#FutureAgency interview with Mike Teasdale

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 Mike Teasdale, founder of Harvest Digital who supports Newcastle United (but we suppose someone has to…)

 

Questions: What are you doing differently in the past 2 years in….

Human resources

We like to do as much delivery work as we can internally, but at the same time we need the flexibility to outsource to freelancers or specialist companies when necessary. So for us, we see the job of HR as maintaining a talent pool both within and outside the business.

A continual issue for us is finding people who are not only experts in a specific discipline, but also have a good understanding of how integration works in digital. One way of achieving this in practise is to blur the strict lines between departments and to encourage people to build up skills outside of their core expertise.

Most of our creative work is project based and it can be on extremely tight deadlines which are exciting but challenging. To balance this out, we’re working hard to win creative work that drops into a more predictable stream – for instance conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is managed on a monthly basis.

 

Client management

In our early days, client management used to be managed at departmental level – so as a client you would talk directly to the head of search, or our creative director.  As we have grown we have moved to centralised account management which focuses on keeping clients happy and offering an integrated service. As a general rule, we find that clients are much more likely to stay with us over the long-term if we are delivering more than one service.

 

Reporting

We have worked hard at automating our reporting systems across search and media. That saves time and also allows us to deliver dynamic dashboards to clients.  However we also recognise that clients need a “physical” report for a campaign or period of activity, so the reality is that most reporting is still delivered as Excel or PowerPoint attachments.

 

Campaign organisation (job bags / project management)

We use Paprika to track staff time against specific jobs. We try to stay reasonably flexible on time management – so if we do find that we have spare time, we’d always prefer to spend it adding that extra bit of polish to a project.

 

Operations management

Our big focus for this year is going to be on service delivery – we believe that if we can consistently deliver great work to clients then most other things will fall into place.  From a technology point of view, email, calendars and file management have all moved to the cloud, and that’s working well for us.

 

Internal communications

A daily email goes out to the entire team each morning – it is a short digest of where people are, what meetings are happening and any other major news.

At the end of each week we do a wrap up email listing out all the major news of that week.  And then once a month, we do a company meeting where each department gives a quick digest of what they are up to.

We have a tradition at these meetings of reading out all the suggestions in the suggestion box live and unedited.

 

Contracts

We have three kinds of typical working arrangements.

  • The first is conventional full-time staff.
  • The second is freelancers, some of whom are dealt with on a very ad-hoc basis, and some of whom are on long-term contracts. Everyone will sign a basic contract dealing with issues like copyright.
  • And finally we have a growing number of staff who work some of their time out of clients’ offices. This is a popular solution for clients who want some short-term highly specialised help and it also gives our staff some really valuable experience of life on the client’s side of the fence.

 

Business development

Most new business comes through some kind of personal recommendation or through existing clients changing jobs.

We have made some investments in other start-ups and through the VC scene we’ve had some interesting introductions into potential new clients and suppliers.

 

Knowledge management

We do different levels of internal training – at its core is a session every 2nd Wednesday that the entire company is invited to attend.  And suppliers and media owners are continually coming in to talk to us about new developments – being based in central London makes it very easy to get people to come in to us.

Our challenge is how to move beyond superficial interest in an area to developing real expertise.

 

Where do you go for information about how to improve the way you run your business?

We talk to the managers of other independent agencies all the time – it’s a small world and people are generally very open about the issues they are facing and how they are dealing with them.

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