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.