Clear and Present Danger of Social Media for Ad Agencies

I recently read a 4 part series of articles on the “Dangers of Agency New Business Social Media.”  Agencies were forewarned to not overemphasize or become to reliant upon social media.

“While important, it is critical to not over-emphasize or become too reliant on social media.” The Dangers of Agency New Business Social Media – Part 1

The greatest danger of Social Media at this time is that agencies are NOT fully participating.


Currently the problem is not agencies and new business consultancies are all jumping into social media. The problem has been the lateness in their willingness to participate. When they do, they don’t understand how to use it. They don’t know enough to have an integrated social media strategy and therefore they waste a lot of time with no results and become frustrated. They completely miss the value of social media and instead of being proponents they become detractors.

 “If your goal in getting into social media is to get your feet wet, then the outcome is wet feet.” Katie Paine, president of KDPaine & Partners

I can assure you, from personal experience, there is nothing passive about social media for ad agency new business.  It is a very active and engaging media with your target audience.

Rather than banter about the Dangers of Social Media, agencies need to look at its genuine Benefits.

What are the benefits of Social Media?

  • It is the greatest professional enrichment tool that I have ever used. It keeps me current, connected and informed. 
  • It is the best tool for agency branding that I’ve worked with. It simplifies the branding process for agencies and allows for engagement with their potential clients to test and hone their brand’s appeal. I 
  • It is a great new business tool that produces a pipeline of inbound leads and networking opportunities with an agency’s best prospective clients. Social media greatly expands personal networks. It is networking on steroids. Extremely efficient.

 And to top it all off, as you are becoming professionally enriched, branding your agency, generating new business you will provide a powerful demonstration for how you use the tools that you recommend they use.

Here’s my advice to those agencies willing to participate:

  1. Choose a target audience and a point of differentiation for your agency. Think narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow. 
  2. Find the online resources that provide enlightenment to you and will be a helpful resource to your audience. Use Google Reader to organize your online reading.
  3. Create an agency blog, center it around people, not your agency. Allow it to live apart from your agency’s branding. Keep in mind, relationships first. Allow it to become the gateway to your agency.
  4. Set a goal to reach your first fifty post in a short window of time, such as 30 to 60 days. The first five post are the hardest. It will become progressively easier as you continue to write. Remember, you don’t know what you know until you write it down. Read and write your mind clear and you will accelerate your learning curve in social media.Fifty posts will also provide credibility to your blog (provided its content of value to your audience) and the content that can be repurposed through other channels.
  5. Repurpose your content in Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and email newsletters. The effort that you put into a post can return your time investment a hundred times over. Posts that I’ve written over two years ago still generate traffic to my blog.

There are four things you need to know to have success:

1. Social Media is Affordable but Not Cheap

 There are so many social media tools available that are of little if any cost that it is almost overwhelming. For instance along with the microblogsite Twitter, there are over 100 free tools that enhance its use. Social media is affordable but it isn’t cheap because it is extremely time intensive. Especially the time needed for you and your staff to get up to speed. 

“The cost of your social media education is going to be great but if you don’t invest in your education now it will be costlier later.” 

2. You Can’t Fake Knowledge and Experience in Social Media

Have you ever been guilty of telling a client or prospective client, “sure we can do that” when at the time you didn’t have a clue, but , you  knew you could figure it out. I want to tell you, to be successful in social media you wont be able to fake it. The best way to demonstrate expertise in social media is how you’ve used it for your own agency. If I were a prospective client of yours the first place I would check to see if you truly understood social would be to check out your agency’s blog. I would be able to determine quickly if you are walking the walk or just talking the talk.

Eric Kintz, a Hewlett-Packard marketing exec and blogger said: “I think they [agencies] are somewhat helping. But they need to show how social media has helped them further their own agenda. So if an ad agency comes to me, I’d ask if they have their own page on a social network site? Are they posting videos on YouTube? Do they have their own blog? And how has it helped them in their own business?”

3. Motive Matters 

Advertisers and their ad agencies are looking at social media, the first mass marketing media that isn’t supported by advertising and wondering, what is in it for me? How do I make money through social media?

Radio, TV, your newspaper exists because of advertising. It exists to please the advertisers.

Seth Godin’s blog is ranked number one marketing blog by AdAge Power150. In a recent post he points out,

“The net wasn’t invented by business people and doesn’t exist to help your company (agency) make money. It is entirely possible it could be used that way but it doesn’t owe you anything. The question to ask isn’t how does this help me?”  The question to ask isn’t, “but how does this help me? The question to ask is, “how are people (the people I need to reach, interact with and tell stories to) going to use this new power and how can I help them achieve their goals?” 

