I actually had every intention of making this post a top 10-style post about my favorite agency blogs (as well as a few of my colleagues’ faves). But during those conversations on the Twitter back channel, a common question kept popping up: What constitutes an agency blog these days?
There were many traditional agency blogs mentioned by colleagues from across the country. Among those mentioned most often: Fast Horse’s blog (which really doubles as their agency Web site); Brains on Fire; and Weber Shandwick’s Social Studies blog (a few friends are frequent contributors including Doug Hamlin, Greg Swan and Daniel Honigman).
No doubt, there are many others. As a Minneapolis guy, I’m a big fan of what they do over at Top Rank. Lee Odden has developed one of the most well-read agency blogs in the country–and one that pulls in content from a host of contributors at the agency. But, what about Dave Fleet’s blog? Rachel Kay? Heck, even Adam Singer since we’re talking about Top Rank?
These people–and many others just like them–work for (or run) PR or digital agencies across North America. But, their blogs aren’t necessarily traditional agency blogs. In fact, if most people visited these blogs for the first time, I’m guessing they’d think they were strictly personal blogs.
My question: Does it really matter?
Is the model of an agency blog shifting? What about Chris Brogan? Doesn’t he head up New Marketing Labs? But, his blog doesn’t fly under that masthead necessarily. Or, what about Jason Falls (in his prior life)? When working at Doe Anderson he was just as active in posting to his popular Social Media Explorer blog. When visiting the blog, you certainly knew Jason worked for Doe, but it clearly wasn’t the agency’s blog. But, didn’t the agency benefit from Jason’s opining online?
At this point, I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong answer to the “which model works best?” question, but it also seems there’s a definite shift going on here. A shift that involves the free flow of ideas and a trend from corporate branding to personal branding (I know that buzzword is going to get some people going!). Let me tell you what I mean:
* A shift from case studies to ideas. Let’s face it, most agencies like to talk about themselves. It’s not a jab. Just reality. I’ve been on the agency side. I know. But, in today’s climate, I’m not sure anyone’s listening. But, people are listening to ideas. And, ideas are everywhere these days. So, competition is fierce. And agencies also have one huge advantage: They have a sizable amount of talent. Just look at Fleishman Hillard. Matt Dickman, Jessica Smith and Justin Goldsborough working for one organization (and those are just the people I know about). All those people have personal blogs about digital PR. They share ideas–for free. And, at the very least I believe that has a very strong halo effect for the Fleishman Hillard brand (and allows these individuals to get smarter about digital PR by sharing and learning from others online–information and learnings I’m sure they all apply to client work each and every day).
* A shift from the “we” to the “I” culture. This isn’t to say agencies are shifting away from a team-based culture. Just that the personal branding angle has big potential business implications for agencies. Think about Dave Fleet at Thornley Fallis. Dave’s blog is one of the most respected and well read in all of digital PR. But, other than the standard disclaimer and his bio, it has no “formal” connection with TF (again, it doesn’t fly under the TF flag). But, I’m not sure it has to, either. If potential clients or people who read Dave’s blog like his ideas, they will call or email him. And voila: New business. People buy ideas. Do they necessarily care if they come from a particular agency? In some cases, an agency’s reputation and brand definitely make a difference in the “purchase decision.” But, so does an individual’s “brand and reputation. I’m guessing there are more than a few clients at TF that signed up strictly because of Dave Fleet and the ideas he shares online. Just call it a hunch 😉
* A shift from the agency brand to the personal brand. I know this one is dangerous for agencies because talent comes and goes. But, talent’s going to come and go anyway. Why not take the best advantage of that talent while it’s in-house by encouraging and rewarding personal branding activities? I still think the agency blog has a place in the marketing mix–but personal blogs bring another element to the table. With the personal blogs, the agency is tapping into a whole new network. The blogger’s network. It also obviously offers a more personal connection than you can foster on an agency blog. It’s person-to-person instead of agency-to-person. And, personal blogs are much more…well…personal. You can get to know the blogger better. Sometimes they don’t necessarily post about PR-related topics. And, that opens up a window where you, as a potential client, can get to know the blogger on a different level. And, hopefully, it allows you to connect with that blogger in a different way. And, for agencies, the hope is that connection is positive and that you pick up the phone and call.
What do you think? Is the concept of an agency blog shifting? I’m very curious to hear what you think.