Agencies open separate social units
Rich Fleck, VP, GM, Merkle Connect
While social media is a key part of almost every agency's offerings, a number of agencies are now launching separately branded and operated social media entities to offer more focus and expertise in this quickly evolving space.
For example, marketing agency Merkle announced in September the launch of Merkle Connect, which focuses solely on social CRM. The agency expects that by having a group dedicated to social media, it will be better positioned to leverage new developments in the channel.
"I don't know if it's going to attract different kinds of clients," said Rich Fleck, VP and general manager of Merkle Connect. "But I do think it's going to give a little bit more visibility and credibility to what Merkle's already doing in the digital space in general."
For Merkle, this relates particularly to data. The separate social brand, he said, allows for a heavier emphasis on social media analytics.
However, if social is far removed from the company's strategic core, there is a risk that the overall results for a client may not be fully integrated, a challenge about which Fleck is aware. "What we're trying to do here is create focus, but not isolation," he said. "We're not trying to put up walls around the group."
Merkle is the latest agency to create a separate social shop, but others were launched as early as 2009. In July of last year, Universal McCann formed Rally@UM, and in January, Havas Media launched Havas Media Social to coordinate strategy with the social media teams in Havas' various divisions.
Ahead of the curve was shopper marketing agency Mars Advertising, which created Collective Bias more than two years ago to tap the power of bloggers and social media influencers. Collective Bias works with more than 1,000 bloggers to discuss client products and in-store shopping experiences.
John Andrews, cofounder and CEO of Collective Bias, believes that being separate — and, yet, connected — to Mars is integral to the social brand's growth. "We could not have moved as fast as we have without the support from Mars," said Andrews. "But at the same time, we couldn't have moved as fast without the freedom."
For Ron Hudas, brand manager at AkzoNobel Decorative Paints, the structure resulted in "probably the most seamless experience I've had working with an agency."
AkzoNobel selected Mars to manage Facebook, Twitter and social couponing efforts intended to build awareness when Akzo's Glidden Paint became the sole paint supplier to Wal-Mart Stores. Collective Bias worked to get the blogosphere talking about the partnership and Glidden continues to use blogger testimonials in its digital marketing.
"The marriage between the two became crucial to the success of the campaign," Hudas said.