Agency for the Future

 

Fred Cook, former chairman of Golin, discusses the firm’s G4 model called Prevolve and the factors that led to the restructuring of the agency. “We’re breaking away from traditional agency silos,” Cook said in announcing the new model. “We’ve replaced the standard, seniority-based hierarchy with global teams of dedicated specialists who are embedded in every account. As our world evolves, so, too, do the needs of our clients. Now, more than ever, clients value smart people who can provide actionable insights into their business.”

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SPEAKER 1: The conference is now being recorded.

FRED: OK, great. Thanks, Keith, for the introduction. My name is Fred, and I’m the CEO of GolinHarris (now Golin). I’m sitting in a conference room in a rainy day in Chicago. Thank you all for joining us. I hope that what we’re going to talk about today you’ll find interesting and provocative. It has certainly been that way for us. This first slide just goes to show you that unfortunately I don’t have the ability to predict the future. So, I don’t know really what it’s going to be like. But I certainly know it’s going to be a lot different than it is today. It’s the same way today, it’s a lot different than it was five years ago.

I do want to talk about a few changes that are taking place in the world we live in. And that’s the world of media. And I think this is all apparent to all of you, but there’s some major shifts in the way people are producing and consuming media in terms of where we get it, how fast we get it, how it’s connected, and how it all fits together. So, starting with the idea of sources, there is a big shift in the way people are– the news media outlets are operating. You’ll see from this chart that some of them are doing quite well and growing while others are shrinking.

And it would be an easy thing to say that all the digital media are growing and all the traditional media are shrinking, but as you can see from that chart, that is not the case. There are different criteria besides that that are determining the effectiveness of various media. And a lot of it is around the idea of general interest outlets don’t seem to be capturing the attention they once did while more special interest ones do. And obviously social media is growing faster than anybody as you can see from the numbers around Facebook and Twitter.

The next slide just demonstrates the changing or the dynamics of what we call lead time in our business. Lead time is the amount of time it takes before you– to get a story placed in a different type of media. As you can see from the top of the chart, there is still long-lead magazines, very many of them which you have to work six or seven months in order to get a story in their publication. But as you move down the timeline, you come to [INAUDIBLE] like YouTube and Twitter where it’s simply a matter of hours before an issue arises on those outlets or before a placement can be placed by one of our clients.

So, the message here is that you have to have the skills to manage every type of media across all these different response times. And it is– it’s quite a bit to manage. And it takes a very coordinated process to not only have the things in place for long-term planning but also be a react on a real-time basis to what’s happening in digital media.

The next slide I think points out the– what is key to our approach is this idea of connectivity. Many companies and many PR agencies have a separate traditional media group and a separate social media group, which is not the way our new model operates. We have integrated these two things completely. And the reasons they’re– what you see on this page is that social media and traditional media play off of each other constantly. Ninety-nine percent of blogs that have links in them are linking to traditional media. And the same thing is true on Twitter. Half of the stories on Twitter also links are based on traditional media.

And reporters in traditional media are using social media as sources for their story. And many of the reporters who are writing for traditional media also have blogs, Twitter feeds, and are on Facebook. And that’s how they also communicate with their audiences. I say here 98% of US TV news outlets air internet video.

My favorite example is the woman who was texting as she was walking through the mall and fell into a fountain. Everybody saw that on TV, and that was simply somebody’s internet video. And when you went to YouTube to see the video itself, it was from CBS News. So, these two things are totally integrated, and it is having a huge impact on the way people get their information.

And finally, what we call integration. Because of this connectivity, the consumer is agnostic about media. They’re not making a big distinction whether they’re getting this through a paid outlet, through social media, through earned media, or through owned media, through websites. All these things are combined now, and that is a huge opportunity for people in PR and PR agencies to expand beyond the earned media into shared, paid, and owned. And that’s part of the reason that we have made the changes that we have.

So, based on those trends and some of the other shifts that are taking place, about a year ago, the senior management of GolinHarris had an all-day, off-site meeting talking about our future. And we had a great decade from 2000 to 2010. We were– we got all sorts of awards. We were named Agency of the Year three or four times, Best Place to Work. We were very strong financially, and we were growing.

So, we ask ourselves, where do we want to be in next 10 years? Where do we want to be in the year 2020? And we decided that in order to be a successful in 10 years, as we are now, we had to make some very dramatic changes in how we work. And that’s what I’m going to do is give you an inside look today of how we went through that– formulating that idea and the process of making it all happen.

We started with something very basic and that is simply what our clients want. By talking to our clients and surveying them, we knew that they want people that understand their business and can provide insight, real, meaningful insight into their actual business, how they can sell more product, how they can convince their employees to be more productive, those sorts of business insight. We also know they’re looking for big ideas. Many years ago, the big ideas came from ad agencies. And that was just primary source. Today that’s not true anymore. The clients are looking to all of their partners for big ideas. And I think it’s a big opportunity for us to deliver them.

The third thing they want is engagement. They want engagement through all of the different types of media that can reach their audience. Whether it’s paid or owned or shared or earned, they want to be– and they want to have the message be similar in all of those different areas.

