Whilst I was away sunning myself for the last couple of weeks, my UK colleagues completed the acquisition of the digital agency Spook. We have been working on this for a while (social media release here with all the facts) and have a few other things in the pipeline too.

I’m happy to say it now means that in our UK business we have really deep technical and creative digital skills and a much bigger base of digital-led clients doing a much wider variety of work. Of course, the divide between a digital practice and the digital outreach of the regular PR teams is often a false one and I estimate now that across Europe 15% of our PR fees are digital in the sense they involve social media monitoring, strategy and outreach and this is across ALL our practice areas. And ultimately for us, and I suspect the industry, this is where the real ‘beef’ will be.

But this acquisition is significant I think for the industry in the UK in that a PR agency just bought a digital agency (and a real one with technical and creative teams and top clients). Let me say that again; “a PR agency just bought a digital agency”. We bang on about being at the top table with brands and yet so often when it comes to it, our strategic skills are not backed up with the capability to make and deliver the content that foster and create conversations (and here I mean a little more than basic websites and Facebook applications). And in many aspects of the digital world having the technical and visually creative skills are fundamental. The new agencies like Cake and the 30 second-spot-besotted dinosaurs of the big groups still pick up too much of this work (even though the latter group patently do not understand how to work in an environment of conversation and relationship) and it’s often only because they have technical and production facilitates in-house. “The PR guys have some good ideas, but do we really trust them to make this stuff and integrate it with our marketing enterprise system? Ok, let’s throw them 10% of the budget and give the build and execution from here on in to the digital or the ad’ guys”? Familiar to you? Well it is to me and the problem is that you don’t get to do strategy long-term if you can’t deliver strategy (and nor should you – – – the clients are right on this).

On the brand-side of our business, if we truly believe that the type of strategy that comes from a PR agency is better suited for this new world than the broadcast-led approach of the advertising suits, then we also have to be able to ‘build it’ if we want clients to ‘come’ (to paraphrase a Field of Dreams). At Edelman we have believed for a while now that ‘digital’ and ‘social media’ and ‘web 2.0’ or the ‘conversation’ or whatever you want to call it are the biggest single opportunity our industry has had in a generation. And so we will build around that belief. This is just the first step of putting our money where our mouth is. There will be more.

And on the corporate, public affairs, health and tech applications of these skills sets are of course big opportunities too.

And because I quoted it I just watched the “build it and they will come” clip on YouTube which is below. Our decision wasn’t quite that dramatic or emotional or as well-lit I concede and Robert Phillips is not quite as good-looking as Kevin Costner.

[tags] Spook, Edelman Digital, Field of Dreams, “build it and they will come” [/tags]

Categories Technology

4 thoughts on “Spook

  1. Hi David, nice to have you back from the sun – I enjoyed your holiday updates on Twitter.

    I agree with your comments on getting the right combination of people and skills working together to be a credible strategic lead. Its often not clear at the start (or the pitch) of a project what the critical combination of elements – skills, location, insights – will be, so the ability to read and interpret the client’s business is paramount. I made this point in a recent post (itself referring back to a 1995 article I wrote for the CIPR Journal):

    “Public relations practitioners have little choice but to rise to the multimedia challenge if we are to compete in an increasingly dynamic communication industry, to flourish rather than survive. Ultimate success is better founded on adapting our current strengths to the ever-widening communicopia – through a highly developed understanding of clients’ business, an appreciation of corporate and brand positioning, and the ability to reach specific audiences, rather than jumping on the techno-junkie bandwagon.”

    Regards, Ronna Porter


  2. Thanks Ronna. Seems you were on to much of this a while ago.


  3. David,

    Congratulations on the deal.

    I concur wholeheartedly with your statement that, “that ‘digital’ and ‘social media’ and ‘web 2.0’ or the ‘conversation’ …are the biggest single opportunity our industry has had in a generation.”

    Exciting times ahead.



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