A Fresh Perspective on the PR vs Marketing Ownership of Social Media


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Written by Teresa Jane La

After a decade working in social media and public relations in Los Angeles with agencies, startups, and running my own digital PR and social media agency DCPR, a common thread I’ve noticed is the tug of war between what type of agency should own social media.

Startups and established companies alike are often looking for a one-stop shop that offers core services that launch their brand or revitalize a brand that’s gone stale. This often means that the lead agency brought on for creative or brand strategy will feel obligated to take on social media simply because they are brought on to do everything else. While this makes the most economic sense, often times social media isn’t a core competency for these lead agencies. It’s not unusual to find a junior level team member taking lead on social media for a client by proxy. A well-executed social media strategy covers content creation, community management, and social ad strategy, all while keeping in tune with the latest social trends. More often than not, these types of agencies aren’t able to specialize in all the workings or have the bandwidth to execute social media properly. The question becomes, “Given that it makes the most sense for these lead agencies to take on social media, what benefits the client the most?”

Before we discuss the ideal solution, it’s worth taking a look at social media and its context in today’s ever-changing digital landscape. Social media at the core has always been about communication. For a brand just starting out, it’s about using social platforms to gain brand awareness, reach new audiences, and engage with consumers. Given the inherent nature of social media, it makes sense to attribute it as a function of PR. Social Media and PR teams both have the common goals of securing eyeballs, conversation, and hits for a client. Both teams are tasked with establishing a brand’s voice, crafting the right messaging to the public, and community outreach. A PR agency is already set up to create conversations between brands and consumers and thus is a natural fit for social media.

Each client comes with their own unique set of needs and services that should be customized accordingly. It’s rare for an agency to be able to do it all nor should an agency feel that they need to do it all.

Going back to our question, it’s important to shift the conversation away from who should own social media but rather on finding an ideal situation for the client. From my experience, I’ve found the best solution is collaboration not competition amongst agencies. It’s about knowing what your agency does well and bringing on a partner agency or a consultant to help execute areas that are outside of scope.

Each client comes with their own unique set of needs and services that should be customized accordingly. It’s rare for an agency to be able to do it all nor should an agency feel that they need to do it all. For some agencies, it just doesn’t make sense to build out a full-service social media team. The most practical solution when a lead agency doesn’t specialize in social media natively is to partner with an integrated PR + social media agency to service those needs. This way, agencies don’t need to stretch core competencies that can potentially harm the larger client relationship.

If you’re a brand looking to build out social, it’s important to do your due diligence and take a close look at the social media team that will be working on your account. If you’re an agency whose core competency isn’t in social media, it is worthwhile to consider partnering up with a digital PR + social media agency that can easily configure with your existing teams.

The lessons I’ve learned have come after trial and error scenarios after working in a variety of configurations at agencies and startups. My company DCPR has evolved over the times but our core competency has always been social media and PR. We recognize our strengths and learned that we don’t need to do it all. We have established relationships with partner agencies and consultants and bring them on to execute on areas outside of our scope. On the flip side, we are brought on by lead agencies to help service their clients. It’s a win and win. It gives clients the best in class services and ignites the collaborative spirit.

About Teresa

Teresa La is a Digital Marketing Strategist + PR consultant specializing in social media. She is the founder of Digital Candy PR, a boutique social media and PR agency that helps brands develop and execute digital marketing campaigns designed to drive awareness, build conversations, and monetize audiences.