And finally, they want this to be integrated in a nice, neat package. They don’t want to work with 10 different agencies in order to deal with 10 different media channels. So that was the focus for what our planning, and the next slide shows you an interesting graph if you can read it. And this is from Forrester Research.

Forrester interviewed a lot of chief marketing executives at corporations, and they asked them to rate the different kinds of agencies, whether they’re advertising, direct marketing, digital, or PR, on some of these things that clients want. And the interesting thing is– and I don’t know if this is true or not– but the perception is that PR firms do not get high scores in strategy, which is one of the things we just talked about. We do not get high scores in creative, and you’ll notice ad agencies do. We do not get high scores in technology, which is a big part of engaging people these days, and also not in analytics.

So, it’s interesting that we know what clients want, but from their perception, PR firms may not be where they go to get these– to find these solutions. And we felt that gave us a big opportunity. So, we decided we needed a change. And this– the next chart shows you how we needed to change.

And I think the interesting thing about this is this not only applies to an agency, it applies to the people in our agency. And I think too many of you on this phone, we had to become less traditional and more adaptable, more flexible in our approach. We wanted to move from being simply a PR vendor to holistic engagement– to be able to engage across all these channels that I’ve talked to you about, from being simply a communications partner to understanding people’s business and being a partner on that.

Foremost, we want to move from being generalists to specialists. And you’ll see more about that in a few minutes. From traditional media to multi-media, not just digital media, but as I said before, multi-media, how it all works together. And finally, it’s very important for people today, whether you’re a student or an agency or somebody working in an agency to think beyond our borders and be more global in our mindset in the way we develop our ideas.

So those are the changes that we decided that we needed to make. And we used our platform for making these changes we called agency for the future, agency for the next 10 years and beyond. And it was simply building an agency that was going to win for themselves and for their client in a complex digital world. And we have six simple strategies to accomplish that.

Expand our capabilities beyond PR, transition from generalist to a specialist focus, invest in training and technology, which I’ll show you a little bit how we did that, make strategic acquisitions and partnerships. And I just returned from Brazil today where we announced that we have purchased an agency, the fifth largest agency in Brazil, which is fulfilling that part of the strategy to be more global. We wanted to simplify our structure and redesign our model. And most of what I’m going to be talking about in the upcoming slides is redesigning the agency model.

Our current model, which we have used for the past 56 years, has served us well. But as you can see we have more rank than the US Army. And those ranks are primarily based on how long you’ve been with the agency, and there’s a certain redundancy in them.

It doesn’t apply to your skills. It simply applies to your seniority. And we found that this model was really irrelevant for our client. They really didn’t care about the difference between a senior account supervisor and an account group supervisor.

We also said to ourselves if we were starting a new agency today, would we set it up like this? And I think the answer was no. But the fact is we’ve been doing it this way for over 50 years, so it did mean we had a challenge in terms of how to change it.

The next slide shows you our newer model, which is we call g4, G for GolinHarris and 4 because it’s for community. And we think this is much more based on skills. It’s much more relevant to what our clients want. And it’s more attune to the digital age.

You remember the slide that said our clients wanted insight? Well, our strategists are the people that deliver those insights. And as it’s described here, they’re big picture thinkers. They’re data-driven. They’re business minded. They’re people that are comfortable with return on investment analytics in measurement.

Creators are idea people. That’s where the big ideas come from. They not only think up big ideas but they also understand how to package them whether it’s with words or pictures or online. The connectors are the people that are reaching out on behalf of our client. They can be social media experts, traditional media experts, community managers, lobbyists, anyone that’s working in the external world is a connector.

And finally at the center are catalysts. And these are the very important people who manage the client relationships who build the program, make sure that they’re executed in a flawless way, develop budgets, and understand all the other marketing disciplines that we are involved with.

So that’s the basis of our new model for communities, strategists, creators, connectors, and catalysts. And the idea behind the model is that our whole agency will be organized around these four communities. Every office will be organized around these four communities. And every single client team will be contained members of these four communities. So, it works on a very small basis and on a very macro basis.

So that was the business model. Now I’m going to talk to you a little bit about the process of getting. And we had a name for our process, and that is prevolve. And prevolve is a real word. It’s in the Urban Dictionary anyway. But I had never heard of it before.

But the idea is that as it says on this slide is premeditated evolution. Changing because you want to, not because you have to. We were doing extremely well before. We did not need to change, but in order to be– survive and prosper in the future, we thought it was important. And I know it’s somewhat obvious, but the first two letters of prevolve happen to be PR.

So that was our mantra. And then I told you that our model was the g4 model, and we use a lo– this Lominger confidence in the model, which is a very popular a scientific model for determining the characteristics and the skills required for each of these four communities and the individuals in them. We took the Lominger vocabulary, and we fitted it to our– the PR world so that you can see the strategists are business minded, data-obsessed, versatile learners, disciplined, logical, the creators are creative, inspiring, innovative, curious, risk takers, storytellers.

Connectors are media savvy. They’re informed. They live online. They’re news junkies. They’re persistent.

