A Conversation with Matt Meeks of Warner Bros. & Independent Consultant Jeremy Pepper
By UCLA X425 Student Alexis Wiley
“Mommy, who’s your favorite child… public relations or advertising?”
The discussion to start all discussions (at least for a class on social media): Who owns Social Media?
This seemingly unanswerable question was tackled by two of PR’s finest, Jeremy Pepper (@jspepper), corporate communications and social media consultant, and Matt Meeks (@mattmeeks), director of audience development at Warner Bros.
Asking the question, “who owns social media?” is like asking which child your mom loves more. Everyone knows there’s a favorite, but mom (social media) lets each child assume he or she is the favorite for fear of hurting their feelings. This gives way to competition – who’s smarter, who’s more athletic, and who is better overall? In the world of public relations versus advertising, these questions become who’s better at selling large ideas, who is best at timely responses, who can produce content, and, most importantly, who does it first?
Jeremy explained that this competitive game can cause PR agencies to act like “cheap prostitutes” on the streets of content development. He insisted that PR firms shouldn’t loose one of the key elements that has distinguished them from advertising firms since the time of Edward Bernays: the willingness and ability to push back and disagree with the client in the pursuit of advancing their goals. To illustrate his point, Jeremy went as far as to compare content-producing PR agencies to firms such as Demand Media (gasp!) that fill our Google searches with despicable junk.
Matt, on the other hand, explained that public relations is well positioned to win the cold war with advertising because it’s innately better at timely responses. To utilize social media platforms as a gateway to the public, a well-timed response is crucial for maintaining and engaging a sustainable dialogue. Matt pointed out that the area where PR is most at a disadvantage is in the ability to “sell” clients a concept with a premium price tag. The typically more humble public relations agencies tend to put together a strategic step-by-step plan that doesn’t require offshore accounts in the Caymans.
This heated debate ended with a not-so-happy ending: only time will tell. Both guest speakers agreed that social media is still a new tool (much like the telephone once was) with capabilities that haven’t been fully received. That said, public relations is ultimately “influencer relations” as Matt described it. This means that PR pros should use social media to define and engage with core audiences in order to build brand equity for clients.