At a PRSA event in San Francisco I was pleasantly surprised to be in the center of a packed room. Hosted by PAN Communications, attendees ranged from PR Consultants - such as yours truly - to agencies with a few to a few thousand people. Standing room only, I managed to network with the likes of staffers managing large projects to individuals just trying to get the word out about their association. Albeit never that simple, what I found fascinating was the varying personalities in the room. It got me thinking. What kind of PR agency make-up is a good breeding ground for success? Is there such a thing? Well, yes there is.
Instead of focusing on what kind of people an agency should staff, an agency should first look at what kind of agency they are or want to be. Sometimes an agency leads with analytics and other times it is creative. Agencies can be more liberal or conservative in their opinions – and clients retained. Agencies can also be progressive or risk adverse. And, these are most likely not the only factors that add up to form an agency. I have also seen virtual models where there is no agency per se, but a long list of remote staffers who work on projects together and help clients achieve their goals. Whatever works?
Well, not necessarily. The vision has to come from the top. At the executive level, what are the agency founders and heads like? Who are following them? Who are their past clients and friends? Reputation is such an important asset when developing an agency or growing a staff that I cannot stress this enough. Who is in-charge is a big deal. What they have done matters. That sets the tone for the entire organization.
I always talk about the agency model as compared to a family. The “Mom” and “Dad” do a lot to help the kids grow up, including nurturing the troops and setting them free to do better, accomplish their dreams. It’s no different inside an agency environment. If your managing director is a good person, with strong morals and values, who is there for his/her staff, teaches them, makes them feel part of something bigger than themselves, then he/she is in a good position to foster retention and growth.
And pay doesn’t matter. Sure, it may matter a little bit more when your friend just scored a million from his/her latest start-up, but that’s another life well had. The agency staffer wants comradery, a group effort, something to fight for, laugh and cry about, and to walk away from at night. That person doesn’t want to live in the trenches, but cast strategy and tactics from the sideline – and make a difference worth being awarded for.
And that person gets bored easily. The PR staffer wants diversity in work product and people and needs outside counsel to get the job done. Either they share office resources, pull from other regions, hire consultants or other agencies to generate results for clients. There is no one person who can do this alone. It is an integration of sorts. The kind, where we have recently witnessed in pro basketball, the magic just happens. As much as we want to kid ourselves, it’s not about that one guy or gal. It’s about the team. The team that a very smart person or group brought together.
And, you know when you have it. I have worked inside agencies and as a consultant where you could feel the magic. There was always an excitement in the air when those teams worked together. A little motivation and a lot of hard work went a long way to successful client campaigns that are still talked about years later.
What does it take to get those people together? I used to think it was a series of Myers-Briggs testing, maybe still. But, I truly believe that it’s really an inside out approach that needs to happen. The not so simple exercise of identifying what has driven a PR agency to lead such successful engagements and to replicate that point of view, that stamina, that work ethic, into the interview process. I’m not talking about just hiring bubbly, enthusiastic people or those who have deep experience in a client’s sector.
I’m talking about delving into the cultural aspects of an organization. Teasing those out, getting to know the true agency. That’s what will drive the business forward. It’s figuring out the formula of the magic potion. And, it only works if the agency has the maturity and honesty to open up the kimono and explore what's inside.
To learn more about how I can be a part of your magic team, please contact me through LinkedIn.