4. Learn to Listen and Observe.

Social media is a two-way conversation and the best way to “get it” is to first listen and learn.  As you listen and observe you will notice such things like people read differently online than they do print. They tend to scan rather than read word-for-word. Something else that you notice, to begin a conversation you need to lead with “benefits” rather than your agency’s capabilities. There are many other things that you will only “get” as you become involved in this space but the effort is worth the return.

Barbara Bacci Mirque, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, ANA, recently observed that,

More and more advertisers are leading their agencies into new media, not the other way around,” and that ”clients are the ones who are personally and professionally experimenting with new media forms and directing their agencies to look into them.” 

“When I started out in this business in the mid 80’s as an assistant product manager at The Frito-Lay Company, we expected our advertising agencies to be innovative and inform us about what was hip and cool – now it appears to be the other way around,” she wrote in the ANA blog. 

What is my motivation?

I’m a participant because I’m a believer that I must know emerging media and the changes occurring in the advertising industry through new communication technology for my own professional survival. We are in the midst of a communications revolution as dynamic as was the invention and growth of television to our culture and its impact upon the ad industry.

A special thank you to all of the rebels who continue to push the envelope for how social media can be used, particularly for agency new business.

There are many additional resources within my blog that will be of help. If you have questions, please feel free to email them to me.

Additional articles that may be of interest:



About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. I really like your advice in 1-5 bullets.

    We’re doing almost these 5 steps except:
    (-) we did not manage to quickly get to 50 posts within 60 days

    (+)wo do this effort as a team i.e we collectively engage with our target audience (whom you’re in along with 1200 other bloggers)
    (+) we engage in other people blogs when we believe we had value

    Our observation is that it pays overtime.

  2. Michael,

    I completely agree with you that THE biggest danger is not doing it. Spot on.

    The other problem is (as I’m guessing you’d agree) is starting a program and then not doing it the right way and/or not doing it consistently. I see this as another “danger”.

    Thanks for the post (despite Mr. Bill’s commentary)!

    Your friend in arms,


  3. Mark,

    Thanks for taking the time to address the concerns that I raised in this post. From your comment along with our correspondence through email it is evident that your primary concern was for agencies to do social media the right way and be consistent with their efforts. I appreciate you taking the time to clarify your thoughts and am glad to know that we’re on the same page.


  4. Thanks Michael.

  5. Your post nailed it on the head. We participated in a joint meeting with an ad agency and a potential client recently. The ad agency didn’t have a clue about social media and kept nodding and saying “we can do that” and “oh, that’s no problem.” I wanted to crawl under the table knowing it was our firm that would be doing the work and carrying the project and not the clueless ad agency.

  6. Thanks Steve. Unfortunately this is happening way to often. But with social media it exposes the ones who don’t understand it quickly.

  7. This is really good blog. I have a few myself. I really admire your layout. I know this is off topic but,did you make this layout yourself,or purchase from somewhere?

  8. Kayla, it is as template that I customized.

  9. Michael – great post. It’s great to see someone that believes in social media as much as I do. The model or approach that a lot of agencies are taking on with regard to social media are two things:
    1. Throw a lot of money at it
    2. Invest in technology partners
    I don’t see these as being differentiators in allowing an agency to be a thought leader in earned media. See my blog – but as we enter into this stage 2 social media cycle (where company investments into social media move from knowledge to doing). With this change I think a lot if agencies are going to be dropped by companies and they will turn to true social media professionals. Those people that are willing to push the envelope as you mention and give companies options and advise outside of Facebook an Twitter.

  10. Thanks for the additional insight Michael

  11. I don’t disagree with your general points, but your claims would be a lot more convincing if you included one example or piece of concrete evidence. Quotes from other industry professionals who share your point of view don’t count as evidence.

  12. Thanks Steve. Unfortunately this is happening way to often.

  13. Great post!

  14. Consider this: Social Media is more Dale Carnegie than David Ogilvy. More ‘Winning Friends and Influencing People’ than ‘On Advertising.’ More akin to the retail Relations fields (Public, Community, Government, Customer, Employee, Human, etc., or Public Affairs) than the wholesale Advertising and Marketing arenas. More grassroots organizing and advocacy than paid political advertising. Savvy “Relations” Pros understood the importance of, and could point to experience with identifying and engaging social networks long before Zuckerburg, Facebook or the Oscar-nominated film.

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