And the catalysts are motivating, collaborative, problem solvers, detail oriented, growth drivers, change agents. So, we have very specific characteristics for each group. And we use these characteristics to conduct an assessment process for every individual in the agency.

On the next slide, you’ll see a snapshot of what strategists look like in their own words. And we did this for each of the four groups. So, you can see that people could identify with them. You love to find solutions to complex problems. You know, track, and project key industry trends using the latest research tools. So that helps people get an idea of what a strategist was like on a day-to-day human level.

The next slide shows the same thing for creators. You love to surprise clients with ideas and concepts that wow them. You are brilliant at bringing insights to life in a way that connects with people. You like to try new things, and your two favorite words are what if. So that’s a little bit about the characteristics of a creator.

Similarly, the connector comes up next. You always know how to shape great content and sell a story. You know how to navigate the dynamic of a media campaign in real time. These are the characteristics of a connector.

And finally, the catalyst snapshot, which ties in to the Lominger idea. You know how to get things done in a client’s organization. You lead by example. You inspire people to do their best work and exceed client’s expectations.

There are similarities between the characteristics in these groups, and I’m sure that some of you on the phone can relate to aspects of each one. But we tried very hard to identify the personality of each community. And then once we did that, we went through an assessment process of 12 steps, which included an online test, I guess you’d say, or online assessment where people answered about 40 questions and then gave some verbatims to some longer questions. And it helped us decide which group they would be in.

But once they took this assessment, they also met with their managers to talk about their goals and their passions. What were they excited about in this model? What is the area that they would like to expand their knowledge and be trained in? In those conversations, we slotted people into these various communities.

And then we had to look at from a client perspective. We created and revised client teams so that the model would be represented with every client. And then we did assessments at the office level to see where we needed to fill in. Did we have too few creators, too many catalysts, not enough connectors, that sort of thing. So, it was a very thoughtful process in determining how we move from that old hierarchical model to the new model with the four communities. Every single person in our agency went through this process.

Once we had identified who was in the community, we chose people to lead those communities. And in each case, we chose the people in our agencies that we thought were the very best at that particular skill and with the most representative of the characteristics that you just saw for that group. And for instance, if you go down to the bottom right corner, the connector.

In the connectors, we have three leaders. Jeff Barringer is our digital practice leader. Allen Parker runs our digital practice in London. And Jim Dowd is a traditional media relations person. So that combination gives a perfect complement of leadership for our connectors.

On the catalyst side, Stephen Jones and Nicola Moore run two of our biggest client relationships, Unilever and Nintendo. Now, these people did not become the bosses of the people in those– their communities. As you’ll see from the next slide, their job was really more to foster collaboration among the community to facilitate very deep specialized training and to help them drive best practices across these communities, create new services and establish thought leadership. So, they’re not– there’s not a reporting structure in these communities that they are mentors and teachers and collaborators for the community, and they play a very key role in that process.

Next, we– as I said earlier, we wanted to simplify our structure. We thought about going to no titles at all, but that seemed too much of a radical change given that we had so many before. So, we went from 11 or 12 to five levels. But rather have those five levels simply be in the account management area, had five equivalent levels in each community, which now allowed people who were writers, our digital designers, have the same sort of career progression as someone who was in account management.

So, if you love to write or you love to work with media, it meant you could still climb up the corporate ladder, the agency ladder, the same way everybody else did. But you could do what you loved without having to be moved to the account management function. Coming up with the titles and the levels took hundreds of hours. It was quite a complicated process and to some degree we’re still refining it.

The next thing that I– was training. The two critical things to making this model were our training and technology. And our training as an agency is quite robust, but it is general, this training. We usually train everybody in aspects of our business that apply to everyone. So, you get– the training is an inch deep but a mile wide.

And we wanted to change that, so we created a training calendar for each community that has four components to it. And the g4 components were very deep training in aspects that were unique to that particular community. Then we have partnered training where other inter-public agencies helped train us on advertising or digital design or branding. We have outside training where we work with other organizations like PRSA or The Institute of Public Relations for training. And then we created reading lists and conferences– lists of conferences that people could attend that would help them get better in the particular skills we want them learn.

This is the strategist training module, but we had a separate one for each of the four communities. And in about two weeks, we’re going to be bringing about 100 people to Chicago for two days of intensive training. And these 100 people will represent all four of these communities, and there will be some trainings that cross all communities. But for the most part, they will be broken out in separate areas receiving very deep training in those particular skill sets. And we plan to do that three or four times a year in addition to what we’re doing in the offices and with our community leaders.

The other half of the investment is in technology. What you see here is probably the most tangible representation of our g4 model. And we call it The Bridge. And it is a real-time engagement center that operates 24/7, and we have– are in the process of building one of these in every single one of our offices around the world. This particular one happens to be in New York.

And if you flip to the next slide, you’ll see what happens in these engagement centers. Every day we begin the day with an editorial meeting to talk about what’s happening in the world and how our clients fit into that news and how we can use the real-time minute-to-minute social media and traditional media to tell our clients’ stories. That happens every morning. And then that plays out both online and on television and in print throughout the day.

