How Soon Is Now? The Future of PR Firms, Part 2

By: Guest | January 15, 2013 | 

Today’s guest post is by Ken Jacobs

In yesterday’s post, I shared the five critical capabilities I believe agencies must offer and/or the actions they must take to both best serve their clients and stay relevant in the coming months.

These were based on a panel in which I participated last year on “The Future Of PR Firms” at the North American meeting of global PR network IPREX, along with Steve Barrett, the managing editor of PR Week.

Today I’ll share my remaining six points, and hope they get you thinking as you plunge into 2013.

Create a Superior Workplace Environment: Two things are occurring that I believe will drive the need for you to create a superior workplace.

  1. Our industry has rebounded considerably since the dark days of 2008. This means those who wouldn’t look for work in the past few years because of “last hired, first fired,” are now willing to do so. In fact, the phones of your workplace “stars” are now ringing off the hook with calls from recruiters. Having a workplace environment that’s noticeably better than your competition should be a key retention strategy.
  2. Millennials are making up more and more of your team, since Baby Boomers are retiring, and GenXers are, quantitatively speaking, a small group. Millennials want a positive work environment, with emphasis on group tasks, a strong sense of community, and fun. If you don’t provide it, they’re only too willing to seek it elsewhere.

Open for Business: I agree with Elise Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Communications Group and now CEO of the Dentsu Global PR Network, that “the firm of the future will be known as a business strategist with communications expertise.” I’m guessing you’d rank your team fairly highly as communications experts, but how would you grade them on how well they understand your clients’ business and marketing needs? Are they to provide truly strategic recommendations? Can they devise programs that will have an affect on your clients’ success in the marketplace? If you agree that your agency’s future is now, and you’re not happy with the grades you’d give your team, now is the time to make the change required.

Differentiate Your Brand: There’s something like 48,000 public relations, advertising, digital, media, and social media agencies nationwide. How are you differentiating yours? Be honest and acknowledge that many of these agencies do what your firm does. If you want to attract the kinds of clients who will help you fulfill your agency vision and achieve your financial goals for the year, you’ve got to focus your marketing efforts so they’re less about everything your potential clients might want you to do, and more about the three-to-four things that you truly do differently and better than your competition.

Transparency Forcing Greater Focus on Ethics: One of the benefits of this transparent, digital age is that there are fewer places for those who act unethically to hide. But this creates the risk that if one of your employees doesn’t act ethically, there’ll be damage to your agency and your clients’ reputations, and to agency-client relationships. But there are steps you can take to prevent, or at least minimize the chances of this happening:

  • Have a clearly written Agency Code of Ethics.
  • Make it part of your agency policies and procedures handbook, discuss it with all new employees during orientation, and have them sign it.
  • Look for opportunities to discuss the Code with your team, particularly when ethical missteps generate media coverage.
  • Set an ethical example: Model the behavior you desire in your team and run your business by the highest ethical standards.

Even then there’s no guarantee that an ethical misstep won’t occur. But taking those steps is well worth the effort.

More Demanding Clients: If you’ve felt the pressure of the last few years, your clients felt it more. (Or at least they think they did!) They’ve asked you to do more with less, and while they might be allocating more funds your way, don’t think for a minute they’ll be any less stringent regarding the ROI of those dollars. And many think that social media has made your work easier, when in reality an effective social media effort actually takes more hours, from your team’s more seasoned experts.

Renewed Emphasis on Training: Both yesterday and today I raised a number of areas where your firm may or may not yet be on its way to performing like an agency of the future. In my view, all of these will require your agency to provide better, more sophisticated and more frequent staff training. This should be a blend of in-house and external, on-site and off, and agency-wide and by title/level. When the stakes are so high and the potential rewards so enormous, “learning by doing” simply doesn’t cut it,

Start by viewing training not as a cost, but as an investment in your firm becoming an agency of the future. (In full transparency, training is one of my offerings, but this is a deeply held view that I’ve had throughout my agency career.)

