Will your agency have a “ROTNEM” program?

Last week an article in the Chicago Tribune talked about Edelman (the world’s largest independent PR firm) using Gen-Y employees to teach older executives about social media.

On first glance, this is fabulous!  Using younger employees who have grown up with this technology and pairing them with older executives who may not understand it seems to be a great idea. “Rotnem” (mentor in reverse) seems too good to be true.  In fact, I could see value for any recent and upcoming grads in a position like this.  Face time with executives, a chance to prove your worth, the ability to have a real impact on a campaign – it sounds like a dream job for most new PR pros.

But wait.  Did the world’s largest independent PR firm just admit that its most junior employees are completely directing social media efforts?  And did it also just admit it has waited until NOW to dive into social media? So the company that “invented the media tour; created litigation and environmental PR; (was) the first to use a toll-free consumer hotline, and the first to employ the Web in crisis management” is the last to enter social media?  That is shocking – even my mom is on Facebook.

How could Edelman be so late?  And why on earth would Edelman promote its social media tardiness?

If I were one of Edelman’s clients, I would seriously reconsider any social media campaign.  Although I completely believe in the talent and creativity of my Gen-Y peers, I am not sure if any of us are ready to handle million-dollar accounts.  That is the beauty of entry-level positions, you have room to learn and grow under the guidance of those with more experience.

Gini Dietrich of F.A.D.S agrees and remarks how scary it is that Edelman does social media for clients when 95 percent of its leaders do not fully understand it.

Furthermore, Edelman’s own social media use seems to be lacking.  A link from the corporate site to the official blog of Edelman Digital took me to a blog that was updated only once in October and twice in September.  The people in the digital division could not come up with more than three things to blog about in the last two months?

Overall, I think the Rotnem program is terrific and many local agencies could benefit from something similar.  It is also great that Edelman is embracing social media since we all know it is here to stay.  But I never would have promoted the lack of social media knowledge by senior executives, nor would I have disclosed the extreme delay in social media adoption.

What would you do if Edelman was running your company’s social media campaign?

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7 Responses to Will your agency have a “ROTNEM” program?

  1. ncano says:

    That scares me that the younger generation is teaching the older generation social media, however, it’s not a bad thing. It gives us, the younger generation, more hope to finding a job. Why not be able to get like you said face time with executives and teach them something. Sure, it may hurt their egos, but it shows that you have skills that they don’t have and it puts you up in a position that most people hardly ever get a chance to obtain. You’re working side by side with executives. you’re sitting with them, writing up things for them to read, that’s exciting. Most people may get an email that address the whole company about something from an executive, but face time, really?

    Now the question you pose about Edelman running my company’s social media campaign, doesn’t really scare me if in fact I know that a person that is coming up with these ideas and presenting them to me, is of this younger and experience in social media. If someone that is learning social media is handling it all on their own, I want to know up front that they are going to turn to working with someone in their company with social media. If the person that has less expertise and decides to work alone, then I am going to be nervous and would rather pay to be taught about social media and do it myself than have a person who is just learning and isn’t an expect in this area. I don’t want my campaign to fail or not give me the result I am looking for because the person running it isn’t an expert. The company should continue to be upfront, telling the companies they are doing social media for that they are having a team do the work, such as an expert and someone that is learning. You can’t do something if you don’t try, so of course the person from Edelman has to learn social media and that may mean hands on experience.

  2. n_applegate says:

    I think that it is a great idea to have the younger generation teaching the older generation about social media. We have the first hand experience needed to keep up with the technology advances in today’s world. The only thing that scares me is what will happen when we get older and are working for a company for many years and technology is again changing with the generation below us getting the first hand experience to teach us. This is an ongoing process that will continue throughout the years. Technology advances everyday and as you get older it gets harder to keep up with it because we are so used to the methods we learned.

  3. You and I are wholeheartedly in agreement! I think it’s fabulous that the 20-somethings are able to teach the Baby Boomers a thing or two about social media (even if it is collecting recipes on Delish or having 500 friends on Facebook – “so cute”), but to your point, how can Edelman be counseling their clients on social media if the people who are supposed to be setting the strategy don’t understand how to use it?

