'Keep up or close up' - the traditional PR agency model is dead

There's an ever-growing network of PRs and freelance-inspired agencies creeping up who are doing away with tradition and challenging the current status quo.

Who killed the traditional agency model?
Who killed the traditional agency model?

There was a webinar the other day with BBC Radio 2. The producer was talking about how to pitch to the station. Pretty straightforward, obvious advice, it seemed.

Then someone typed a question. "If it’s a Sunday show, it’s impossible to get on it as we don’t work weekends. What do you advise?"

Sigh. Someone actually asked that. In 2017. To the BBC.

In the industry, ‘always on’ became 2016’s buzz phrase (after ‘peso’ in 2015 and ‘content’ in 2014).
It was in nearly every pitch, speaker slot and client conversation. We’ve banged on about ‘newsjacking’, ‘24/7’, and ‘being reactive’ for a long, long time.

But let’s face it, we’re not.

The majority of agencies still work on traditional weekdays.

Most PRs sign off at 6pm on Fridays (don’t even mention bank holidays), and most ‘out of hours’ crisis phones are answerphones directing the journalist to another number – as if they have the time, or patience.

Our industry is outdated. And it’s at risk of being left behind. It’s an odd situation.

As PRs, we intrinsically know that opportunities and issues don’t just happen 9-5 Mondays to Fridays.
We know a crisis can break with just one video (see United Airlines) and we know weekend events can spark worldwide conversation (see Joshua v Klitschko).

So why are we so stuck in our ways when it comes to being flexible?

For an industry that’s quick to criticise others for not answering its audience, we’re at risk of not looking deep enough at our own.

Let’s imagine for a second that things were different.

That agencies staggered shifts, and instead of everyone working Monday to Friday, some worked Wednesday to Sunday.

Let’s imagine they could work from anywhere, not just from the office, but from different towns, cities, countries, from museums and coffee houses to co-working spots with other creatives.

Company overheads would decrease, staff would be more motivated, and agencies could finally say they were ‘always on’ with some honesty.

And the clients? They would feel happier, and more importantly, safer.

Frankly, it’s time the industry woke up.

There’s an ever-growing network of PRs and freelance inspired agencies creeping up who are doing away with tradition and challenging the current status quo.

These guys are doing things differently. A more streamlined community who aren’t restricted by time and location. Who are set up to service clients from anywhere, whatever day of the week (including bank holidays), reacting in real-time, faster than others to breaking news, client questions, or customer tweets.

They’re offering scalable and collaborative projects, and not locking down the long-term retained contracts of the '90s and '00s.

Clients know this, and it’s just a matter of time before they cut out the traditional agency altogether.

For agencies doing things ‘the way it’s always been’: it’s time to keep up or close up.

Nina Sawetz is founder & MD of future

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