Michelle Sullivan Communications

Brian Solis – the future of agencies and of our industry

As I delve back into agency life, as HKDP‘s (Hill & Knowlton Montreal) new (and first) Director of Social Media and Digital Communications, and begin conversations with my new colleagues about the rich potential of social media, I can’t help but think that the timing of this Ductape Marketing interview with Brian Solis is absolutely perfect.

Episode show notes:

There’s plenty of doom and gloom surrounding the practice of public relations in the social web world, but Solis suggests, and I totally agree, that there’s a tremendous opportunity if firms and departments understand how to evolve and grab it.


Social media has evolved to the point where it impacts every department, whether they choose to participate or not. The new PR agency and department must embrace the social web as an umbrella that links HR, Interactive, Marketing, Management and Finance. The role of the PR agency should expand in this new model.

The new PR firm has the awesome responsibility of helping every department realize that real people exist on the other end of every interaction and message.

Like Solis says, the industry is only dying if it doesn’t evolve. Recent hires by Montreal agencies (Marc Snyder by Octane, myself at HKDP, and others in the works) are proof positive that Quebec’s PR industry is certainly waking up to what Brian Solis refers to as the ‘renaissance’ of public relations. My sense is that client demand has now caught up with agencies, who are scrambling to secure those few professionals with social media experience.

If you’re a PR consultant comfortable in the social media space, it’s a great time to to test your value on the market.

Great insight by Brian Solis at 4:30 minutes for those who are still grappling with the concept of social media as an opportunity:

Once you realize that you never had control in the first place, you realize that you now have the opportunity to take control.

Generations of PR consultants have lived by the mantra that the message is something to be controlled. Solis shows us how, on the contrary, we’ve always lost control of the content we create at the point of distribution (ex: a press release). He believes that access to social media represents a fantastic opportunity which allows us not only monitor perceptions, but, with real time access to the information, also help shape how it travels.

He also talks about the role of PR firms in the new social media space, believing that companies need a team of experts who can carry information to influencers, as well as finding trust agents with whom to make direct connections and genuine connections. Solis addresses how agencies need to adapt to the one-to-one approach, which is obviously time intensive. However, he qualifies the result as more ‘profound’, stating that this is clearly documented evidence to support this claim. I would go even further in the ways in which PR can help their clients navigate the social media space. Dave Fleet made an excellent argument for this in a recent blog post.

As Solis states, social media allows us to connect with people we don’t necessarily know, but respect and perhaps wish to know. It links us to people that we connect with intellectually or emotionally. Communities are building around ideas, rather than the places of traditional networking (ex: church steps, chamber of commerce cocktails etc).

Putting the public back in public relations, the book Solis coauthored with Deirdre Breakenridge, was an excellent read. I’d recommend it to any PR professional interested in the social media space. Looking forward to Solis’ next book, Engage, which is due out in March (and is available on pre-order through outlets like Amazon).


  1. Serge Lachapelle

    2010.02.09 @ 15:07

    I couldn’t agree more. All this talk about agencies being dead, is just a rally cry of a few hopefuls eager to take the space. But when you think of it, the art of managing the message from human to human has never really changed over time. Print, radio, TV, web…delivery, that’s what’s changed…

    In my book, the PR experience far outweighs the means by which the message is expressed. It would be terribly reductive to think that those intelligent people in the agencies can’t adapt to the new tools as well or better than 13 year old kids…

    Maybe its just me, but I also think that the fact that PR is way more interesting in this social web, due to the ease at which you can take the pulse of the reaction, will make the medium even more attractive to the real PR folks. You just can’t help but wonder what happens when a PR pro ‘Gets it!’…These are remarkably effective tools…different…but still tools…

    Its not the hammer that makes the carpenter…

  2. Normand Béïque

    2010.02.09 @ 16:18

    Very interesting overview.
    The fact that people uses social media to talk on the behalf of the company, or to represent the company, doesn’t create more of a problem than sales representatives that are on the road, meeting prospect and clients and talk on the behalf of their company!
    I would go has far as to say that it creates less of a risk, because you can see what they said, and give coaching of training if required, what the representatives have said can’t be seen or monitored for improvement.

  3. Marc Snyder

    2010.02.10 @ 11:01

    Le point qui ressort clairement pour moi, c’est que les agences de RP sont (généralement) naturellement mieux placées pour investir le secteur des médias sociaux. Dans le milieu , on parle souvent de « earned media » et qui en sont les spécialistes?

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    2010.02.10 @ 14:45

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  5. Guy Versailles

    2010.02.14 @ 11:35

    Ce n’est pas le moindre des paradoxes que les gurus des médias sociaux nous affirment qu’il est illusore de prétendre contrôler le message alors qu’ils nous donnent du même souffle les outils et un mode d’emploi pour le contrôler mieux que jamais.

    Ce que nous ne pouvons contrôler, c’est la réaction des autres. Il nous faut accepter que dans une conversation il y a plusieurs points de vue. Pour faire prévaloir le nôtre, il faut apprendre à discuter, à échanger, à écouter, mais aussi à s’exprimer le plus clairement possible, par écrit ou autrement. Cela a toujours été vrai, les médias sociaux n’ont strictement rien inventé de nouveau à ce chapitre. Leur grand mérite est de rendre possible les conversations virtuelles, alors qu’il fallait autrefois nécessairement se rencontrer en chair et en os (ou passer des heures au téléphone) pour échanger véritablement.

    Mais si nous voulons atteindre notre objectif à travers ces conversations, quel que soit cet objectif, nous n’y arriverons pas sans exercer un contrôle sur notre message.

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