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Gini Dietrich

The PR Firm of the Future

By: Gini Dietrich | June 3, 2013 | 
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The PR Firm of the FutureAs a business owner, I spend a lot of time thinking about what’s to come.

In the digital information age, will more and more organizations become virtual? Will people create jobs for themselves that allow them to work to live instead of the other way around?

With the Affordable Care Act coming to the U.S. workforce as early as this fall, will more organizations look for ways to streamline their personnel to make things affordable?

How different will the PR firm look from today? Can you have an organization of hundreds of people who don’t have a central place to go every day?

Organizations are Shifting

When we went virtual in 2011, I thought it was going to be only for a year. I thought it was a good test (and gave me 12 months to gain a cash log), but that most would want that office to go to every day.

Boy, was I wrong! Not even *I* want that space to go to every day. I love working from home….and I’m finding not just my team is the same, but so are many of the talented people we hire part-time.

You’re certainly beginning to see a shift in how organizations work. Bloomberg, P&G, and Crate and Barrel have knocked down their physical walls and created environments that are meant to function like airports or hotels.

More organizations are allowing some in-office and some from home work days during each week. And, of course, there was the big hub-bub when Yahoo! announced they were requiring everyone to be in the office at all times.

So we have both sides…and the Yahoo! example is most likely the majority (I have no science to back that up; it’s based solely on how my friends run their organizations and on how many are run in Chicago).

A Shift in the PR Industry

But I’m seeing a shift right now in our industry. I don’t think it’ll happen quickly. In fact, I don’t think you’ll see a lot of it until Millennials are running companies. But I do see a shift.

Take us, for instance. We have two open positions right now and the reason we haven’t posted job descriptions yet or started interviewing is because the people we need are pretty much impossible to find.

We need people who are a hybrid PR professional: They need to be experts in media and blogger relations, content development, content marketing, workflow development and email marketing, on-page search engine optimization, issues management, and client service. If they can also do some simple WordPress coding, they’ll move to the front of the line.

You see our dilemma? Those people don’t exist.

While we think about how to fill those positions, we’ve hired five freelancers to help us in the interim. Each one has a specific skill set in one of those areas (or maybe two, but not more than that) and they’re guaranteed 10 hours a week of work.

It may be impossible to find one person who will work 50 hours a week and be able to do all of that work…and still be happy and motivated and not burned out and playing to their strengths.

The PR Firm of the Future

So we’re thinking more and more about the future and what a professional services firm may look like.

It isn’t necessary for us to have an office. It isn’t necessary we even be in the same city as our clients. It’s getting less and less necessary – with Google Hangouts and other technology – to get on a plane to see our clients.

So why not think about how to run an organization full of people who work the hours they want to work and do the things they want to do?

If you’re focused on results, the PR firm of the future very well could be completely virtual and full of specialists who come and go as they please.

Sounds pretty enticing, doesn’t it?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

125 comments
LSSocialEngage
LSSocialEngage

Another great post Gini. I love the idea of "So why not think about how to run an organization full of people who work the hours they want to work and do the things they want to do?" If done right  I think that this model can work - perhaps more efficiently and with more productivity than having a person sit in the same cube or office  all day and every day. Having that kind of office job was one of the reasons I left it. Like you, I love working from home. I  find that my inspiration comes not just from 9-5 but at various times of the day and that's fine because now I have the flexibility and love it.

Caryn Stofko
Caryn Stofko

Doing all those things does burn you out. I experienced this in one of my previous positions. Just because you can do I all doesn't mean you should do it all...except in nonprofit where you "need to be experts in media and blogger relations, content development, content marketing, workflow development and email marketing, on-page search engine optimization, issues management, and client service. If they can also do some simple WordPress coding," event management, development, grant and executive writing. Oh, and would you mind cleaning the kitchen, and painting the office?

amysept
amysept

The whole conversation about where business/communications/PR is going fascinates me. While working on something for a client, I read an abstract about "The Burden of Knowledge" by Benjamin Jones.

I'm paraphrasing, but what I got from what I read was that as we advance in general, each individual needs to gain more knowledge in order to innovate and build on what's come before. Because of this, we'll likely need to specialize and collaborate more, relying on the expertise of others.

In short: Hiring five part-time people to fill two full-time positions that nobody quite qualifies for.