And our connectors are the people seated in the bridges, but it’s not just traditional media. It’s social media and mainstream media people sitting side by side, taking advantage of this constant interplay between social and traditional media in real time. And the beauty is that because we have these all around the world, we can take a client like McDonalds who has a global footprint, and we can monitor and participate in the conversation about McDonalds from sunrise to sunset all around the globe and provide them with the insights and the connections and the opportunities from that sort of relationship with the media in all of those places It’s a very exciting design, and it’s one that we’re continuing to elaborate on. We just– all the highest tech, monitoring tools, and computer equipment in these bridges.

The second tool we launched in conjunction with the agency for the future is a crowdsourcing tool called Bright Collective. And this typically in our world you get ideas by having 10 people sit around a conference room for an hour to come up with a new idea for a client. So, we realized this demand for ideas, that was not a sufficiently good enough way to cultivate them.

So, we created this technology, which allows you to conduct brainstorming challenges online. What you see on the right-hand side is a mouthwash challenge that we– with one of the projects, you put the challenge up, you add a brief to it, and then you decide who is going to participate. And that’s very flexible. You can have it just be agency staff. You can have it be the client and the agency. Or you can go outside of the agency and have it be the mom, physicians, lawyers, whatever kind of group you want so you can truly crowdsource and allow these ideas to bubble up from all different sources.

And the beauty of this is people read other people’s ideas and they build on them. So, you can take a germ of an idea that somebody puts up, and other people can build on it until it becomes a full-blown program. And then, in the end, you can vote on what you think the best ideas are.

The third aspect of the technology we’ve introduced is a collaboration network. And these are a present network that we created. They’re a lot like Facebook, and we created one for each of our community. And these allow all of the connectors and all of the strategists and creators and so forth all around the world to have a 24/7 conversation about their work, about the media, about their client, about ideas, about new research, whatever topics they want, they can now communicate in every office.

It knits these communities together so that they’re totally global and they get to talk about anything they want that’s the latest trend in that particular region. And these have– were launched a few months ago, and they’re extremely active. And great conversations are happening there all the time. Part of what I said earlier and our strategies that we wanted to be able to expand the products that we offered and the services that we provide our clients not only to help them so they don’t have to go to so many agencies to get what they need but also to help build our business.

And the next slide shows some of the examples of the things we’re working on right now. And they’re divided into each of the communities. Each of these community leaders is responsible for creating new capabilities and new services and new products that we can offer our clients.

And I think this is where the– all the opportunity lies. They’re endless things that we can create with this model that will allow us to do cutting-edge work for our clients in a lot of areas that previously they did not think of us as their agency for those particular activities. Everything from marketing mixed modeling to advertising, real-time analysis, and you name it, our new model allows us to provide it.

When we were in the development of this new model, we worked on it for months and months. We had hundreds of meetings, focus groups, discussions. We wrote and rewrote job descriptions until we couldn’t see anymore. And it was a very complex and often tedious process.

And by the time we reached the near the end of it, we weren’t really sure whether anybody else would even care what we were doing. And we debated as to whether or not we were even going to tell anybody about it. But in the end, we thought it had merit. And it was something that we had worked hard at that we– briefed a few key people in our industry and in the media about it. And we launched with this cool-looking dinosaur on June 15th of this year.

The next slide is a picture of our website, which also launched on that day. It is a very contemporary simple to use but a very high-tech website that focused all of the content around the what we were doing. And I encourage you to go look at it and listen to some of the videos. It’ll give you much greater insight into where we’re headed.

In addition to launching the new website, we also did a briefing with Stuart Elliott at The New York Times. And Stuart has written many marketing stories about advertising and PR, but this was the first time he had ever written anything about GolinHarris in our 50-year history. And he wrote a very large feature that talked about how we were changing the landscape in the agency business. And that ended up being one of the most popular articles in the paper that day, and it got quite a bit of attention. Many of us got emails from our mothers and our friends from all over the place, saying that they had seen the story about GolinHarris in The New York Times, which was great to get that sort of attention.

The next slide I think was either more surprising because in the next day– in the next few days, there were hundreds of stories written about the changes at GolinHarris on blogs, in magazines, newspapers, trade publications, all over the world from London to Hong Kong talking about what GolinHarris, what our agency was doing. And it was quite surprising to me and those of us that have been working on this for so long. And all I can chalk it up to is that there is an enormous appetite for change in our industry right now. Everybody’s talking about it, but not very many people were doing anything about it. And once we did, it really sparked an enormous amount of conversation.

And it wasn’t just the reach of the frequency of these stories and the reach, but what impressed me most was the content. And here are a few quotes from some of the stories that ran about the changes at GolinHarris. They were also quite surprising to me because I don’t think I anticipated that people would view what we were doing in such a dramatic fashion. But it was quite rewarding to see that the people were appreciating the thought and the energy that we had put into this and so did the risk involved in taking this kind of step.

In fact, the next slide shows a survey that PR Week did the very week that we launched our model. And if you can read it, the question at the bottom says, they’ve gone off the deep end. Or the comment at the bottom is gone off the deep end. And that’s an answer to the question, what do you think of GolinHarris’ radical agency restructuring?

