Blurring Lines

It used to be simple. Creative agencies would make ads, media agencies would place them, and PR companies would handle corporate communications and press. This is no longer the case. Online video and social media have blurred the lines between these players, and opened the door for other, smaller companies to get larger pieces of the online advertising pie.

When our company started distributing social video six years ago, people didn't know what to make of us. There were no viral video charts back then. There was no "bucket" for online video in a media plan, much less opt-in, user-initiated views. "Engagement" was uncharted territory.

Thankfully, things have changed. The 1940's-era CPM mindset still reigns, but there's a growing demand, in video especially, for engagement-based distribution, and a general acceptance of its value. The "viral video" craze has evolved into a more mature understanding of shareable paid placements, and online video as a whole has become a mainstay for an increasing number of major advertisers. But it's difficult to overstate the disruptive impact of social media. It's changed news, dating, job hunting, entertainment, and it's even helped topple a few governments. In our little industry, social video has rewritten a number of rules and blurred longstanding boundaries.

In the past six months, for instance, our company has worked with some public relations firms on social video initiatives. This would have never happened just a few years ago. In previous years our clients were brands and/or their media agencies. Period. Now, we work with creative agencies, PR companies, digital agencies, social media specialists, seeding and outreach firms, and ad networks, all of whom have been tasked with executing successful social video campaigns for major brands.

In our view, all of these players have legitimate claims to the social video space. PR firms, for instance, tend to view social video as an extension of their core expertise, which is generating media and consumer interest in their clients' activities. Creative shops cite their experience in content development. Digital agencies, ad networks, and social specialty firms point to their deep familiarity with, and sharp focus on social media.

This suddenly blurry landscape can be confusing for brands. Whom should they trust with their increasingly important social media budgets? There is, of course, no single answer. The rapid changes I've described have not only created a scramble for ad dollars, they have forced the various players to fundamentally restructure their operations, and, to a certain degree, acquire the skills of their competitors. This is why you see media agencies producing content and creative companies distributing it.

In the long run, those who develop the sharpest social media skill sets will win. This isn't television; it's measurable, and brands will ultimately place their trust in the companies that provide tangible, measurable value.

3 comments about "Blurring Lines".
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  1. Mark Burrell from Tongal, July 29, 2011 at 3:29 p.m.

    This is GREAT, right on the money. I'm mark, co-founder of, we are also based in LA. Would love to talk or meet up.

  2. Jaffer Ali from PulseTV, July 29, 2011 at 3:38 p.m.

    William, the push for measurable impact is a DR mentality that works against scale. And indeed, the root of the word "measure" comes from the Sanskrit word for "illusion". I have nothign against niche marketing, it just does not deliver what brands really need.

  3. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., July 29, 2011 at 4:13 p.m.

    I just love it when somebody actually gets what the hell is going on. You're damn right the lines are blurring - and outside the classic agency / client environment in the trenches people are VERY unsure of what they want - but they know they're not happy with what they're getting. Broadcast continues to fade in the local space and online grows...interesting times. Thanks for the clear insight.

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