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.