The first question is it will trans– or the first statement, it will transform the way agencies operate in the future. And more than 70% of the people that respond in the survey said yes. And that was quite a stunning endorsement for us. And shortly after this publicity ran, I also started getting a lot of calls from universities. Professors and program heads, deans of public relations schools who said their students were following what we were doing online and talking about it in class. And they were asking me what I thought the implications were for their programs at their schools and for their students who hoped to work in the public relations profession someday.

And to be honest, I hadn’t even thought about that. I had never imagined that what we were doing at GolinHarris was going to reach the university campuses and the PR classrooms across the country. But now I’ve been, and some of my colleagues have been speaking at some of these schools and talking about these issues with the dean, with the teachers, and with the students.

And the next slide I think brings in to interview a few questions, some that you may be having, but ones that I have heard over and over. And I am no expert on academics. But like in many things, that’s never prevented me from having an opinion. And so, in terms of– just to kick off the questions that I’ve heard, one I’ve been asked is, what does tomorrow’s work force look like? And I think the answer to that is its diverse. I know GolinHarris is more diverse now than it was a couple months ago. And I anticipate it’s going to be even more diverse a year from now and two years from now.

When we did our initial census, about half of the people in our agency are catalysts right now. About a quarter are connectors. And the other quarter’s divided evenly between creators and strategists. We don’t have a quote in mind. We’re not trying to reach a certain goal, but I know that those numbers will shift over time, and we will become more and more– we will have more and more specialists on our staff.

Second question I’ve heard is, is there still a role for traditional PR majors? And the answer is definitely yes. The catalysts, the people that are the traditional PR people that are running the accounts and managing the client are absolutely critical to this model. That’s why in our schematic, they’re the center of it. They make it all work, and they are the traditional PR people who know– who need to know about every aspect of public relations. And they’re still going to be key to our success.

The next question is about specialization, and I think the answer is emphatic there. We are in an age of specialization, not just in public relations, but in all professions. I read an article the other day in the Harvard Business Review, which was called “Hyper specialization.” And it was the need to have complete and total experts in very defined spaces. And that was going to be the key to success for the future. And I think we’re just beginning that process here at GolinHarris.

And a final question I’ve heard a lot is, are technology skills critical for success? Our business has been driven mainly by technology in this past decade. And I think it’s going to be happening even more so. If you saw the announcements that were made by Facebook at F8, all the new developments that they’re launching, the opportunities are immense. It’s not necessary that we all become computer programmers, however, to participate in it. It is important to be part of the technology changes, but most important is to know how to use this technology for yourself, for your company, and most importantly, for your client.

And I think that’s where the technology comes into play. We need to understand it. We need to be very familiar with it, and we need to understand how it’s going to help us do our jobs. So, I think it’s a great opportunity right now for our company and for our industry and for the people that are in the industry and the people that want to be in the industry. But it is also a very dynamic one. And we’ll be watching very closely to see how things change.

I’ve said to many people that we’re just at the beginning of this process for GolinHarris. I think it will take at least another year for us to fully realize the potential of this new model. And we’re very prepared to change our course as we need to along the way. As I said before, part of being successful is being flexible and adaptable, and we’ll continue to refine our methods as we see what works and what doesn’t work.

So, I hope that gives you a little insight into what we’ve been doing here for the past year. It has been a fascinating process, and it’s one that I enjoy sharing with other people. And I’m certainly happy to answer any questions you might have that this presentation has provoked.

KEITH: Fred, let me thank you for all who are in attendance, and I’m going to turn it back to Dharma [INAUDIBLE] moderating the questions that we’ve received, and those will be coming in Dharma.

DHARMA: Sure. Thank you so much, Fred, for that extremely insightful presentation. So, feel free to ask questions via the Questions tool on the right-hand side of your WebEx screen. So, you can use the chat function, and submit your question to Sophie Parra– that’s the moderator– so that not everyone sees your questions. Or as an alternative, you can ask your questions via the conference line. But please use of Raise Your Hand function as indicated by the red circle so that we know that you want to ask a question, and then we’ll ask you to unmute your line, and ask your question.

It looks like we’ve got a comment here from Doug Swanson, who says, “Bravo. The GolinHarris model is exactly what we train our students to do. I do not train my students to work in hierarchy and in specific job [INAUDIBLE]. I want my students to work effectively in small groups, play all the roles, and be flexible. Perhaps the agency sector as a whole will adopt a similar model. I hope so. Students and future grads are ready to work within it.” So great comment there.

But feel free to submit more questions using the chat function, or like I said, if you’d rather ask the question directly to Fred, you can unmute your line as well.

KEITH: So please join us for questions that you may have.

RICK: Hi, Keith. This is Rick Wyatt. Can you hear me?

KEITH: Yes, Rick. Please go ahead.

