MIAMI BEACH--A panel of senior comms heads explored the promise and pitfalls of ‘always-on’ marketing at the Global PR Summit today, noting the importance of preparation when it comes to real-time engagement.

The session, led by GolinHarris EVP of digital marketing innovation Jeff Beringer, featured Dow Chemical digital and social media director Abby Klanecky; McDonald’s social media director Rick Wion; and, Stuart Jackson, director of the CEO office at Everything Everywhere.

At McDonald’s, for example, conversation guides, pre-approved by its legal department, are prepared ahead of time to help the company respond to the social media conversation.

“It really starts off with having an understanding,” said Wion. “Yes we put tweets and other information out there proactively to start the conversation, but we don’t end there.”

“The response strategy often requires much more planning behind the scenes,” agreed Klanecky, noting that her company had helped its scientists to better understand “the art of telling a story - and how do you draw people into that conversation.”

“Practice is key,” she added.

The issue of jurisdiction often crops up when social media engagement is discussed from a client-side perspective. Jackson noted that the responsibility for digital often lies within a marketing department “that is often used, for decades, to total control.”

“The world we’re in now is one where there is a two-way conversation between marketers and people,” said Jackson. “That conversation is part of our DNA for PR people.”

“You don’t have a single department responsible for every thing your company says,” added Jackson, noting the importance of customer services to the real time marketing mix.

Yet, measuring a company’s real-time marketing can pose challenges. Wion explained that McDonald’s looks at the lag time between an issue and the response, and also measures engagement rates and reach, using GolinHarris’ Bridge offering.

The panel also considered the various ways it responds to criticism online. After noting that customers love a “playful” brand that they can engage with, Jackson said that, at a certain point, any company has to consider disengaging with its critics, but must always continue to listen to them.

“This is a difficult thing for brands,” said Jackson. “Listen to your customers, if you think they’ve got a valid point-of-view.”

Wion agreed, noting the importance of listening to critics, while Klanecky added that Dow has found that engaging with a small group of vocal activists “does nothing” for its brand.