    If I were an Edelman client and I read that article, I’d really wonder who was running the shop. This isn’t any different than interns pitching reporters. It shouldn’t happen.

  4. ekozak says:

    ncano: I completely agree that the ROTNEM programs has many benefits, especially for those in our generation looking for a way to get their foot in the door at large agencies. However, I think Edelman’s clients will not be pleased with this revelation. Companies spend thousands and possibly even millions of dollars on Edelman’s services for one reason – experience. Clients want to make sure that their messaging is tight and on-point and many practitioners need years of experience before being able to deliver that. Really, I hope my future agency has a ROTNEM program, but I don’t think this was “good PR” for Edelman and it might eventually harm the company’s social media initiatives.

    n_appelgate: I actually believe that our generation is better postitioned to adapt and grow with new technology than previous generations. Of coure, there will always be new tools adopted by younger generations first, but I think most people in Gen-Y have the technological ability to ride the waves of new tools and applications, unlike our parents who had absolutely no exposure to computer technology until later in life. Even though I am no computer genious, I can generally solve most problems and learn most programs on my own or with little assistance. Many people from older generations just don’t have the natural skills because they did not grow up in a digital world.

    Gini Dietrich: Yes we completely agree! I think Edelman should have thought twice about participating in this article and since someone at Edelman probably came up with the story idea and pitched the reporter, that person should re-examine Edelman’s own positioning and make sure the messages being disseminated reflect the company’s desire to show expertise and credibility.

  5. bjohnson says:

    Ah, a fantastic post that stimulates some good conversation. Thank you, again, for the insight.

    I would say that naturally Edelman and companies all around the globe are probably employing its Gen Y group to perform social media for the same reason that a company hires a finance major to be an accountant- because they have more training than the other employees. Perhaps that claim shouldn’t be generalized but in reality, where are the employers going to go if they don’t know how to do the operations that many of us have been taught? To me I understand their reasoning.

    The next question, however, is can that be a responsible move? Sure a college grad has skills on platforms like Twitter and WordPress but does that give them the skill that a senior executive has in regard to everything else? I think these companies need to be careful. I would love the chance to work for a firm like Edelman but I would definitely need to be aided on large accounts in order to see the aspects that social media doesn’t cover.

    I think teamwork is probably the best solution. Gen Y needs Gen X and vice versa.

  6. kinoshita says:

    I agree with Britnee that it makes sense Edelman would seek Gen Y employees to educate them on the ins and outs of social media. Social media almost seems synonymous with technology. And the Gen Y group is synonymous with technology. However, like Erin said, the question is how could Edelman have missed the social media boat so completely? It has come and gone.

    It’s scary to think that students fresh out of college are heading up multi-million dollar projects. That’s a lot of pressure on newbies not to mention the risk Edelman is taking with its reputation and clients.

    My question is: Why didn’t Edelman hire PR professionals as consultants or third party contractors instead of implementing ROTNEM, or at they very least have these professionals oversee the newbies? They may be harder to find then Gen Yers, but they exist. I’ll use Dr. Gilpin as an example. It seems like she has been a part of the social media movement since its conception. She has been engaging in this two-way conversation for years. Why didn’t Edelman go to the Gilpin’s of the world? While students definitely have knowledge in the art of social media above and beyond that of the average pr professional, we are still learning from our professors and professionals who have experience.

  7. ekozak says:

    bjohnson: I understand Edelman’s reasoing for using Gen Y employees to teach older employees about social media. I only disagree with their decision to publicize this information. They should have kept it behind closed doors. Instead an agency that has positioned itself as a pioneer in the field looks like it is late to the party.

    kinoshita: Using the Dr. Gilpins of the world is an incredible idea. However, Edelman probably did not do this because of one major issue: money. There would be a major pay differential between recent grads and the Dr. Gilpins of the world. Again, I think ROTNEM is a great idea – I think the decision to publicize it was not.

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