RICK: Thank you very much, and Fred, Rick Wyatt with Wisconsin [INAUDIBLE] up in Milwaukee. Thank you for doing this for us today. This is really fascinating stuff. And now, of course, I’m on the corporate side, but I’m interested in your mantra for specialization going forward. One of the things that sometimes we look for is someone who is very well-rounded, someone who has a lot of experience, someone who’s done different things who could be very flexible within an organization.

Do you see this growing trend toward specialization as a positive from the standpoint of career growth? Is it going to, for example, stunt someone’s opportunity to move across the agency or do different things in their career? Are they going to be pigeonholed into doing certain things for most of their career? Or do you see this as something that there’ll be so many things they can do within that area that they can continue to grow and expand their career?

FRED: Great question. It’s one that we talked about a lot, Rick. Pigeonholing was the number one fear of our staff in moving to this new model. But I think we– one thing I didn’t mention that we created levels that are parallel in each community. So, if somebody wants to shift from one community to another, they certainly can. And so, we’ve tried to leave it adaptable and flexible to that degree.

In terms of the well-rounded individual, we still want that, and I think that the catalysts have to be well-rounded. They need to understand all these different disciplines, and they have to be the kind of person that has broad thinking. But our opinion was that in this world that we’re living in now, that it was very difficult today to be an expert at everything happening in communication. There’s just too– it’s just too technical and too complicated and too challenging right now for someone to know every aspect of what we do extremely well.

So, based on that, we moved into these specialty areas, which will complement the well-rounded individual. And we think that from a career opportunity, it’s going to give more people, more diverse kinds of people better careers in a public relations agency that they may not have realized they could’ve had before. So, if someone is a writer, and they have no interest in managing a client, but they are a great writer, they can have a 20-year career with our agency and advance financially and in terms of their authority and the work they do over that career. So, we think it’s going to be certainly different, but I think that the opportunity– the work force will be different, but the opportunities will be greater than ever before.

And Rick, to your point about working on the corporate side, it’s been interesting, because as we’ve presented this to our clients, many of our corporate clients are looking at the same sort of redesign internally. And some have borrowed our materials, our assessments, and are using what we’ve done to help them figure out, what’s the right model for inside their corporations? It’s been very interesting.

RICK: All right, Fred. Thanks very much.

FRED: Yeah.

DHARMA: Um, thanks again, Fred. And we have a couple of other questions. Jeff [INAUDIBLE], we see that you’ve sent us a question. But before that, Bruce Berger, you had raised your hand. Did you want to unmute your line and ask your question to Fred?

BRUCE: Yes, I would. Thank you very much, Fred, for a terrific presentation. I’ve had five students with me, and they’ve just had to walk off to class. But they wanted me to ask you a question, which I’ll do in a moment. I want to make a brief comment first. On the slide– I think the previous slide– you talked about a traditional public relations degree or traditional public relations education. And one of the students looked at me and said, what’s that?

And that’s sort of my reaction to it, too. I don’t know what a traditional education is anymore. I came here 10 years ago, and we’ve added new courses. The content has changed dramatically. We don’t move at the speed of agencies or corporations, but I think things are changing fairly rapidly in education, too, which goes to my question that the students wanted an answer to. You talked about these four roles, four types, what does that mean to your agency in terms of who you hire or how you hire or qualities, characteristics that you’re looking for in young professionals, new professionals?

FRED: Well, it’s a very good question. And we debated that a lot, too. We asked ourselves, should we let new recruits come in and just a little bit of everything and see how they fit into the model after a year or two? But in the end, we decided that we should have this assessment be part of the recruiting process, because we really want to help people identify where their skills are and, really importantly, where their passions are, and allow them to pursue something that they’re really excited about being part of.

So, we think that this is an important part of the recruitment process. It’s an important part of the training process. And the interesting thing is since we’ve announced this, the quality of the resumes we’re getting has improved dramatically. And because I think we’re attracting people who are– maybe we wouldn’t have thought about before as a potential employer. So, it’s been interesting from that perspective.

KEITH: Can I just add a question, a kind of a sub-question to that, and it relates to the culture of the agency. You referred to this in the beginning, and while these new competencies and capabilities are important, I think you would be the first to say that the culture of the agency’s always been one of the strongest points of it. Those factors, obviously, about personal qualities, integrity, and the values that we’ve developed are still really at the heart of this, too.

FRED: Right. And many things are changing in GolinHarris, but the foundation of who we are is still very much the same. And when we choose people to work here, it is a number of different criteria. And as Keith said, one of them is whether they’re a good fit for the kind of people we are.

Secondly, still, industry experience is really important, whether it’s health care, technology, corporate. Those sorts of industry skills and knowledge are still intact, too. So, it’s just one of the things we look at, but we do try to use that as a tool for hiring.

KEITH: Great. Dharma.

DHARMA: The next question is from Jeff [INAUDIBLE]. Do you feel this model will be more strongly– will more strongly position public relations in areas more traditionally controlled by other specialties, like brand management?

FRED: We hope so. That’s the whole– that’s one of the major reasons for doing it, because we think that– I’ve always felt that PR people are just as smart and just as creative as people in advertising, people in media, people at digital agencies. But I don’t think we always get credit for it, and that’s what the Forrester Report showed. And I want our agency and our industry to be the kind of people that are bringing big ideas to their clients and able to implement those big ideas across all these different channels.

