The Agency of the Future

by Margaret Ritsch, APR

What do the decades ahead hold for the Edelmans, Richards Groups, and other agencies of the world?

Four top agency CEOs shared their outlook at PRSA International Conference in San Francisco in October. Fred Cook, CEO and president of Golin Harris, completely overhauled his 700-employee global agency to adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace.

“As our world evolves, so do the needs of our clients,” said Cook, according to the Holmes Report from June of last year when the 55-year-old agency unveiled its restructuring plan. “Clients look to us for one: insights; two, ideas; and three, engagement,” Cook explained last week to a packed audience at the Marriott Marquis. “We’ve reorganized the entire company around that.”

Golin Harris abolished the traditional agency hierarchy and replaced it with four communities of specialists: Connectors, Creators, Catalysts, and Strategists, he said. Connectors handle traditional and media engagement; creators create; catalysts lead accounts; strategists plan, conduct research, forward big ideas. The agency of the future will have a much broader suite of services and new skill sets are needed, he said.

Colleges and universities are turning out thousands of generalists every year and there are not enough jobs for them, said Rob Flaherty, APR, Ketchum’s CEO and president. He encourages students to specialize in an area such as research, media relations, video, digital or writing. His agency no longer hires generalists, but instead looks for new college graduates who already have specialized skills.

At Ketchum, new jobs and titles reflect the rapidly changing needs to the marketplace. Community and conversation manager is one example. “Storyteller” is another, he said.

Flaherty said the availability of so much consumer data augurs a sea change in how the agency advises its clients. “Big data allows us to market to the individual,” he said. “There are a huge wave of new jobs at Ketchum around this.” The employee of the future, Flaherty said at the conference, “understands the power of data, is a connector, digitally nimble, and believes in the power of community.”

One way the agency is tapping the boundless creativity of digital natives is Ketchum’s new crowd-sourcing idea site, MindFire. Originally envisioned as a tool to solicit creative ideas from college students for Ketchum’s clients, Mindfire has now become a talent recruitment site, he said.

Hill & Knowlton’s Jack Martin said his agency is investing heavily in research and digital. Measurement is very important – one of the most critical things in the business, he said.

The client of the future will unleash the power of big data, desire transparency, appreciate smart risk-taking, and be willing to turn over its brand to the community, Flaherty asserted.

The good news for our students is that public relations is one of the top 10 careers with a future, Flaherty said. “The most valuable media in the world is something you can’t buy: earned conversation, word-of-mouth, face-to-face,” he said.

Margaret Ritsch, APR is director of Roxo, TCU’s new student-driven agency for strategic communication. Formerly director of public relations at the Balcom Agency, then owner of her own firm, Perception, Ritsch joined the TCU faculty in January 2012. She and five Roxo interns traveled to San Francisco for the PRSA and PRSSA annual conferences.

PR lessons from ‘Kate’ and Tarrant Area Food Bank’s hunger campaign

The billboard asks a compelling question: What does hunger feel like? JustAskKate.org 

It strikes me that putting a (cartoon) face to hunger with a compelling narrative is a creative way to generate curiosity and hopefully leads to awareness, donations, volunteers, etc. The video component is simple but effective:

I reached out to Andrea Helms, Director of Communications for the Tarrant Area Food Bank and a Ft. Worth PRSA member for some insight into the campaign. I’m so thankful that she was wiling to share since I believe there are some interesting lessons and processes from this effort for PR and communication professionals:

Why did TAFB implement the ‘Kate’ concept campaign? 
Akron Canton Regional Food Bank in Ohio shared the Kate video concept with the Feeding America network of regional food banks, to which Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) belongs. TAFB decided to customize this video for the organization not only because of the impact of Kate’s message, but to also join in creating a sense of unity across the network.

What are some of the strategic objectives you hope to achieve?
AWARENESS. We would like Kate’s message to be shared all over our community, through our Partner Agencies, donors and volunteers, and the general public. As part of our annual awareness initiative, we hope the community learns that hunger and food insecurity exist right here in our own neighborhood and we, together, can do something about it.

Through various print ads, billboards, and social media, we seek to increase awareness about hunger and direct people to the Kate video. We hope the Kate video and her message goes viral. The more that people share the video with their networks, the bigger the awareness of hunger we can create within our community. The video not only educates the public about the face of hunger–for example, Kate could be your next door neighbor, a co-worker or friend–but it also educates them about Tarrant Area Food Bank’s role in fighting local hunger.

When did it start and how long will the campaign run? 
The campaign started mid-October and will run through December. We will do another flight of the campaign in the Spring of 2013. The Kate video will remain active on our website and on justaskkate.org and through social media when the campaign is not active.

How would you say your version of the campaign differs from the original version?
We are the first Feeding America food bank to launch a traditional marketing campaign around the video. Up until now, the Kate video has been used as a tool in food banks for educating volunteers and donors and has been used through social media and word of mouth.

What communication channels are you using to share Kate? 
Facebook and Twitter posts, Facebook ads, billboards, print ads in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Fort Worth Business Press, the Just Ask Kate web page, the TAFB website, YouTube, e-blasts, email signatures, volunteer training and exclusive showings at TAFB related events.