What are you doing today to prepare your agency to become the agency of the future?

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 LinkedInTwitter and at Ken’s Views.

  • belllindsay

    While the ‘hip cool workplace’ seems common these days, organizations who can’t change as dramatically as to include the likes of paid lunches, ping pong tables and onsite dry-cleaning shouldn’t feel that they can’t do a few simple things to make a huge difference to staff morale and workplace happiness. Things such as allowing one day per week to “work-from-home”, 4 day work weeks, flexible hours (for sick kids, etc.), unlimited paid time off (trust me, it’s a set-up that’s rarely abused), some type of small paid subsidy such as for local transit or gym, for example. For those who like to ride to work, how about an area to lock up bicycles set aside in the underground parking garage, installing a couple of change rooms with showers so employees can get changed, or every Friday have healthy snacks brought in. Have free, high speed internet available for everyone – even if they’re using their own phones or tablets. Even having an onsite massage or a monthly, off site staff gathering (on your dime) can do a world of good for employee morale – and word of mouth. I’m not saying implement all of these things – my point is that every company – no matter what your industry – can easily make small changes to appeal to the millenial set.

    • I agree,  @belllindsay  Some are small fixes.  Some changes need to be larger and deeper. I believe it starts with agency (or organization) owners who truly value their teams, who realize that their resources are indeed humans, who take pride in contributing to each team member’s individual career paths.

    • @belllindsay Great ideas Lindsay!  I think we forget sometimes that, although fair compensation is certainly important, that people don’t work for money alone. If we want the whole heart and the whole mind we have to create a very unique (almost tribal) sense of community — something worth defending and protecting in this scary business jungle 🙂

      • belllindsay

        @Glenn Ferrell Glenn, are you in my brain? LOL My mantra is “Money isn’t everything!” – and trust me, we live a very frugal life (i.e. I’m not saying that just because I’m rich!) – if I can get my bills paid, and feed my kid, I will take a lower salary on a job (or other concessions such as fewer hours) if the job is going to make me VERY HAPPY. Like the one I’m in right now. Getting to work from home? You can’t even put a dollar figure on that perk. I’ve been in the job with seniority and five week vacay and high pay and profile – and guess what? I was miserable and I left. Money definitely isn’t everything.

        • @belllindsay  @Glenn Ferrell  “Money isn’t everything?” NO WONDER ginidietrich loves you so much! LOL

        • belllindsay

          @KensViews  @Glenn Ferrell  ginidietrich Awwww, man! You weren’t supposed to tell her!!

  • These are great points Ken and I can personally relate to some of them. Particularly the more demanding clients and superior workplace environment. Last year I received more job interviews than I ever had in my life! It was crazy, but I was pumped because there were some great opportunities, one which I accepted (and also has a phenomenal workplace environment)! I felt more in control over my career than I have in a loooooooong time. And I agree with @belllindsay every company can make small changes to appeal to the millennial set.

    • Thanks for commenting,  @yvettepistorio  Those two points are linked: Having a superior workplace allows one’s team to better manage more demanding clients!  @belllindsay

  • The emphasis on training is what hits me. With the lightning speed of digital media and the barrage of new technologies simply keeping up becomes a stress. Although I believe there is no better teacher than hands-on experience I also hold fast to formal training by experts. As you say the stakes are high, the risk of inadequacy to business great and the rewards enormous. For me this is a low cost investment.

  • Ken – your training point is well made. Everyone wants highly trained hires but,  in the wake of our economic crisis, few want to fund the training. The “logic” of trying to hire well-trained employees — i.e. hiring employees away from companies that pay for training when you don’t — escapes me.
    The way to hire and retain good employees is to make it clear that we are part of solution rather than part of the problem.

    • @Glenn Ferrell for some reason that reminds me of a great quote:”What if we train them and they leave?” “Well what if we don’t…and they stay?” Wish I knew where I heard it from so I could offer proper credit!

      • @KensViews LOL – I’ll have to remember that one !

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