Free Media Won't Be End of Paid Agencies

Traditional and Integrated Approaches Still Best for Building Brands

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Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
One thing about summer is that you get out and see more people, more often at social events, barbecues, on the golf course and at the beach. One topic that has been coming up with those inside and outside our industry is the notion of free media. Or at least that's how those outside our industry refer to it.

The term "free media" (or free advertising) is more and more being used as a synonym for social media -- the Twitters, blogs, Facebooks of the world. And some people seem to think it will render ad agencies (on the content side) and media-planning/buying agencies obsolete. Is that realistic? Possibly, but not likely. Here's why I think our future as an industry that adds value to clients is more relevant than ever.

  • Social media is certainly exploding in popularity, and gives marketers the opportunity to communicate a message at little or no cost. But what is the message? Is it on strategy with your business objectives? Consistent with your other core messages in your company? And does it effectively differentiate your brand from that of your competition? A good branding agency will ensure that all of those boxes are checked, so time and effort are not wasted.

  • Messages on blogs and on social-media platforms can only go so far to effectively sell a product or service. In fact, many visitors to social-media sites push back if they detect any form of salesmanship or hype in that environment. So make sure you know how to use the new communications vehicles to ensure that you are properly conveying your message instead of alienating your audience.

  • A true, integrated media mix has been found to work most effectively with most brands. Even at Brownstein Group, where we started a digital-marketing specialty over 10 years ago, we believe that there is a knee-jerk reaction to all things digital, at the expense of traditional (TV, print, public relations, radio, etc.) marketing. It has been our experience that most clients benefit from advertising on multiple platforms that drive you to a primary site or microsite. We even say as much in our own advertising, with the headline "Advertising no longer works," which is paid off by the notion that advertising as you once knew it no longer works; now you must market on traditional and digital platforms and manage brand messages and reputations via hundreds of channels. Smart marketing agencies are doing this well, and adding value for clients every day.

  • I still believe that brand images are difficult to create in the current social-media world. As much as I love the digital world, the most effective brand personalities are still formed on TV, and then reinforced elsewhere, such as on a website. TV commercials are not going away anytime soon; they're just showing up in different places, such as lead-ins to content online.

Personally, I think these are the most exciting times for small agencies. We are smart, nimble and quicker to adapt to a rapidly changing communications world -- one in which I believe clients will continue to rely on us even more in years to come.

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