EDITORIAL: The role of agency CEO is changing

As the PR industry matures as a business, agency management is

grappling with a host of new issues. And with a number of agency CEOs

simultaneously approaching retirement age (see Waiting in the Wings, p.

15), an interesting gap is starting to emerge in terms of how the agency

CEO role is viewed.

To the old school, the agency CEO is first and foremost a PR man,

counselor to the stars and cultural visionary.

But there's a new school of thought which argues that the next

generation of PR requires a greater focus on future fundamentals.

It's not just the growing complexity of today's media scene and changing

social behavior. Fact is, the modern agency is a rapidly expanding,

publicly-owned, multi-million dollar global business, typically

comprising a sprawling network (or matrix) of geographically diverse,

sector-based or discipline-driven practices. To manage this potential

mess, one needs new management skill sets.

As PR grows more ambitious, management must also develop a more

sophisticated and credible product offering. This requires smarter,

better-trained, better-paid employees, and a coherent HR policy to go

with it. Some agency CEOs are looking to go even further, using

technology to institutionalize and codify their expertise, so that the

'on-the-fly' wit and experience on which counselors have traditionally

traded does not walk out of the door with every staff defection.

In this cauldron, old school agency CEOs may well find themselves very

badly burnt. Some have been big enough to admit that they might not be

up to the future challenges required. But we predict that the role of

the CEO is sure to change.

There are two possibilities: either the next generation of CEO will be a

money and systems specialist, with financial accounting, business

management, logistics and process skills in the forefront.

In this scenario, client counseling skills will be invested in

consultants and practice leaders - who are paid to do what they do best

- while the CEO gets on with running the business.

The other possibility is that the CEO will develop into more of a

figurehead role, still able to counsel clients, but spending less time

on day-to-day management. In this scenario, a second tier of unbillable

infrastructural management is required - at the chief operating officer


In either case, a different breed of senior management is required to

steer top agencies through the choppy waters of change.

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