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An Appetite for Change: The New Agency Model

Posted At: November 1, 2011 5:12 PM
by Megan Reichenbach

“Unfortunately, I do not have the ability to predict the future, but it will be changing dramatically,” Fred Cook, president and chief financial officer of GolinHarris Public Relations Agency, said.

An innovated future of the agency

On September 28, 2011, the Plank Center hosted the webinar, “Agency for the Future,” featuring Cook. Cook is a pioneer of the new future of the agency, which he defines as “a holistic communications firm designed and built to win in a complex world.”

Cook believes there is currently a major shift in the news media outlets, where some are shrinking while others are growing. Cook has created a new initiative to the way the business of an agency works: “PRevolve.” He believes this new theory will aid businesses in becoming more accustomed to the new communication outlets and eventually develop further success in the long run. This initiative is premeditated, and Cook emphasizes the fact that “we are changing because we want to, not because we have to.”

The main catalyst for this new form of an agency is the increasing popularity of social media, the development of new platforms of communication, a need for strong technological knowledge and the emphasis of specialization tactics instead of general tactics toward running an agency.

Connectivity is key in remaining up to speed with the accelerating pace of the agency. Social media is actually becoming stronger through the use of traditional media. Cook cited a number of statistics that portray this trend: “99% of blogs link to traditional media, 50% of stories on Twitter originate with traditional media” and “56% of reporters use social media as a resource.” In order for agencies to remain connected with clients, PRevolve will be used to begin translating traditional media through the means of social media.

Because these new outlets of media are disseminating information so quickly, the lead times of all stories in the media are gaining momentum.

A “specialized” change to the agency

“The milk and Cheerios is that you have to manage all types of media in all response times,” Cook said. In order to have the ability to respond to the hastening pace of Facebook and Twitter, an agency needs to designate individuals to solely communicate to clients via these social media sites.

So, instead of every employee within the agency only gaining a general knowledge of all the skills of the PR or advertising agency, the new model will entail skill-based communities. GolinHarris has specifically labeled four teams: strategists, creators, connectors and catalysts.

The strategist team is responsible for developing big picture ideas. These members are not afraid of testing the conventional ways of doing business and are willing to take risks.

The creators are those who are comfortable with taking these risky ideas and translating them into messages to be distributed in the market. Once the messages are in the communication field, the connectors are responsible for remaining up to speed with media outlets and searching for ways to disseminate information via all media channels.

Lastly, the catalysts are the problem solvers, executers and motivators. These individuals go that extra step in order to guarantee the best service to all clients.

Libby Sexton Romano, senior account executive of Big Communications, said Big Communications also takes advantage of designating personnel to specializations of their strongest qualities. “Everyone has their own individual strengths at Big and we believe in supporting and growing those,” Sexton said. “When I started, I had a particular interest in social media and Web development, so that has become my niche.”

Even though this new model requires every person has a specific position within the business, teamwork has not been eradicated from the business. All communities are still obligated to work as a team in order to build upon each other’s input.

GolinHarris has created the “bridge,” a technologically savvy engagement center used to discuss trends and issues. The information found is disseminated primarily via social media and then ultimately through all media sites. This bridge serves as a collaborative network for these specialized communities to work together and distribute information in the most effective, active way possible.

Along with the “bridge” GolinHarris has created a Facebook-type collaboration center, The Connector. This site further facilitates online communication within the industry and allows for simply global communication amongst the specialty communities.

With the same format as Facebook, The Connector makes communicating nationally and internationally faster, easier and more efficient than traditional ways of communicating. The Connector enables users to use a “news-feed” application that allows information to be distributed in a matter of seconds.

“The industry is moving faster than it has at any given point in the last five years, and as the pace accelerates, the lines between the different protagonists are beginning to blur within the digital value chain,” Paul Vassallo, head of online trading and display at Media Contacts, said in an ExchangeWire blog post.

Agencies cannot expect to remain the same while there are major shifts occurring in the digital world. In order to successfully serve its clientele, every agency needs to keep up with the popularity of technology and social media.

“We have incorporated [social media] into all of our accounts, but it is done in a seamless way,” Sexton said. “If anything, it has created more of an immediacy to our communication.”

A temptation to remain the same

On the other hand, there still exist those agencies that do not believe it is necessary to change the entire structure of the agency. There are companies that agree the business model is undergoing changes, but not necessarily changing dramatically.

“The way we do business is largely the same, we just have more options for message dissemination and more abilities to narrow our message to the demographically and psychographically correct audience,” Lewis Communications Account Manager Michelle Kendrick said.

Even though there is a number of newly innovated systems of relaying information out to clients and potential clients, Kendrick only believes it is simply adding onto the traditional means of media, not replacing it.

In his blog post, Vassallo agreed the agency model is undergoing changes in the pace of its strategies. But, he also defended Kendrick’s view regarding the preservation of the traditional role of an agency: “the broad role of the agency for a client remains relatively unchanged – namely to build and execute effective consumer communications’ plans that drive brand awareness and sales.

While GolinHarris seems to be moving predominantly toward social media and faster media outlets to relay information to clients, Kendrick believes deciphering between traditional and social media to be useless.

“I’ve actually stopped referring to the two as something different because the lines are starting to [blur. I] recognize the importance that the two shouldn’t be isolated from one another, even in our conversation,” Kendrick said. “When an agency executes the social media, it sometimes sounds hollow or sales-y.”

Businesses need to begin adapting their industry models to the revolutionizing advances occurring in the digital world. GolinHarris seems to be one step ahead, with an open mindset to changing the entire structure of its business.

Then again, there are still those agencies that trust in the models at hand, and are only slightly changing message distribution to adapt to the popularity of social media.

“There is an enormous appetite for change but not many people were actually taking that initiative,” Cook said. “But GolinHarris took the initiative.”


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