Path to true innovation needs to be discovered by agencies

Agencies across all disciplines have been trying to reinvent their operating model for decades.

Agencies across all disciplines have been trying to reinvent their operating model for decades. Whether it's advertising, media, PR, digital, direct marketing, or the establishing of a "new," revolutionary model that doesn't conform to any of the above categories, the structure of a firm has consumed millions of senior-management hours at myriad firms.

But the number of genuine innovations among all the carefully crafted strategies can be considered few. Every so often, a groundbreaking shop will emerge and shine brightly for a few years before reaching a certain size and inevitably succumbing to the norms and imperatives of the market in which they operate.

So it is not surprising that GolinHarris' recent fundamental redesign was greeted with weary skepticism by the PR community.

The Interpublic Group agency has done away with the well-established hierarchical job-title structure favored by the rest of the industry, grouping its people into four new categories of strategists, creators, connectors, and catalysts.

"Window dressing," say critics, adding that the mud will soon fly once it's promotion or salary-review time and people compare their package and status with colleagues. After all, agencies are homes to extremely competitive people.

The Al Golin-founded shop is also establishing media control centers, dubbed "The Bridge," in every one of its global offices, with a particular focus on social media monitoring. "Small rooms with a few people, monitors, and computers," intone the cynics.

"We're all doing these things anyway," cry the naysayers. "We just haven't put a label on it."

Yes, these are all valid observations and only time will tell whether GolinHarris has invented a genuinely new structure or just another carefully crafted PowerPoint presentation that will founder on the rocks of history. However, PR firms must fundamentally change in the face of increasing competition from their advertising, media, and digital siblings if they are to stay ahead of the game, especially in social media.

To change will require new skills, new perspectives, new attitudes, and, often, new people.

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