So is GolinHarris' agency restructure all smoke and mirrors or is it a genuine attempt to fundamentally change the way PR agencies operate?
The firm founded by Al Golin more than 50 years ago has done away with the traditional hierarchical job structure favored by the rest of the industry and grouped its people into four categories based on skillsets: strategist, creators, connectors, and catalysts. All four groups will be interlocking and the intention is to do away with silos.
Agency president and CEO Fred Cook explained to PRWeek that the catalysts will be at the center of the model, focusing on account management and leading client relationships. Account teams will be based on finding the right people for the job, rather than geographical location.
Job titles will be more descriptive of what people actually do than the old generic labels such as account executive, vice president and managing director. It is designed to better shape the agency to offer clients what they really want – business insight, creative ideas, real-time engagement, and execution that ends in genuine results – and to shift the focus from generalist to specialist skills.
Born out of fear as well as opportunity, it is undoubtedly a bold and ambitious step, driven by the new requirements of digital and social media. It will require significant investment in training and technology, as every office is equipped with media control centers branded “The Bridge.” And it has definitely been the talking point of the week amongst other PR firms, with some applauding the Interpublic agency's boldness, while others react with predictable cynicism.
If an agency is going to do it, then GolinHarris is probably the right size to try it. The likes of Edelman and Weber Shandwick are probably too big to turn around like this, and other agencies are too small for it to have any proper effect.
It is easy to be cynical about such initiatives, but on balance I believe it is a genuine attempt to reshape for a future that will involve competition from many quarters outside the traditional PR sector. And it is good to see an agency trying something different and being proactive, instead of resting on its laurels and being complacent about the undoubtedly positive situation PR firms are finding themselves in at the moment.
As Al Golin himself said to me last week: “The time to fix a roof is when the sun is shining.”