5Qs: David Armano


David Armano is svp at Edelman Digital and author of the popular blog Logic + Emotion. Armano joined Edelman in December 2009 from The Dachis Group. He worked earlier for digital agencies like Critical Mass and Agency.com. Armano discusses why public relations firms got a jump on social, how the Old Spice guy gets too much attention and PR’s struggle for respect. Follow him on Twitter @armano.
There seems to be a social media fly-ball effect among agencies. Who leads?
I’ll avoid saying PR is leading social media. There’s a situation where there’s a land grab. Social touches a lot of pieces across the organization. I view it as a broad shift. It changes how you do a lot of things, like marketing, customer service and how you operate as a business. PR has an early lead. A lot of the first manifestation was in the communications group. Southwest Airlines was one of the first. It was a communications team. You’ve seen a lot of those examples. What’s happening now is regardless of industry, people are realizing this is another way people do things. It’s more of a question from an agency perspective: is your industry’s business structure set up for it? If you’re primarily making your money off media buys or building complex things, you might be able to do a couple things in social. You could do a Facebook app or a design a site to use social tools. Once you get into the engagement piece, you’re dealing with a different construct. I see a lot of agencies tacking it on as a new business initiative. Two and three years from now that might not be the case. It’s the number one client demand. Every firm works to their strong point. A firm that does high-polished video will need to figure out how to meet a client request and leverage their production machine. That’s a business model reality. I’m cautious. I’m not saying any one category will own this. I think this is a free for all. Those that figure out how to retool in a way that makes sense for them will do well in the long run.
Are clients any closer to social media ROI? It seems like the answer ‘what’s the ROI of putting your pants on in the morning’ won’t fly with the CFO.
It’s not that dissimilar to the ROI cases we had to make in digital before social emerged as the thing everyone talked about. There are things you can measure. Some of our clients measure everything. I like to separate measurement and ROI. We’re closer on the measurement side. The ROI side is fuzzier. A lot of the things the industry focuses on are not the right conversation. There was so much focus on Old Spice. That was a model everyone could understand. It was a campaign that launched for a certain time, and you could measure if it moved the needle. With Blackberry, there were questions from developers about something they were doing. They addressed it publicly on their blog over the weekend. That’s not a campaign and doesn’t get a ton of attention. From a business perspective, the developer community is really important to Blackberry. That business succeeds by having good relations with developers.
Should clients rely on their agencies for most social media communication with customers? We saw some pretty bad results with the recent Chrysler fiasco.
It’s a business question. There’s a lot of conversation that will take a firm line. You should never outsource or you should because you can’t scale. It’s more of a what can you support question. We work in both models. We work in situation where clients are doing communications. There are a whole slew of things you can do behind the scenes and the company has people out in public making those connections. There are other companies that need help. Both are viable legitimate models. There are ways to do them right or wrong. It becomes an issue of quality. With Chrysler it was beyond human or technical error. If you worked with a partner you don’t diss their city. You have to work with your staff and teach them from a culture perspective that you don’t do those things. Why would you be tweeting that in public? When you’re in the services business there’s a certain code of conduct.
What is the future of public relations? From my side of things not much has changed at all with the spray and pray approach — not to mention outlandish statements. If this is an age of authenticity, wouldn’t that have to run counter to what PR is all about?
If you asked me two years ago whether I’d be working in PR, I’d say you were insane. Every industry has its baggage. Everything you said about PR you could apply to advertising. Advertising has been about gimmicks and quick wins. It comes down to there being an old way of doing things and a new way. It will take time for that to change. It’s not perfect. There have been things put in place where it’s more about transparency and talking to people. Someone said advertising is about ideas and PR leads with relationships. It doesn’t mean PR can’t come up with ideas and advertising can’t leverage relationships better. But it’s fundamentally true in a lot of ways. If PR understands relationships to some degree, it has to evolve that to something that moves the industry forward. At this point if you’re an advertising agency and say you just do advertising, there’s not future. We’re doing things advertising agencies do and vice versa. At the end of the day it comes down to value.
It seems like PR can sometimes get less respect from other marketing disciplines. Why is that?
There’s a stereotype. I don’t give it a ton of attention. I look at from the perspective that it’s a level playing field. I think the firms that come out ahead and get a seat at the table are the ones who help guide their clients through this nebulous space in a way that’s smart and works. At the bottom there’s implementation, in the middle there’s strategy and above that is planning. That’s the opportunity. Right now it doesn’t matter if you’re a consultancy, ad agency or PR firm. If you understand that, you can really get a seat at the table. I’ve seen the pecking order but I’ve seen a lot of change. We’re engaged w clients where, because they’re putting emphasis on social, we’re leading. The pecking order exists but it depends on how you navigate it.

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