my argument in the way it structures itself – i.e. ‘on paper’. I can’t vouch for practice as I’ve never worked with you guys! 🙂

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