An initiative to change the US food-service industry got me thinking about the future of PR firms. What are we doing to build sustainable enterprises, and in aggregate, a profession that will provide good livings and satisfying careers for those who will follow us?
I attended a conference co-sponsored by the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard University earlier this month about the future of the American food-service industry. It kicked off an ambitious, multi-year project called Menus of Change that aims to do nothing less than reinvent the way America eats away from home. The approach is unlike any taken before, envisioning a converging of nutrition, environmental, and social imperatives, the culinary arts, and business.
The brilliance of the effort is in its hypothesis, which holds that chefs are where all of these lines cross, and, therefore, are the agents who can make effective and lasting change happen. On the team is the Harvard professor who conducted the landmark study that propelled the past decade's movement against trans fat, so I'm bullish on the mark this project will make.
It got me thinking about the future of PR firms. What are we doing to build sustainable enterprises, and in aggregate, a profession that will provide good livings and satisfying careers for those who will follow us?
Following the Menus of Change line of thinking, let's start by considering who stands at the vertex of the forces impacting agencies right now, both internally and externally. The list is long: digital strategists; content producers and other creatives; traditional media specialists and the media itself; ever shape-shifting social media platforms; public policy; an economy that has made uncertainty the new normal, and forecasting that is tougher than ever. And of course, consumers with more media consumption choices than imaginable even five years ago – and all the power that goes with it.
That list is incomplete for sure, and already too long and diverse to put any one member in the driver's seat. For me, that argues for a “bigger tent” approach to agency management, where the opinions of a wider group are regularly taken into account in decision making, and especially in planning. That doesn't mean the end of the CEO. Quite the opposite. Rather, it calls for strong leaders who can look both inside and outside their offices and our profession to synthesize all of the information necessary to make sound decisions about today, next week, next year, and the next decade. That goes not just for the multinationals, but any agency serious about building something that can sustain.
The move to open office plans strikes me as a step in this direction. When the CEO can listen in on the back-and-forth between a digital specialist and an account manager, the head of HR regularly gets in on the chatter among junior staff, and community managers overhear media pitchers at work persuading reporters, everyone knows more and gains the wider perspective that building something to last requires.
Rob Bratskeir is GM of 360 Public Relations' New York office and EVP.