Joseph Jaffe is rightly criticised for Adweek article

Adweek logo Crayon founder Joseph Jaffe has faced a wave of criticism in the comments for his recent by-lined article in Adweek. Personally I’m amazed that the Adweek editor allowed such a blatant ‘puff piece’ to appear under the guise of genuine editorial.

Jaffe uses his op-ed to launch an ill-informed broadside against his competitors from the public relations and digital marketing world. The main problem is that Jaffe’s criticism of both disciplines appear to be based on a fundamental lack of understanding about what public relations and digital marketing companies actually do!

For example his criticisms are only valid if you start off from his rather distorted perspective of what public relations actually is.

He rather magnanimously says ‘Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying PR shouldn’t be at the table.’ But then rather bizarrely goes on to say: ‘I’m just questioning how ‘relations’ between corporations and journalists equate with real people hanging out with other real people.’

It’s only him that’s equating public relations with ‘relations’ between corporations and journalists. Most public relations professionals would equate PR with ‘relations’ between real people and real people, of which journalists are only one group (one defining characteristic of which is their disproportionate ability to influence other people.)

Another one of Jaffe’s unsubstantiated claims is: ‘Whereas the digital space has very little claim to the "physical" world and hasn’t proven itself in the virtual space, the PR industry resides more comfortably in the physical world, with a superficial grasp of the digital space and an anaemic understanding of the virtual one.’

You could just as easily replace PR industry with advertising industry, but it still wouldn’t be true. Yes there are lots of public relations people who don’t get it, just as there are lots of advertising people who don’t get it, and lots of marketing people. So what there are also many that do ‘get it’.

And isn’t it a bit tired and lame to continually harp back to Wal-mart as an example of public relations companies not getting it. Fact 1: it was a long time ago and doesn’t represent what’s happening now. Fact 2: It was a campaign run by some very smart folk, who made a mistake. Fact 3: They apologised and more importantly learnt from it.

Towards the end of the article Jaffe attempts to backtrack slightly and says: ‘Just to be clear, I’m not saying every digital and/or every PR agency is ill-equipped to deliver against ‘social.’ What I am suggesting, however, is there’s an acute and fundamental flaw in equating ‘social’ with ‘digital’ or ‘social’ with ‘earned media.’ The problem with that statement is that it is only Jaffe that is ‘equating "social" with "digital" or "social" with "earned media.’

The whole argument just doesn’t make sense and consists of little more than an ill-informed rant that appears to be designed to say his specialist social media agency can do the job, but nobody else is qualified. POPPYCOCK!

UPDATE: I wrote this post this morning when I first read the article in my feeds. I didn’t post it initially because I didn’t want to do what Jaffe was doing and just randomly have a pop at other businesses in the social media space. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s wrong to lay into people, especially if you’re wrong!

My strongly held belief is that public relations people and businesses are the best placed to lead social media as two-way conversation, dialogue and relationships is at the core of what we do and always has been – it’s not new to us! (Joseph, the clue’s in the name public (as in people, all people) relations (as in relationships, two-way). That’s why there is some great work being done by public relations agencies, and a lot of the best work at integrating social media into corporate communications strategies is being led or commissioned by in-house PR people. Many of the social media campaigns that have been done by PR agencies and have gone wrong is because they’ve been working to briefs from in-house marketing people, rather than PR people.

I also think there is some fantastic work being done by advertising agencies. One of the strengths they have is a robust planning process, which helps them to manage the fact that traditionally they don’t do relationships and two-way communication in the same way as it is burnt into the DNA of public relations.

Some digital agencies are also doing a pretty good job of getting to grips with social media, but the big barrier for most is they don’t have the same strategic communications ability as public relations people and are too focussed on the online solution rather than the real-world social and economic implications.

The reason I said that public relations should ‘lead’ is that it is the custodian and manager of corporate behaviour and reputation. But it can’t do this without working closely with other disciplines such as marketing, human resources, legal/risk management, customer services etc.