My hope is that five years from now and 10 years from now, we’ll be playing a much broader role for our client, and it will cover a lot of these other aspects that are typically being done by other agencies. They’re all doing PR now. Every ad agency out there, half of their programs are social media and PR-driven. And my view is we’re not just going to sit here and defend our territory from them. We’re going to go after their business, too.

DHARMA: Thanks, Fred. We got a nice note from [INAUDIBLE] saying that she found the session extremely useful, and a question from Dane Riley. Would you like to talk about the internship program offered by GolinHarris in terms of applicant volume and [INAUDIBLE] rates? Also, do you accept interns according to [INAUDIBLE] model used for now full-time hires?

FRED: It’s a good question. Our intern program is different in every office. Every office has one, but they all manage it differently. The larger offices obviously have more interns. The smaller offices, less. The number of applicants we get is enormous, and the number of people we choose is a very small percentage of that. I would say–

KEITH: We have as many as 800 in this office.

FRED: Yeah, in Chicago, we will have anywhere from five to 800 applicants, and we’ll choose a dozen people. It’s a very robust program, and we do let the interns get involved with lots of different activities and lots of different people. And it is also a place that we find a lot of our new people. Out of a class– a typical intern class, we hope to hire half of them at the end of the internship period.

KEITH: But I have a question, Fred, I want to pose to you from the educator standpoint. If I’m an educator, perhaps, and I would hope that maybe an educator will join in this discussion and pose the question differently if I’m not posing it the way they would. And I’m in a classroom, and I look at this new model. I may ask the question; how do I learn about this new model to help prepare students for it? What kinds of things would I do? What would you counsel an educator to do in this regard?

You’ve been recently in West Virginia. I know you’re going to USC, will be on other campuses. What are your thoughts about how an educator can work inside of an agency or otherwise to learn about these trends and the work that they may need to help students prepare for?

FRED: That’s a good question, and like I said, I’m not an expert on academics at all. And it may be that the majority of the PR programs and the graduate programs in public relations are already gearing their students towards what we’re doing. I really don’t know. But we’re certainly happy to share that information like we have on this webcast. We have been speaking at universities with some frequency to the degree that we can do it.

And I think with part of what I view in this change is we’ve gotten a lot of attention for what we’re doing. And with that attention comes a certain amount of responsibility. So, I’m very focused on making sure that what we’re doing at GolinHarris works over the long term, making sure that it helps our clients, making sure that our people benefit from it, and anything that we can learn in that process, we’re happy to share with anybody that’s interested.

KEITH: Just to add on before we jump back to Dharma, one of the things that, say, for educators who aren’t aware of it is that the Plank Center for Leadership and Public Relations two years ago created and expanded now in our outreach, the fellowship for educators, Fred and [INAUDIBLE] and others who are here in the room with me know that Dr. Brenda Wrigley, for example, was here the summer before last and spent two weeks with us. There are others who participated in this program, and I think these kinds of efforts and engage in them to have reciprocity and have educators join us, provide the kind of orientation like we’ve talked about here that helps that happen. Dharma, back to you on questions.

FRED: One other thing, Dharma. I wanted to mention we are, at this point, working with one or two universities to do sort of a written case study of this, to give them the inside view of it. And that would be something that would be easily shareable with other people

KEITH: Yep.

DHARMA: Another question from Jeff here. The backbone of PR has always been solid writing. So what field, Fred, would you consider to be critical for preparing students to compete within this new agency environment? Some, of course, we can keep. Some will meet the [INAUDIBLE]. But where should we/they be focusing?

FRED: In what specializations? So that’s a really good question. And again, I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer it. But we’ve always been focused on writing. That’s true. But when we do our client reviews, that is the one thing that we’re often criticized for. So, we may be focused on it, but I’m not sure we’re always delivering the best writing. And what we’ve found is on an account team, instead of having five people all writing materials for clients, if you have one person who’s a great writer, in this model, writing for the client, the quality goes up dramatically. And then we can train that person to do more and more sophisticated writing and get better and better at it.

In terms of other specialties, I think the digital arena, in terms of digital design and production, software development, we’re doing more and more of that all the time. Mobile applications are first huge for the future. We’ve been developing our own mobile application. Anything in the creative world– video production. The web is almost [INAUDIBLE]. Somebody’s making a lot of noise there. Those are all aspects. I think research and measurement are something that the PR industry is not particularly great at. And so, if you added some sort of background and research and measurement, that would be very valuable to a company or to an agency. So, I think there’s lots of areas of specialization that could complement the public relations degree.

DHARMA: Great. The next question comes on behalf of students in the room. Students looking to continue on to graduate school, is an advanced degree, like a master’s in communications, more or less valuable as pursuing a traditional MBA? I’ve heard some agencies say they prefer students who can speak the language of business and prefer candidates who have completed MBAs. What are your thoughts?

