Remember clipping services? When I was a weekly humor columnist for The Ring-tum Phi at Washington & Lee, I penned a column that reviewed each and every one of the cheap wines available at the local grocery store, from MD 20/20 to Wild Irish Rose. Within a week, a letter from the Ernest & Julio Gallo company arrived on my desk at the Phi's offices. Evidently, Gallo's clipping service had picked up on my column (written in a college newspaper with only a few thousand circulation, no less) and had one of its PR staffers pen a response to my column.
We printed the letter in the next issue, along with a response from me. It was funny as hell that Gallo took enough time out to write us and set the record straight in a humorous way. (I had gotten some facts wrong regarding which cheap wines Gallo made.)
If you take a step back for a sec, realize that what occurred here wasn't all that different from a conversation on a blog. I published something in a tiny venue, Gallo had its feelers out and somehow found it, and they took the time to respond and join the conversation. The participation part is the tough part, but I find many advertising agencies are failing where PR agencies succeed - at least they have their feelers out and they're listening.
Some of the folks I converse with online who work for advertising agencies are amazed at the speed at which I respond to blog posts about me, my writings or my company. Others who work for agencies are always asking me how I find opinions and articles on certain topics, particularly the ones that are important to my clients.
One of the reasons is that I have a lot of custom searches saved up. Google News sends me an e-mail any time anything of significance is written about "Hespos," "Underscore Marketing," "Wading River" (my hometown), "The MathWorks" (a client) or any other number of phrases. I also have searches for these terms built into my RSS reader, so I'm actually subscribed to similar searches on IceRocket, Google Blog Search, Blogdigger and a few others. I get these updates via my Sage RSS reader on a nearly real-time basis.
So whenever someone writes a blog post or sends out a news article about me or several topics that are important to me, I know about it fairly quickly. From there, I can take my lunch hour or a spare few moments in between meetings to respond.
Not many folks are used to getting information this way, though. It may seem simple to me or to many folks reading this site, but a lot of people are plumb mystified by the notion of getting real-time search updates or near real-time news alerts. I can't picture doing it any other way.
Back to my original point, though. The fact that PR agencies are at least listening to the conversation means that they're a step ahead of the ad agencies in the conversational economy. Hopefully the ad agencies will start listening soon as well.