As you note, hints of this are happening — maybe more quickly in other areas (i.e. tech startups) than in ours, but it's happening nonetheless. It's so interesting to see, and be part of, what's unfolding!

Kato42
Kato42

Gini, have I told you lately that I love you?

Wait, that sounded kind of creepy. Seriously, though, you're a rarity - a business owner who not only has a high comfort level with virtual offices, but values a diverse skill set.

My experience has been that most managers are still stuck in an old-school "expert" mindset. They're looking for an employee that fits neatly into a particular tried-and-true job description and, well, I just don't.

I suspect a lot of other communications professionals don't, either, but we're so used to crafting our resumes to fit into those "typical" job descriptions, you might just be missing out on us. 

Basically, most hiring managers think I lack focus because I have some graphic design, web design, media relations, internal comms, photography, comms planning, and yes, a TON of writing experience in my work history. Oh, and that one job I took managing continuing education programs ... in construction. Yes, really. 

I call it being a "communications generalist. Pithy, isn't it?

I'm glad you're starting this conversation, because I think there's a lot of value in the disparate experiences us generalists bring to the workplace.

And the good news is: I think you're wrong - the people you're looking for do exist. 

Or at least mostly. After all, if I can do graphic design and WordPress coding and write killer content, then hypothetically, I could figure out workflow development pretty quickly. ;) 

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Hello, right here? *wavesfromATL* I can type and talk, write and email, design and blog. Though I'd probably mess up WordPress PHP code right good. And you'll want that health plan; I'm all for relevant data, but looking at spreadsheets too long gives me hives. Ahem. :)

Right fine comments. You know my thoughts on home/office. That typed, for the right job in the right office, I'd make it work a few days a week. 

Someone mentioned core skills think @Howie Goldfarb , @TaraGeissinger training. It's balance; you may have to find people who hit certain of these, then others who fill those gaps like SEO and WP. Plenty of folks like me know enough to be dangerous but not enough to do it; but b/c we know enough, we work well w/ those types, can collaborate on projects, ideas. The rest - the AD/SS style of integrated PR, that can be taught to some extent. 

As to the future, think you and @susancellera nailed it in contrasting the 'home office' vs. those in the field, doing actual work. Less planes and meetings, more doing. Think those that will succeed will be those who make the trends, the tech, the tools work for them (rather than working for the tools; snerk) -- but always, always stick to the core of true PR - stakeholders,  relationships, communications. FWIW. 

lauraclick
lauraclick

Oooh...I love thinking about this stuff. In fact, that's what @kateupdates and I spent time talking about last week. I wonder if the firms of the future will be some balance of remote working and office space. I do think there is value in being in the same place, but maybe give employees more flexibility about when they are there.

I also think the collaborative workspace is picking up steam - at least in Nashville. There are starting to be more places where you can pay a low-cost rent for having a mailbox, copy services and access to conference rooms and office space for so many days a month. It's way more affordable than traditional office rent, but yet, gives you the space for meetings and collaboration when you need it. I often wonder if that's a route I'll take as I grow my team.

And, P.S. - the people you're looking to hire really don't exist?! Darn. That's no good because that's very similar to what I'm looking for!

rdopping
rdopping

advice I would be more than happy to share it.It sure does sound enticing. I have been doing a lot of research into this subject mainly because it affects my livelihood significantly. For anyone reading this I am an Interior Designer working primarily in the corporate office environment.

There has been a palpable shift in strategy for many of the progressive firms out there. Many forward thinking companies recognize the value technology brings to productivity but also understand human nature and the social aspect of the human condition. People need to be near each other. They need their pack. That notion expresses itself physically in many corporate environments as collaboration space (enhanced meeting and gathering space). This approach satisfies the need for times where isolated heads down work is critical (home) and where sharing ideas, inspiration and collaboration are required.

I could go into detail here but lets suffice it to say while the tech advances have benefited smaller corporations greatly larger organizations will be much slower to convert primarily because of business operations. Many corporations we have worked with have been reducing space in recognizing that not everyone needs dedicated workplace which is a clear precursor to the virtual office of the future.

I may need to become an IT guy and just when I finally got my professional accreditation (after 23 years in the biz).

