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It's not often we witness as rapid and dynamic a change as the one happening in paid social media today. The surge in branded and unbranded content, combined with new platform updates, is forcing brands to reconsider how they compete for consumers' attention and the role of paid social media. Getting the levels of engagement, reach and scale marketers expect from digital marketing will require a committed investment -- in both time and resources -- which puts clients and marketers under pressure to demonstrate ROI.
Culture, consumer behavior and digital media are all evolving too quickly for the current assembly-line models to work ideally for paid social integration. Brands need to either house paid, earned and owned planning together, or they need to foster authentic cross-agency collaboration, with clear swim lanes for each agency. So how do we get more speed, organization and alignment?
Marketers can play a key role by using their influence in the RFP process to lead the genesis of new behaviors.
The media RFP -- and particularly sections about paid social -- hasn't changed much over the years, even as the industry has evolved. With paid social, too often we are seeing marketers asking the same questions and expecting different answers. In fact, there are three fundamental questions that can be reframed for paid social:
1. Old Question: "Tell us about your scale and buying power, and what partnerships you can leverage to our advantage."
This question assumes that buying power still matters in this environment as much as it used to. Ten to 15 years ago, agencies that spent $500 million with a single network got better rates than those that spent $50 million. While buying power still plays a role in many situations, it plays a less significant role for select areas of paid social. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are far more democratized, which means an agency's advantage doesn't come merely from more spending, but also from the strategic placement of engaging, authentic and relevant content. While there are undeniably ways to flex buying influence -- in the form of ROI studies, first-mover advantage, access to APIs and insight into the product road map -- marketers should focus on understanding the true advantages an agency can provide, based on how they are organized, to take advantage of those benefits, beyond just scale.
New Question: How is your agency organized to best take advantage of the paid social ecosystem? How do paid, earned and owned come together in the everyday work environment?
2. Old Question: "Tell us about your use of technology as a competitive edge."
This question assumes better technology will be a brand's panacea. While agencies often create proprietary technologies, most media technologies sooner or later level to an even playing field. An agency's true competitive advantage comes from attracting and retaining great talent, organizing in a unique way and building the right team of experts and specialists to advance brands and solve business problems. When great talent combines with the right agency DNA and the right client, the result is close collaboration and more integration.
New question: How do you staff and develop talent to win in paid social and stay on top of changes in the landscape? What are your unique technology capabilities that enhance your team or capabilities, and how are they unique?
3. Old Question: Can you please share a reference?
The truth is, agencies love this question. It's a chance to connect a prospect with a favorite client who will speak well on the agency's behalf. However, for paid social, try to dig deeper and get more specific by requesting a reference that can speak to the inherent challenges of the ecosystem, and how the agency has worked with the client to tackle these challenges.
New question: When confronted with the challenge of one agency having control of "paid" and another agency "owned and earned," how would you collaborate to the benefit of the client and consumer? Can you share a case study and client reference to demonstrate how you work in this type of arrangement?
The best answers always come from asking the right questions. As paid social continues to grow in importance, framing the right questions at the outset will set the stage for better ROI, stronger working relationships and maximization of the entire channel's capacity, which means less frustration for procurement and happier marketers. It's time to overhaul the 50-year-old media RFP and create one that focuses on succeeding in a new marketing landscape. This will ensure that every brand has the right team, interaction, integration and benchmarks for success.