GolinHarris to restructure its global organisation and dispense with tradition

As GolinHarris becomes the latest PR agency to embark on a major revamp, an increasing number of top agency operators have declared the traditional agency model dead.

GolinHarris: global restructure
GolinHarris: global restructure

GolinHarris has announced a global reorganisation to demolish its top-down, pyramid structure of comms generalists.

Instead, it will base the agency around four teams of dedicated specialists. The agency hierarchy has been flattened, traditional job titles axed and client teams now based around four specific areas of expertise - strategists, creators, catalysts and connectors (see below).

Jonathan Hughes, GolinHarris co-MD, Europe, said the agency restructure was look-ing to address the problem of straight-jacketing agency professionals into becoming generalists with isolated specialists bolted on, by basing the backbone of the agency around specialist talent.

GH is the latest major agency to rethink its structure after Hill & Knowlton announced last year it was to restructure around industry sectors. Last month, Weber Shandwick launched a dedicated multimedia production division.

Jason Gallucci, UK MD at Lexis, agreed that agency structures had struggled to keep pace with the changing demands on PROs brought about by the evolution of digital media.

He said: 'A traditional agency structure forces people to be generalists and this causes problems. The biggest issue is that most traditional agencies value efficiency over everything else with their new recruits. Switched-on agencies need to find ways around this.'

Healthcare agency Chandler Chicco has similarly done away with hierarchical structures, with Fiona Hall, European MD, arguing the pyramid-style structure is 'defunct'.

She explained: 'Some agencies believe the title of account manager is interchangeable between disciplines and specialisms, which just isn't true.'

A number of other senior comms professionals were wary of tearing up the usual agency model. Claire Walker, CEO of Firefly, said: 'Even if traditional titles have become passe, a top-down structure will continue to be relevant so long as it encourages career mobility. You can absolutely evolve into a specialist as you move along the career ladder.'

Porter Novelli's CEO Gary Stockman noted: 'There will always be a place for strong and visionary leaders, especially in an industry that is evolving as quickly as PR.'


Francis Ingham, chief executive, PRCA
This is a brave move by GolinHarris. If it works, it will be a totemic moment for the industry and many others will follow suit.

I am surprised that no-one else has gone for this model before, because chief executives have been talking about this a great deal over the past couple of years.

I definitely think this model will work and it could finally herald the movement of PR into a broader comms role.

There are many agencies that have PR functions, along with social, direct marketing and advertising, but they are broadly led by people with a background in advertising. This could be when we move into an overarching offering, but led by those with a PR background.

David Hume, head of brand communications, William Grant & Sons

In principle, this new model makes sense – the challenges brands face in communicating to consumers in this digital age are dramatically different to those we faced just five years ago. With that in mind, having specialists with specific skills we can call upon feels like something we would clearly benefit from.

It will be interesting to see how the model works in practice from a cost and personnel point of view – we've invested several years developing relationships with particular agency personnel and don't want to lose that - but, given we're developing pioneering marketing activity for our brands, including Glenfiddich Single Malt, it may well be time to work with a pioneering new model."

1956 Year in which GolinHarris was established
34 Number of offices GH has across Americas, EMEA and Asia Pacific
600 Approximate number of global staff at GolinHarris
57 Estimated number of UK GolinHarris staff in PRWeek's Top 150 2011.

GolinHarris restructure triggered by digital influences

The restructure at GolinHarris reflects 'the increasing influence of digital and social media', the company said.

The new model, called g4, is designed to better engage with audiences in an increasingly complex global environment.

Client teams now combine four areas of expertise - 'strategists' who will handle strategy; catalysts who will execute activity day-to-day; creators who will create content; and connectors to reach consumer and business audiences.

Each of the four communities will be headed by a leader, who will look to foster global collaboration, specialist training, best practice and thought leadership.

GolinHarris CEO and president Fred Cook said: 'Our US and UK offices have begun the transition to the new model, with the other offices doing so during the next six to 12 months. We expect the full agency to be operating under the new model by next year.'

He said the approach 'fuses insights, ideas and interaction into one integrated approach, communicating across all media channels, and engages audiences in the most unified and compelling way possible'.

The agency has also invested in The Bridge, networks of real-time multimedia technologies, which have begun operating in its London, New York and San Francisco offices.

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