FRED: That’s a hard question to answer, and again, it’s not my area of expertise. But along the lines of what I was just saying– and I have met with deans of public relations schools, and it is important to know about more than just PR. And if you’re going to graduate school in public relations, supplement that with political science or with business or with design or other things so that you’re not just an expert at communication. That’s important.

It’s important to understand media. It’s important to understand issues management. But there are so many other aspects that we are looking for and our clients are looking for. So, it’s great to be well-rounded in communication, but I think to have some other skills that you can bring, whether they’re skills that you’ve gotten in school or they’re skills that you’ve gotten in life that make you stand out from the pack and allow you to have a unique point of view and some fresh ideas is very compelling for us. We’re in the idea business, and we’re looking for people who have good and new ideas.

KEITH: I’m going to ask folks who have questions that they have not posed yet to raise their hands for Dharma, and I want to come back and pose one to Fred. Fred, you mentioned that with opportunity comes responsibility to make sure that the model works, that it takes hold inside of the agency, and you’re working on that. What has most surprised you as you’ve gone around talking to people, both inside of the agency, or as you’ve been a part of the process of leading it? Pleasantly surprised you and surprised you in other ways, as you’ve gone through this process– I’m sure people would love to hear your thoughts about that.

FRED: What I’ve learned the most is that people accept change at different paces. Even from the very beginning, even our most senior management team, there were some people that were chomping at the bit to change in this way. And there were other people that were completely skeptical and afraid to change. And you see that throughout the agency, not just in our ranks.

And what I realized through this process is if you change at the pace of the people that are chomping at the bit, the biggest risk-takers, then you leave everybody else behind. But if you change at a slower pace that makes the most skeptical and change-resistant people happy, then you frustrate everybody else. So, for me, the key was finding a pace of change that made everybody uncomfortable, somewhere in the middle. And that, I think, was the key learning in order to get everybody moving forward as a group.

DHARMA: Bruce [INAUDIBLE], I noticed that you have raised your hand again, if you wanted to unmute your line.

BRUCE: OK, thank you. Fred, from some years in corporate PR and now in education, the step that you’ve taken is a big one. There is an appetite for best practices that you mentioned, for change, for doing things faster and better. And knowing what to do, your team and agency’s spent a tremendous amount of time in research, shaping things, reshaping things. I was significantly impressed with the [INAUDIBLE] process that you’ve gone through.

So, you got through the knowing. You’re starting to implement. The two big steps ahead, it seems to me, are the actual doing, making the change happen, and then sustaining it. And if you could, I’d like you to speak to, as you’ve gone through the process so far, what things have, perhaps, emerged apart from the change of pace that you’re talking about that maybe you hadn’t anticipated or that you need to deal with maybe a little bit differently as you try to achieve sustainment?

FRED: I can think of a couple of things. One is just– expanding on your point, you’re exactly right. What we’ve done so far is great, but what we still have to do is much harder. And I think that the trick is momentum. You have to sustain the momentum for the people involved and for our clients and everybody else to make sure that they feel like this change is continuing. People have a tendency to fall back to their old ways of doing things, if you don’t have something happening all the time.

So, we’ve created some milestones along the way. This training session in a couple of weeks will be one of those, when we have 100 people here together being immersed in this for two and 1/2 days. And part of what we have to do is continue to find those milestones and the proof points of that it’s working and to reinforce the direction that we’re headed in. I think that is the most critical thing as we move forward.

BRUCE: Thank you.

KEITH: Do we have any other raised hands, Dharma? It doesn’t appear that we do.

DHARMA: Nope, and no other questions either, so.

KEITH: Well, on behalf of the Plank Center for Leadership and Public Relations, Fred, I want to thank you for being our special guest today to present. I think has been a great presentation, number one, and secondly, I think you’ve surfaced a lot of issues that both educators, students, and professionals wanted to learn about as well. I’m pleased to be joined by our trustee group as well. You heard from Dr. Bruce Berger and [INAUDIBLE] White, both of whom serve on the program committee and have been architects around our work, both the fellowship for educators and the webinar series that we have.

Dr. Carla Geller, who is the director of the center, is also on with us today, as I know are others who were able to do this session and recognize it has been the top session that we’ve done so far. So, thank you again for your participation and leadership in it.

FRED: It was my pleasure, and thanks, everybody, for joining us.

KEITH: We appreciate it. Let me just say as we close that we have recorded the audio portion of this that will be placed on the Plank Center website. Dharma, anything else you’d like to say about that?

DHARMA: Nope, Keith, it’s exactly that. It’ll be on plankcenter.ua.edu under the Webinars tab, and we’re flashing the URL right now in case you wanted to take note of it. But thanks everyone for attending today.

FRED: Thanks, guys. Have a good afternoon.

[BEEPING]

SPEAKER: The chairperson has ended this–

[BEEPING]

The chairperson has ended this conference, and you will now be disconnected. Thank you.

Research

Leaders exert significant influence on the success, future and image of their profession. Yet, only a few PR studies have explored this important topic.

One goal of the Plank Center is to build a research-based foundation of knowledge regarding the values, qualities and dimensions of excellent leadership, mentorship and diversity and inclusion in PR.