Danny Rogers: GolinHarris' move could redefine PR shops

Mid-sized agency GolinHarris made a brave move this week. It completely restructured across the world in a bid to throw off its 'generalist' tag

Danny Rogers: GolinHarris restructure
Danny Rogers: GolinHarris restructure

The move should be seen in the context of sister agency (both are in IPG's CMG group) Weber Shandwick's recent attempt to define its own offer by setting up a branded content hub called Creation.

There are two key driving forces here. One is the growing need for PR shops to define their client offers in a heavily over-supplied consultancy market.

The second is a recognition by smart agencies that they must adapt to the new age of integration. In other words they must offer more than media relations (earned media), move into new forms of branded content (owned media) and even provide classic advertising (bought media).

But while Weber Shandwick's 'Creation' idea is fascinating, GH's rethink is even more fundamental.

It is changing all job titles, turning staff from hierarchical generalists (account director, account manager etc) into four specialist categories ('creatives', 'strategists', 'catalysts' and 'connectors'). The idea is that staff then focus on their strengths, whether this is writing content, campaign planning or client handling.

This is not as radical as it sounds. It is how ad agencies have organised themselves for decades; traditionally employing the four categories of 'creatives', 'planners', 'suits' and 'media buyers'. But GH's model is more fluid, in line with digital media trends.

I welcome the move. For too long PR consultancies have been held back by employing too many 'jacks of all trades'.

The development of specialists should enable these shops to compete effectively with ad agencies and digital agencies in an increasingly blurred marcoms sphere. If comms campaigns have a dedicated creative resource, are planned professionally and the clients are handled adeptly, they deliver higher ROI.

The risk for GH - indeed any consultancy that structures itself in this way - is that it requires scale. In London GH currently has between 60 and 70 staff, the bare minimum to employ four categories of specialist and still service a healthy portfolio of clients.

GH argues, with some justification, that new technology enables it to globalise this offer, tapping into the expertise of 400 staff worldwide.

GH has admirable ambitions to become a 'big agency'. Within a few years we will know whether this audacious venture has worked. If it does it will become the blueprint for tomorrow's global PR consultancy.

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