What is the future for the Public Relations Agency industry? The debate started across on Forbes, continued on FIR and we add our own suggestions from an interview taken for the source material for our book, “The Creative Agency of the Future“, being written now.
What is the future for the PR industry? We asked Felix Verlade, listed in Cream’s 2010 Top 100 Innovators.
Questions: What are you doing differently in the past 2 years in….
We use behavioural interviewing rigorously. This is interviewing for traits and behaviours that indicate whether someone is likely to be able to and interested in / biased towards fulfilling the essential roles in a job description. It consistently indexes as the second most reliable technique for success in the role – the first is showing work relevant to the job in a work test (for example, ‘show us how you drive this forklift truck’). It’s a structured set of questions (40) that are what you’ve decided are essential for the job. e.g for sales: good work rate, resilience, tenacity, intelligence, ability to communicate. It shows what answers are counter-indicators and which you are looking for. If they get 9/10 of the answers absolutely right then you can do the ‘do I like you’ bit.
Setting KPIs and rigorously following them up – our work is very formal and strategic but the outputs are broken down and measured. e.g for biz dev the event requires 40 brands to be researched at a desk for 3 days.
We rate each of the clients each month against some questions e.g. have we delivered value for money, does the client think we are on time, on budget, delivering creative value and strategic value. If 3 people work on an account you can get different answers. Once a quarter we do a review when the client gets to score us on the same questions and this throws up what we need to improve.
Campaign organisation (job bags / project management)
We bring in external project managers now. We tried to hybridise account managers and what you get is a mish-mash of capability. Recently and partly of a consequence of working within a broader group of developers that we’ve come to the conclusion that every project requires a peculiar type of project manager and so we hire them in.
They are freelance and we get them on trial for a week – personal recommendation.
We have just moved – we co-habited with our ex since April which it’s now a relief to be in our own building. We have negotiated a 2 year break on a small property which we’ll outgrow in 18 months but we have the right to sublet.
More internal meetings – but we have a small team and we get a lot of whole-team brainstorms for new clients, pitches. We have the Monday morning meeting – very structured business update with a person-by-person what we are doing this week, what my risks are; project update (1 line each), opportunities update and big events (pitches and birthdays) Takes 30 minutes.
Management meetings – financials and KPIs, Friday afternoon – creative brainstorm for a client picked the day before by general consensus for ideas to take to them the following week. We have 10 clients at one time.
Tuesday status meetings – client work by the team leader so not everyone goes to that..
Us and employees – nothing changed. Working Time directive means we had to increase holidays to 28 days.
The whole finance process is driven by the requirements of credit control – we have a fairly complex billing cycle with some clients e.g. produce 12 campaigns in a week and you can’t do credit control without a contract – so the first painful thing we do with a client is nail that down. What goes into the contract, very little has changed. Some clients like Marks and Spencer write their own.
17 years ago I made the mistake of insisting we kept the copyright on work when we were pitching Johnson and Johnson and they walked away. The contract is there to put a framework in place to say ‘if this happens, then what happens’. The trivia doesn’t really matter.
We have a formula – we found the phone wasn’t ringing with clients offering to hand us their business. We set up a series of training events for eCRM and we invite brands once a month – for each event we win a small piece of consultancy and 75% go on to a larger piece of consultancy and 50% go on to being retained clients.
If we were relying on pitches we’d have gone a long time ago. It’s about forming alliances with other companies who design and build and do social.
This is a client and staff relationship matter – we do an awful lot of teaching of clients. We put on 2 events a month at the Groucho and we teach clients how to do eCRM well. We hope that will lead to them giving us work. Those are well structured – most of the people in the agency are engaged in putting those courses together – delivering or being there making friends with the prospects who turn up. They get a lot of exposure to that. We try to continuously improve how we teach stuff. We learn a lot from each other in the team.
Where do you go for information about how to improve the way you run your business?
Vistage.com which used to be called TEC International. An organisation which trains CEOs – works by having monthly meetings for a full day of CEOs of 12 different businesses. We present problems and brainstorm solutions. I get half a day’s training each month and this includes things like coaching, behavioural interviewing, or strategy development.
I tried non-execs and they are nice to have but there’s no structure – they will bring their top tips to you. I have worked with brilliant people but they only bring one perspective and I like the idea of getting asked by a start-up to join their advisory board in return for being lunched which is flattering and shows my age! It’s a demand on time so you have to be careful. An advisory board is a good one – it’s a cheap way of getting good brains round a table to discuss your problem of the moment. Some will charge a few hundred quid a month or a % of shares. That diversity of opinion around a single issue. If you can spend 1k per month go to Vistage – they’ll train you to be a professional CEO. It’s almost like agile business strategy development.Future Agency.