What is the future for the Public Relations Agency industry? The debate started across on Forbes, continued on FIR and we add our own suggestions from an interview taken for the source material for our book, “The Creative Agency of the Future“, being written now.
Questions: What are you doing differently in the past 2 years in….
We started with an ambition to run co-ordinated capabilities. This not the same as wanting to be the largest agency in the world – we saw too many companies come and go because of overhead costs. We realised it’s a false way to judge your company. Agency’s resources needed to run a business aren’t always standardised/aggregated to one place. Part of the core services of account handling and creative need to be in one place and the rest can be outsourced – contractors, freelancers and its truer now than it was 2 years ago.
There are lots of individuals out there who want to take on contracts doing 1-2 days a week over a long period or an intense 7 days a week over 2 weeks. We can be running a business with standardised monthly overheads and additional costs are charged to project.
2 years ago we talked to clients about the impact of tech and social media and it was getting traction – they weren’t interested in the action around it. They now want action, strategy and a plan very quickly. They want the ability to learn about new stuff that’s out there and to learn about it quickly.
We have to co-ordinate development resource alongside other elements like Creative resource – more of a juggling act. We started using project managers as well as account handlers. We have now gone back to using better multi-skilled account handlers alone. They are pretty good – it caused a conflict between the desire to take a project from A to Z and make it happen down the Gantt chart. The reality of what happens in our world is that it’s not a linear journey – creative elements can change and it tends to be an iterative process rather than a linear one.
We learnt a lot of discipline from the project managers and we now use BaseCamp as a tool that allows everyone to centralise content and communications and accountability from a client point of view and we can track it yourselves. The principles of project management have been adopted.
Campaign organisation (job bags / project management)
We still use job numbers. Projects are more fluid now – they are less designed. Activation doesn’t have a beginning, middle and end.
We use an office manager. We share offices with an investor who helps us with this.
Online payments. We use Paprika as a system – it’s been around for a number of years and has its faults.
We have short term lease on a floor of another office and rent on a quarterly point of view. We want to be as agile as cost effective as possible and not committing to too much and big overheads. Revenues can be up and down.
We are about to go to the cloud and migrate to RackSpace and use the cloud – the ability to get to our stuff from anywhere, We had a VPN login and it didn’t work very well and clients expect the facility to access from anywhere. We have less need for IT support from a local company. We have a business account with Apple and have an ongoing lease agreement with a number of products – over 3 years. They give us a support service for Mac Support. This is a more agile solution than the traditional.
We have a Monday morning breakfast meeting with an informal chat that sets up the week’s work. We do specific discussions with creatives on Thursdays and we run online status reports for all our clients so they and we can see where their work is at. It’s done once a week fully and the outcome is shared in status meetings and 3 weeks we do face to face with clients.
We sign NDAs with our sub-contractors and also have SLAs rather than contracts. These define what we can do with them. Some come to us through contacts we use – we use them as a control mechanism if there is an issue with their work.
There are 3 main ways – we have ongoing CRM where I write monthly or bi-monthly thought pieces about the industry to keep clients up to date – we send out to everyone we know That is successful at keeping your name interesting and on their radar. We attend a lot of events including free ones which you can get to if you are in the right networks. We do some paid events – get the relevant and cost effective ones.
We also do in the past specific cold calling using a new business consultant or agency and we’ve used both with varying levels of success to go out and prospect. We have tried events matchmaking services (speed dating) we also talk at events.
We won a couple of pieces of business where we were at the right place at the right time rather than plugging all the time with phone calls which doesn’t work.
Each month we provide food and alcohol and report on what we’ve done that month – news about what’s coming up. We use this to draft the thought piece [for our mailshot] – or report on something interesting. We update on finance, new business and other things that are going one. It’s about sharing and talking and communicating. We make an effort to make sure that we encourage people to meet.
Where do you go for information about how to improve the way you run your business?
I make an effort to tap into free resources and emails that come from interesting companies Fast Company, LinkedIn Groups, eConsultancy; in short, commentary about other companies that you can learn about.