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.

What is the future for the PR industry? We asked Joanne Jacobs, Chief Operating Officer in the Australian office of 1000heads.

Questions: What are you doing differently in the past 2 years in….

Human resources,

We are doing a lot more use of Linked In – and Twitter to advertise and recruit. To get recommendations of people on the basis of testimonials and previous work. Using those channels we are getting better quality applicants.

Client management / Client services

We have noticed that we’ve had to change some of our reporting systems. Be have had to become more bureaucratic. the bigger we get and the more diverse the client offering. It’s easy if you sell the same product over and over. we are not. Every new client has the potential to do something quite different. we are finding the nature of WOM is it’s supported by increasingly different platforms. We have to change our client services on the basis of what our clients want to use. In past 3 months we have used editorial calendars – most organisations want to use Google Drive, it’s free and easy. Many firms are rationalising the number of agencies and technologies they are dealing with. sometimes it’s easier to roll back or revert to something everything has access to.

Campaign Organisation/Operations Management

We start and finish with timesheets but the system we use is Traffic which has project management within it. It is supposed to integrate with billing. it has a time allocation system on its own as well as timesheeting. That has been a process of migration happening over a couple of years – we started using it as the international satellite offices opened.

Finance

We have an operating subsidiary that does our finances for us. We had to set up a private limited company to trade in Australia – each satellite office is legally separate.

Real Estate

We prefer to keep our staff in the office and working full time.

IT Infrastructure

We are in the process of change now. The classic thing happened was a shared drive for users which is disorganised and while you might put in effort organising file naming conventions, folder structures, it’s not necessarily the best option. Also the nature of international boundaries means VPN into the server and it’s incredibly slow. We are exploring cloud based solutions. Amazon3, local servers storing local copies of the server. We do hold data about clients’ users and there are some privacy concerns and security is important.

There is a huge difference between Australia and US/UK. The likelihood is we’ll need satellite offices in several places – we may still need small local servers so the distribution problems with accessing the server will be sent further down the line.

Internal Communications

We use an intranet – Social Cast – we are encouraged to share ideas, ask question and get information from each other. because we are geographically dispersed – information is held in the heads of people who are not in the office it’s a pseudo-facebook thing.

Business Development

You have two options – one is quality and one is quantity. It used to be cold calling was the quantity lead front. Now it’s Linked In is the quantity lead front. there’s nothing wrong with that – people don’t feel they are being quite as interrupted from phone calls. But if they have forged a connection on Linked in it is more acceptable for them to connect with you.

Re-birth of face to face as the quality thing. Events and proper places where people can meet. While trade shows are still good for cold leads generation, they are not good quality. So there’s the rebirth of face to face as a means to an end. Or smaller events.

Where do you go for information about how to improve the way you run your business?

I attend seminars and I read up on management theory. I can use my academic background as a lecturer and connections to get to the latest research. I use the MBA networks. Google Scholar. I use Forbes and the Economist as a basis for diversions – I don’t necessarily believe what they say. What I find interesting is if that’s what is being published then that’s what worthy of questioning.

It looks to an outsider that it’s really easy to grow – but it’s also really easy to F#*k it up. The bigger you become the more bureaucratic you will have to become, naturally. As soon as you start implementing these measures the free spirited people who were early hires just leave.