Hey, clearly this is a passion of mine so if anyone wants any further infoo

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

As each day goes by, I'm finding it more challenging to identify myself. Now that I'm in HubSpot school and digital marketing has become yet another of my competencies, I can't quite pin the tale on the PR person that is pure. I'm a hybrid for sure, and I have no idea how others aren't running to be like this. It's our future; it's where PR needs to migrate for continued success.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

I love this post... I'm writing one right now about Silo-d PR that will definitely touch some nerves. I'm quoting you now.

susancellura
susancellura

Seriously, though, I think what is currently called, "work/life balance" is turning into what you describe, Gini. In the directional drilling industry, the majority of the workforce is in the field. They are on rigs, traveling for sales, etc. Headquarters is filled with Finance, Legal, HR, and executives. To be honest, I could see the Marketing department embracing the shift in how it works during the week. I am unable to broach that subject with my boss at this time, but I see it as being difficult to ignore.

I've always believed that if I get my work - quality/best - work done in four hours versus eight, there should not be a problem with that. It leaves me open to get more done (possibly on the creative side or attempt new things or go to my daughter's Honor Roll celebration), and keeps projects moving along. That should not change whether I am in the office or not.

In my humble opinion, the only thing that grows in the office is office politics. Blerg.

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

This is interesting. I know that marketing and PR are NOT the same thing, but I've been devoting my little gray cells to how marketing is changing in the book business.

There are a number of well known sites who promote free and discounted Kindle books. A couple of the bigger ones are getting a reputation for having little ability to sell books. Authors are starting to avoid them.

Still, there are a couple who have gone the other way and are in such demand they turn down business. I've submitted a request for my book to be sent out in an email blast (at a cost of $480) and though it has 34 reviews of 4.6 stars, they declined my business. They are turning away business because the do such a good job of selling books! Wow.

There is another place that I was allowed to run an ad for one day. Their business model is that they track the sales through the link they send out and post on their FB page (half a million people follow that page) and for every sale they get 25% of the net profits. On a book priced at 99 cents, they get 25% of the 35 cents the author earns.  I sold 154 books that day. When I got their bill I paid it immediately as I was thrilled with the results.

We live in an age where (at least in the book business) partnerships are possible. If there were a hundred sites that could move the needle like they did, I'd be trying to get all of them to take a cut of my profits.

I don't know if they have offices. My guess is they don't. But, when an online site has so much demand from potential clients that they turn away $480 for five minutes of work in adding a book to their daily mailing, that is a sign that things have changed...and for the better.

(Note: I'm not complaining about getting rejected...twice. It is a sign they care about quality control. They limit the number of books in a blast to something like six. I believe they also give preference to those who publish on more platforms and my books are only on Kindle (and print) at the moment. Some of the other biggies include 50 in their blasts and they are the ones that authors are starting to avoid.)

Latest blog post: You Gotta Use It

KatherineBull
KatherineBull

I don't know why managers resist having people work from home. It takes a mere 2 weeks to figure out when someone is goofing off and not doing their work. That's it. I managed 25 news reporters in 1998, of which half were remote. Haven't had a good news story in 2 weeks? Hmmm... you better start calling some sources and quick and have a story for next week's issue. You just have to be a manager who pays attention to things like that. 

PattiRoseKnight1
PattiRoseKnight1

I would never have thought I'd be happy working from home; and I resisted more than the others and all I can say is boy was I wrong. It took some time to find that balance - which for me meant not working until 10 pm because I didn't have to commute back and forth. I am happy to say now I have found that balance that works best for me...I will work until 10 pm if necessary but it is not the norm.

bowden2bowden
bowden2bowden

As a boomer who spent many years in the confines of a corporation the transition to a virtual operation was a bit unnerving in thought. In reality I have found that productivity and creativity for me have increased. Looking back the security of the corporate structure lead to a corporate complacency. However many thrive in that environment, the ones that certainly do not fit what you are looking for as a team mate!

KateFinley
KateFinley

@lauraclick @kateupdates I definitely plan on not confining my team to the bounds of my city limits. I have seen the benefits of keeping things digital and I'm a big fan. And that makes the list of things to think through when it comes to prospective talent. Definitely a big factor. 


Oh and I have one client who is in NYC and she pays $30/week for a tiny office space that's share with several other people on an as-needed basis. They just use a time-slot method and take turns using it. Very interesting.