15 Replies to “Joseph Jaffe is rightly criticised for Adweek article

  1. I agree with your points [as a PR person I guess I would] about PR being best placed to help brands with conversations. What I've noticed since joining an ad agency recently, is that the ad industry is good at creating conversations too. They do it in a different way tho – they create something really compelling that gets people talking e.g. Fallon's campaigns. I think where PR tends to excel is on the two way bit i.e. responding to the discussions they have started and building relationships.
    However, I wholeheartedly agree with your point about slagging of other disciplines – it never gets anyone anywhere.

  2. Another good post Stuart. I know I work with you and we don't always agree but I strongly agree with everything you have said here.

    There are some great agencies/consultancies out there from all of these specialisms doing great work in social media and to dismiss that fact smells of arrogance to me.

  3. Interesting debate. I'll just pick up on one point.

    We should stop talking about "social media" as if it were exclusively digital or virtual. All media – on and off line – are social or they are not media. Moreover, old and new media (New Old Media) are becoming indistinguishable as they explore innovative ways to interact with their audiences.

    Marketing and to a greater extent PR have always been in the business of connecting, discussing and holding two-way discussions with real people in a variety of ways from direct to indirect and with varying degrees of reciprocity.

    Jaffe needs a reality check.

  4. One effect of the way we consume information online is that I read your response first (rection takes precedence over action).

    When I then read Jaffe's article I was pleasantly surprised to find it rational and sensible.

    I think you've overreacted on this occasion – though your update in particular is very well argued.

  5. I'm really glad people are talking…that was the intent. As I mentioned to Neville Hobson, the intent of the article was to talk about where "social" really fits as opposed to criticizing digital or PR shops.

    Clearly I touched on some sensitivities and arguably exposed some guilty consciences.

    Whilst I do think this has been somewhat over-analyzed and arguably, misinterpreted (to Richard's point), I also agree with his comments that Stuart raised/argued great points.

    Clearly one of the good guys 🙂

  6. Don't wish to seem dismissive but it sounds like this argument broke out in the queue for ice-creams! Only 30-something-year-old marketeers get worked-up about this stuff (who gets it and who doesn't, who should lead who…blah blah blah). There are smart people working in ALL comms disciplines. Clients will just work with whoever they trust the most. If you've got something valuable to offer, pitch in. The cream always floats to the top. Any client foolish enough to appoint an army of bickering land-grabbers will need to quickly work out where the pioneering thinkers reside because there's an awful lot of self-appointed gurus (JJ excluded) that are harvesting the land rather than sewing new seeds.

  7. Well if (self-appointed guru) Jaffe's aim was to get people talking, he has succeeded. Unfortunately most of the "talk" is about how Jaffe is a pontificating lightweight! Now he is trying to say that the near-universal negative reaction is because of "guilty consciences"!! Talk about being in denial!

  8. The ad industry is very insecure at the moment. Many ad people are panicking as their share of the marcomms budgets steadily declines.

    It is pretty pathetic to see these dinosaur ad men rubbish PR because they don't understand it.

    But Robin Grant and Matt Lawton are right – let's see how this unfolds over the next few years… the market will sort out the puff from the pastry.

  9. @Robin I'm not sure that "time and the market" is the same thing. The brighter and swifter ad folk are recognising the sea change and buying in the appropriate skills. They already command the lion's share of budgets and it's easier to hang on to budget and spend it in a different way than it is for other disciplines to win new business.

  10. Stuart

    I couldn't agree more. I have been having this exact conversation with colleagues today and was pleased to read your views. Social media is new and exciting and everyone wants a piece of it. Just like any other form of media, everyone has a role to play – advertising, public relations and digital but your point about relationships is key. Many marketing disciplines talk to people, PR has for a long time tried and succeeded to talk to people. But let's just all play nice – the potential is huge and there is plenty to go around and everyone has something unique to offer.

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