Holmes Report 09 Jan 2014 // 5:47PM GMT
By Alexander Jutkowitz I have a vision. And I apologize in advance; it’s not a more humane world, an end to world hunger, or a startup that will help you achieve immortality. My vision is to revolutionize what communications is and what it’s supposed to do. My vision is a radically new conception of the agency itself. There’s something inherently bizarre about the state of communications firms today. They seem to be frozen in time, catering to an era – and a mode of business – that is no longer [caption id="attachment_1312" align="alignright" width="160"] Alexander Jutkowitz[/caption] relevant. Billing by the hour, siloed departments, employees who are instructed to hold hands instead of think big: It seems innovation and risk-taking have been stripped from the way agencies in our field do business. So what’s holding agencies back? They create terrific, groundbreaking, and yes, revolutionary product for clients, yet I see countless agencies fall victim to standard, unimaginative, and outdated modes of operation. It’s time to rethink the way communications agencies work and adjust our focus forward. Let’s imagine what the communications agency of the future might look like. First: Forward-thinking agencies will consist of idea generators. When it comes to nailing the really big ideas, public relations outfits often fall on their face. In order to stay competitive, our ideas need to be just as bold, loud, and vast as those once reserved for advertising agencies. The goal for every communications firm should be to employ a team of great doers and thinkers, who approach common client requests with extraordinary and unique remedies. Increasingly, client needs are becoming more abstract in nature and more difficult to solve via traditional means. Our industry needs assertive doers who encourage disruption and innovation at every step. Agencies of the future will be boundary-less. Across industries, the division between job tasks and responsibilities are blurring and the communications field is no exception. Titles like ‘Senior Account Manager’ and ‘Director’ are becoming less and less adequate at defining someone’s true job. ‘Creative’ is a title I could give to - quite literally - everyone at my firm. Agencies are best served to encourage their employees to go beyond the limitations of their job title to multitask across genres, whether it’s making content, pitching stories, performing client-facing tasks, or dealing with finances. In that same vein, the agency of the future will be all-in-service. Agencies should be prepared to tackle a variety of tasks because the agency of tomorrow will be well versed in the merging of disciplines and roles. Parts think tank, digital strategist, content creator, branding expert, PR outfit, and social media guru, communications agencies should be bold enough to ask: “What won’t we do?” Lastly, the agency of the future will be built upon a culture of success. Many agencies get caught up in too much handholding, hosting an excessive number of meetings, and partaking in inefficient brainstorms. All of these things directly conflict with a ‘success culture.’ In my experience, many people come up with their best ideas when they are alone, after meeting with team members to define an assignment. Sometimes an email can do more to address – and solve – an issue than a thirty-minute meeting. Investing in a culture of success means that ‘and’ is integral to operation. Tech solutions are not distinct from people solutions. Development and design do not have to be separate from the written word (and at this juncture, they really shouldn’t be.) The agency of tomorrow doesn’t need to pick and choose between two poles – it ought to be staking a claim in both and have its hands in everything that falls between. The good news is that the agency of tomorrow isn’t very far away at all. The future is laden with big ideas, more complex technology, and the proliferation of abstract thought. More and more, communications agencies are foraying into the future by finding comfort in the merging of things and the abstraction of roles. It’s now crucial that agencies poise themselves to be prepared for the unforeseeable. They need to be ready to take on the next big, unknown thing. And the best way to do that? By being open, all-in-service, and experimental. By being adaptable. And that means taking risks when and where it counts, at the very structures of our organizations. Alexander Jutkowitz is a vice chairman and the chief global strategist at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and managing partner for the agency’s content subsidiary, Group SJR. He is among the speakers at the upcoming In2 Innovation Summit.