We also have several collateral pieces our staff use for various audiences, such as children’s activities and giveaways, including Kate as a fan with suggestions on the backside for taking action to build awareness about hunger.  Our life-sized Kate cut-out is being used for photo opportunities with key people in our community for posting on social media.

How will you determine the success of this campaign?
Because this is an awareness campaign, we are most interested in how viral the campaign becomes. The more video views, shares and likes we get from the Kate video, the more we know the word is being spread around our community. We have been using Facebook and Google analytics to track where our viewers are coming from and what actions they are taking after they view the video, such as visiting our website or liking our Facebook page.

What do you think? Is this a compelling campaign to help generate awareness for the food bank’s fight against local hunger? As always, the comments are yours.

The post is from the Next Communications blog.

PRSA Assembly Highlights 2012 #prsaicon

PRSA Assembly Highlights 2012 
Submitted by Andra Bennett House, APR

National Board 
Even though the PRSA Southwest District does not have a district rep on the board (because no one ran), Blake Lewis, APR of Dallas was elected as National Treasurer. Blake will be an excellent “go-to” person for our district, if the need arises.

PRServing America PRServing America is a competition for the best pro-bono community service project by a chapter. PRSSA can participate as well. For 1st place, the prize is $2,500 and the prize amounts go down from there. Our Chapter could think about a pro bono project that would be a possible submission for this recognition and reward.

Advocacy 
PRSA submitted an op-ed to Roll Call re: Senate inquiry into federal agencies and contractors payments to PR firms.

PRSA advocated on behalf of PR pros being able to edit Wikipedia for clients. The owner of Wikipedia apparently was against this. The name of the Facebook group in favor of it is called Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wiki Engagement (CREWE).

Get more PRSA advocacy news.

Business Case of PR 
PRSA wrote Forbes op-ed for business schools including reputation management in MBA programs. (MBA Initiative)

Commission on Public Relations Education gave a lengthy presentation on the disparity of what colleges require for PR degrees.

Membership 
Currently PRSA National has 21,378 members. This is down from 2008 highs, but steadily climbing back up.

Free webinars this year – 63 have been offered, with 6,500 participants, exponentially up from any previous time.

Chapter resources – document sharing platform is being developed for online. No more chapters keeping stuff in shoeboxes!

Next year, ALL Members will be able to pay dues quarterly for a $15 processing fee. This will be optional for chapters to allow members to do this or not. It may allow more members to join, but could affect chapter cash flow.

Issues & Trends emails have been upgraded to be more user friendly and quickly read.

Priorities for 2013 are Ethics, Diversity, Advocacy and the Brand: One PRSA.

Unconference
Value of Districts – upshot of discussion was that National should look at possibly re-drawing the Districts into smaller territories, separating it from board representation, or subsidizing districts to help pay for regional conferences. There are members who do not belong to Chapters, yet chapters fund the Districts, so some members are benefiting without contributing.

Member Benefits – Districts could help aggregate benefit information for the Districts and provide it in a canned fashion for the chapters for newsletters, luncheon announcements, etc. Districts could help pen op-eds and localize the advocacy efforts of National for chapters to submit to their local publications.

Many topics discussed and videotaped – National to condense and make available soon.

Town Hall
Many delegates expressed concern that the Assembly did not vote on anything except the board slate. We listened to reports and gave feedback, but some did not feel the expense of the travel was worth being there in person, and did not feel the Assembly “accomplished” much.

I predict if there is no “beefy” agenda next year, and only voting on board nominees, many chapters will send proxies vs. delegates unless they are staying for the conference.

Thank you to Andra Bennett House, APR and Holly Ellman for representing the Greater Ft. Worth Chapter of PRSA as delegates to the Assembly during the 2012 PRSA International Conference.

Should PRSA Board Service be tied to Public Relations Accreditation?

This is cross-posted from a post by Ft. Worth PRSA member, Dan Keeney, APR.

The big debate in public relations circles these days has nothing to do with the outrageous efforts to sully the reputation of  Wiki Leaks founder Julian Assange and its implications for the profession and journalism in general, BP’s ham handed response to the biggest manmade environmental disaster in U.S. history or even whether PR staffers caught posting phony reviews online should be tarred and feathered. Instead, the greatest minds of our profession are embroiled in a no-win argument about whether the Public Relations Society of America should require professional accreditation before being considered for service on the Society’s Board of Directors.

Established in 1964, the Accredited in Public Relations credential (APR) is awarded by the Universal Accreditation Board (disclosure: I earned my APR in 2000). It measures a public relations practitioner’s fundamental knowledge of communications theory and its application; establishes advanced capabilities in research, strategic planning, implementation and evaluation; and demonstrates a commitment to professional excellence and ethical conduct.

The APR credential has nothing to do with a person’s ability to govern effectively on the board of a national PR society. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Currently, PRSA requires that any prospective board member be accredited. When a ground-up rewrite of the PRSA bylaws was proposed last year, the organization’s General Assembly (the PRSA version of Congress) rejected the proposed language that would have stripped accreditation from board requirements. Despite voting a few years ago to drop the requirement that all Assembly Delegates be accredited, the Assembly balked at taking the next logical step.

