Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ad Age's Bloom says don't repeat history by building silos with social media

Ad Age’s Jonah Bloom thinks agencies are making a big mistake by creating dedicated social-media departments. I think he’s right. Not knocking social-media at all, just looking at history. His story makes a lot of sense. He points out that every time an apparently foreign object is identified in adland, those who are excited by it “annex” the object and create their own nation around it. This leaves everyone else to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to doing whatever they were doing -- albeit with just a few nagging fears about the ambitions of the fledgling country being built next door.

Before digital media it was media planning; before media, it was direct marketing. And if we want to go back in history to the Mad Men era and further, we can see that the same happened with TV and even radio. On each occasion, the newbies create their own jargon, their own law-making associations, their own cultures, their own ways of measuring success.

There are, of course, good reasons for separating new and old, but in the end, it is integration that nurtures success. Bloom points out that the new and old states cannot exist successfully without the other, a fact they realize after they have set up separate and often competitive fiefdoms that barely speak the same language. I've worked in larger shops where the urge to departmentalize things has gotten way out of hand. Something in the water? I’m also just old enough to have been around when direct marketing was the rage. DM was splintered off, taking important data-driven processes and analytics expertise with it. Then it struggled to reintegrate itself with the mainstream industry and its creative forces. 

It's happening again with social media. Bloom points out that marketers are constructing social-media departments and social-media agencies are popping up everywhere. Here's a wild concept: learn from history and integrate social media into your media department. That plan may be lacking in "gee-whiz" factor, but agencies should know by now that when you take away the silos you can deliver more effective results for clients.

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