Today’s guest post is by Ken Jacobs

In the last few months of 2012, we saw a number of posts about PR firms of the future.

One, by a number of executives from various PR agencies in PR Week about what the PR firm of 2017 will look like, resulted in this sharp response from Danny Brown.

I watched this discussion with interest.

Only a few weeks before I participated in a panel with Steve Barrett, the managing editor for PR Week, on “The Future Of PR Firms” at the North American meeting of global PR network IPREX.

I had initially prepared 11 critical capabilities I believe agencies must offer or actions they must take to successfully serve their client partners in the years ahead.

But on contemplation, I realized these are the capabilities firms must have today, or at least have a strategy to get them in the very near future. They can do so via training, new hires, acquisition, alliances, getting purchased, or some combination thereof. I share Danny’s view: If some of your competitors already offer these, why would your firm wait until 2017 to do so?

The discussion, moderated by C.Renzi Stone of integrated firm Saxum, was so interactive that I didn’t get to cover all the points. I’ll share the first five with you today:

Poised for POSE:  Is your agency truly able to lead its clients so they can make the best decisions regarding paid, owned, shared, and earned media?  Are enough of your staffers fluent in creating content and storytelling? Can you offer expertise in digital and social? Are you not just conversant in the tactics of video, SEO, mobile, and analytics, but actually capable of offering valuable strategic thinking behind all of the above? Can it help your clients thrive in this brave new world of connection, community, and influence with a much more diverse group of stakeholders? If you want to learn more about all of these, get to know Convince and Convert.

Ready to Maximize the Opportunity Caused by Blurred Lines: Today, consumers are much more media agnostic, basing their impressions and purchase decisions on an ever-changing mix of where they get their news and information. (See Prepared for POSE, above!) As such, the lines have blurred between PR, communications, digital, and marketing agencies. So it’s time to take a hard look at the capabilities your firm offers, to stay competitive and relevant.

I admire the way agencies such as i.d.e.a., Arment Dietrich, and Peppercomm (client) have re-tooled, not just by re-branding, but actually changing what they offer and how they execute on their clients’ behalfs.

Change is Good: I shared my belief that one of the most important roles for agency owners to embrace is that of CCO: Chief Change Officer. We should be leading change both for our clients and our agencies, whether the change is from conversation to engagement, from mere manager to leader, from PR firm to integrated communications agency, or whatever change you think is critical for your agency and its clients.

While I’m not sure I love the term “Prevolve,” I admire the way Golin-Harris changed career titles and paths for its employees, based on what the firm calls G4, which reflects what it believes is needed in the agency of tomorrow, and its analysis of its staffers’ core strengths: Strategists, creators, connectors, and catalysts.

Talent Upgrade: The enormous changes mentioned above means the kinds of professionals we need to hire have changed dramatically as well. You need a team of real experts in the various areas cited, some of whom you might not have needed 18 months ago, and which you may not have had on board before. Some of this expertise can be gained via training, but much must come from hiring. I believe that across the board, you need superior listeners. This will help you not only in areas that may be newer to your agency, but in providing superior client service. In addition, I believe this will help you generate new business: being able to listen to a new prospect’s business issues allows you to develop a response that’s more likely to solve their problems…and win you their business.

Two other types of talent to look for: Leaders who can not only lead followers, but also lead other leaders at your agency; and “branded” employees who have strong, personal, digital footprints, and online followers. Examples are Annie Heckenberger, community trailblazer for integrated agency Red Tettemer, and Nathan Burgess, account supervisor and digital strategist at Bliss Integrated Communication. This takes some guts, but it’s one I’m confident will benefit your organization.

Take the Lead on Measurement/Research: It’s time to get proactive about the why, what, and how of measurement. It’s time for us to explain to our clients why they must, and how they can, measure not only their ROI, but ROE (return on engagement). The fact that global PR powerhouse Edelman hired Michael Berland to create Edelman Berland tells us something about the critical importance of this area for our futures. Who’s your Michael Berland?

In my next post, I’ll share with you six more of the points I shared with IPREX. In the meantime, please share a comment regarding how you’re managing any of these five points at your agency.

Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, which helps public relations and communications agencies grow business, as well as enhance staff performance, communications, and leadership skills. It does so via consulting, training and coaching.  You can find him on LinkedIn, Twitter and at Ken’s Views.