Latest blog post: KateUpdates Pinstagram

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

@rdopping I think you're spot on - at ArCompany one of the first issues we tackle in so many instances is organizational challenges, and I'm sure Gini does too.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

@Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I think you found your messaging; you are extraordinarily social savvy/marketing savvy professional with a foundation in the most essential skill needed in the social space: PR.   I totally see who  you are.

PS - I'm writing that post now for ArCompany for Wed.  Will tag you because I start it with you:)

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

@KatherineBull Exactly! It seems so many systems are designed to take management judgment out of the equation. Like mandatory drug testing. If someone is exhibiting symptoms and their work is suffering, that's how you know they have a problem. But I guess it's easier to just subject everyone to a test. Look at people's results: are they getting the work done, and done well? That's what matters.

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

@PattiRoseKnight1 Balance is the key word--in the way we work alone and in the amount of in-person time we incorporate into the out-of-office structure.

PattiRoseKnight1
PattiRoseKnight1

@bowden2bowden I'm a boomer too and I felt the same way but also get more done now that I work virtually. The only thing i need to work on is keeping up with professional development reading. When I commuted I would have a folder of "reading" for the ride to and from work. I think I may need to schedule reading time on my calendar like i do actual appointments because it tends to pile up and then at times it is old news by the time I get to reading about it. Other than that i love working virtually too.

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

@RobBiesenbach @KatherineBull I suspect the mandatory drug testing is more a case of covering one's legal butt. It's hard to fire people without risk. If you singled out a person for a drug test, you would be at risk of litigation for picking out a member of the protected classes (unless the person was a white male, who wasn't too old, lest one gets caught for agism). By testing everyone, it eliminates that issue.

Latest blog post: You Gotta Use It

PattiRoseKnight1
PattiRoseKnight1

@ginidietrich @PattiRoseKnight1 by resist I meant that I was worried I wouldn't be able to do my job successfully because I've been used to working face-to-face with my bosses historically for decisions, signatures, etc.  The weekly 121s work well for me - I get the bulk of my needed decisions on a Monday and have the rest of the week to get it done. And the end of day way we communicate soothes my organized OCD quite well.  Most important (to me) is there money saved not having to commute. That is a huge savings.

PattiRoseKnight1
PattiRoseKnight1

@Word Ninja @PattiRoseKnight1 I completely agree. It took some time to find the balance but I think we're there. At first everyone would send Gini "quick" emails and if you think about it 10 quick emails from 5 people is 50 quick emails and when it was brought up in a staff meeting we brainstormed and it was decided we would do "end of day" emails and keep a running list of action items for the day and send at the end of the day. Of course there will always be the exceptions that need immediate attention but for the most part we've learned to use email effectively and respect the time of others.

bowden2bowden
bowden2bowden

I can understand Patri. I tend to immerse myself into the screen consuming constantly and with the google+ hangout platform the ease of a quick eye2eye collaboration is a breeze. I think it is just the rapid change of tech, the increase of content and the feeling that you can not disconnect for even a day that gives a drowning feeling sometimes.

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

@KatherineBull @ExtremelyAvg Maybe not the most apt analogy. I'm talking about judging people on results. If someone is late all the time, misses deadlines, hands in shoddy work, those are reasons to discipline them. They may also be indications of drug use. Or may not. Maybe there are drug users who are doing stellar work. Enact a blanket drug-testing policy and you weed (heh) out every drug users, but maybe not every poor performer and maybe even some good performers. 

Anyway, that's as far as I'll take the analogy. I don't want to be branded the "Yay, drugs!" guy. I'm just saying large institutions like to enact policies for the lowest common denominator of performance -- if there's one drug user, test everyone; if a couple of people are late, make everyone punch a timeclock -- eliminating as much as possible the need for management judgment and discretion.

KatherineBull
KatherineBull

@ExtremelyAvg @RobBiesenbach I'm not sure drug testing is a good analogy, Rob, but I understand your point. It does bring to mind, though, that organizations that flatten organizations to the point where one person is managing 75 people and it is a major drawback. When you have that many people reporting directly to you, there is no way you can be attuned to people's issues or who's doing what. Most companies struggle with balancing too few layers of management and having too many. I can't think of one company that has done this well.  

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