The reason the PRSA general assembly voted to drop the requirement that Assembly Delegates be accredited (or “decouple” service from accreditation as we called it then) was that doing so eliminated so many highly qualified PRSA chapter leaders. How could a person serve as the president of a large chapter and not qualify to represent that chapter as a PRSA Assembly Delegate?

The rationale for keeping the accreditation requirement for Assembly Delegates then (as it is now for board service) is that it illustrates an organizational commitment to the credential. If PRSA’s leaders aren’t willing to pursue and achieve the credential, how can the organization suggest it has value for everyone else? What kind of PR practitioner would seek a leadership position but not consider it worthwhile to seek this profession’s credential?

That is a pretty good argument, but we aren’t in a world where everything makes sense. The fact is that only about 20 percent of PRSA members have achieved the APR credential. As a result, until the middle of the last decade, the organization basically had a class system of governance. Only 20 percent of the membership had the ability to serve on the PRSA General Assembly and/or Board of Directors. The other 80 percent, for which everything else was the same (including dues) could not participate in leadership.

Included in that 80 percent are highly capable PR practitioners, including accomplished leaders in corporate communications and agency management. Included in that 80 percent are people who have been leaders of the profession for 20 or more years and regularly shape thoughts about effective strategies, trends and ethics. And included in that 80 percent who, until the mid-00s, could not serve as an Assembly Delegate and STILL cannot serve as a PRSA Board Member are practitioners who have given countless hours of their time as leaders at the chapter and regional levels.

It didn’t make sense for the PRSA General Assembly and it does not make sense for the PRSA Board of Directors.

Last year when the general assembly passed an amendment to the proposed new bylaws that re-inserted the accreditation requirement for board service, I thought it was wrong. To make a point, I presented an amendment to re-insert the accreditation requirement for service as a General Assembly Delegate. I knew it would be defeated, but I wanted to make a point that their insistence on requiring an APR for board service made no sense given their vehement distaste for requiring APR for the assembly.

It was and is a blatant contradiction. If you believe accreditation should be a requirement for PRSA leadership, I respect that. But I can’t understand how you can require accreditation for one set of leaders but drop the same requirement for the other set of leaders.

I don’t think anyone really got the point I was trying to make. Turns out PR people are a very literal group and don’t really get irony.

Fast forward to today with forum posts and e-mails flying with semi-respectful insults pitting the leaders of our profession against each other. Each side is entrenched with very little likelihood that many will be influenced by the back and forth argument. But here’s the bottom line:

  • It makes no sense to require accreditation of the PRSA Board of Directors, especially since the PRSA General Assembly dropped the requirement for accreditation for itself and nearly all chapters have no APR requirements for leadership.
  • Given the fact that a majority of the leaders of PRSA chapters, regions and the PRSA General Assembly are not accredited, it is impossible to argue that accreditation has any impact on the ability to govern. The organization is already largely governed by unaccredited PR practitioners.
  • The inability of four out of five PRSA members to serve on the PRSA board regardless of their level of achievement, track record of service to the organization or interest in serving is patently unfair.
  • If the real goal is to illustrate the organization’s commitment to the credential, there must be better ways to accomplish that goal than coupling accreditation and board service.

That last point is where a meaningful and productive conversation really should start, but unfortunately year after year the PRSA General Assembly gets a glossed over report on the status of the organization’s accreditation promotion efforts. Let’s hope this year it is different.

This post was shared in the spirit of having a Point / Counterpoint discussion. What do you think? We are also open to posting a counter argument from membership.

Change is Good

President’s Column: Tom Burke, APR, Greater Fort Worth PRSA

Never mind that historic foot of snow on the ground, I still hit the neighborhood convenience store to pay my weekly state income tax by buying a lottery ticket. The clerk was all too perky. Must have been the weather. As he handed me the potential winning numbers, he said, “Get lucky. Change our lives.”
 
Not sure I want to change my life. Enhance it, maybe, but changing it at this stage of the game would be a bit drastic.
 
PR and communications professionals deal with change daily. Often we initiate it. Other times, someone else does, and we’re the ones to make it work. Well, the winds of change are blowing at Greater Fort Worth PRSA. The recession has caused us some minor headaches, one result being that the chapter will no longer pay the parking for luncheon attendees (although we did negotiate a garage rate of $2.50). But after this month that won’t be an issue, because the Petroleum Club is renovating, and we’re shifting to Colonial Country Club. Fore!
 
So come enjoy our last meeting at the Petroleum Club on Wednesday, March 10, and then recalibrate for Colonial, where the parking is free. The luncheon meetings will stay the second Wednesday of the month except in April for our annual Pro-Am Day. To be more convenient for TCU, UTA and Abilene Christian University students, that meeting will be Friday, April 9.
 
Whew! That’s enough change for even the most seasoned public relations/communications professional. By the way, the clerk didn’t give me any winning numbers. At least that’s one change I don’t have to worry about.

(Photo credit: TW Collins)

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