Agency blogs are like sewers—what you get out of them depends on what you put into them2012-05-09
(Apologies to Tom Lehrer for that headline.)
I follow so many blogs from PR, marketing and advertising agencies that I was taken aback when the headline Agencies Ditch Blogs cross my feeds. The Digiday post by staff writer Jack Marshall suggests that agencies “are increasingly turning their backs on blogs in favor of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and newer kids on the block like Instagram and Facebook.”
A lot of agencies do maintain blogs, Marshall observes, but largely so they can shine a spotlight on themselves when they win awards, make a noteworthy hire or issue a press release. But because blogs don’t contribute to reputation or brand, some agencies are dumping them. The post quotes Sam Weston, communications director at Huge, a digital agency, arguing that “Nobody reads agency blogs.” The agency has back-burnered its own blog while they try to figure out what to do with it.
Blogs, SEO and thought leadership
The assertion that nobody reads agency blogs came as a surprise to Niall Cook, one of the architects of Hill & Knowlton‘s blogging initiative. Cook left H&K last year to start his own consultancy—Sociagility—but says that by the time he left, the agency’s blogs “were generating more traffic and higher search engine rankings than the corporate website.” The website, he says, cost considerly more than the few thousand dollars invested in getting the blogs up and running.
“Even today, there are way more links to blogs.hillandknowlton.com than to http://www.hillandknowlton.com or www.hkstrategies.com,” Cook says. His new company’s blog covers topics like why there will never be a standardized social media ROI metric. There isn’t a new-hire or we-won-an-award post to be seen.
In fact, those self-promoting blogs Marshall seems to think characterize agency efforts don’t represent the best agency blogging. Agency blogs that produce the kinds of results H&K has achieved spotlight thought leadership, not awards and new-hires. The ain’t-we-great style of blog—whether from an agency or a company—never appealed to anybody, a fact reinforced by Forrester research that dates back 3-1/2 years.
When I asked study author Josh Bernoff about the Digiday article, he asked, “Did (agency blogs) have anything to say in the first place? Blogs are for thought leaders.” Which is exactly how Forrester approaches blogging. “Only Forrester analysts blog,” he points out, “and they are all, by definition, trying to be thought leaders.”
Good content isn’t easy
H&K has taken the same approach from the start, but “it took 3-4 years to create a sustainable community of conversation and content that demonstrated experience far better than a talking heads video,” according to Cook.
David Jones agrees. Jones, vice president of Social Strategy ad advertising agency Proximity Canada, points out that there are no shortcuts. “Building your ecosystem and filling it with content is hard work. You get out what you put in.”
While engagement with audiences on social channels like Facebook or Twitter and maintaining a blog aren’t mutually exclusive activities, you have to wonder about those who can’t figure out blogging and abandon it for other channels. As Gini Dietrich, CEO of PR agency Arment Dietrich, put it, “You have to have content to post on Facebook and Twitter. Why would you choose to post content that doesn’t drive (traffic) to something you own?”
Dietrich has made the most out of blogging as the lead writer for Arment Dietrich widely-read SpinSucks blog. If SpinSucks has ever been used to announce an award, it was slipped in between torrents of thoughtful posts that produce high levels of engagement. For example, Gini posted an item two days ago on press releases that has generated some 70 comments. Not too long ago, Dietrich launched SpinSucks Pro, a fee-based version of the blog that not only generaes revenue but drives people to deeper levels of content, such as webinars, white papers and more.
Asking the right questions
Dietrich’s success with blogging aligns perfectly with Jones’ and Cook’s views that success requires focus and effort. The same is true at Edelman, the world’s largest PR agency. Edelman Digital VP Phil Gomes says, “In terms of thought leadership and lead-generation, EdelmanDigital.Com does a great job.” Edelman Digital’s website is a blog featuring posts by recognized thought leaders like CEO Richard Edelman, cross-posted from his Edelman Speak Up blog, and David Armano, whose contributions are cross-posted from his personal blog.
Edelman also gains visibility and reputation through its Fellows blogs, where nine employees from around the world share their experiences working and living in markets dramatically different from the ones in which they grew up. As with SpinSucks, the engagement level on Edelman’s blogs is high.
“(I’m) not sure the DigiDay piece is asking the right questions,” says Gomes.
Thornley Fallis CEO Joseph Thornley found irony in the fact that the Digiday article appeared just one day after his agency relaunched its website on the WordPress platform, which supports blogging integrated seamlessly into the other content the site offers.
Ultimately, agency blogs used for self-promotion have always been ill-advised and most likely should be ditched. Does that mean agencies should shy away from blogging? The number of influential agency blogs—from SHIFT Communications, Peppercom, Voce Communications, Twist Imagethe agencies noted above and scads of others—demonstrates how absurd the notion is.
It could well be that the strategic planning and hard are required for successful blogging is driving some agencies to what they perceive as the simpler worlds of Facebook and Twitter. Says Cook, “It’s just another demonstration of the fact that they really don’t understand what social engagement is.”