Conference recap: CEOs predict the future of the agency

December 1, 2012

Several thought leaders participated in a panel discussion on what tomorrow’s PR agencies will look like. Their conversation, moderated by Flatiron Communications founder Peter Himler, highlighted how agencies are driving change in the way PR practitioners work. Here are some of the highlights from each panelist during the PRSA 2012 International Conference in San Francisco:

Jack Martin, CEO, Hill+Knowlton Strategies:
“None of us know exactly what the agency of the future is going to look like,” Martin said. “But when you talk about the future, you always hear ‘digital.’” He continued by saying that agency roles are blurring, including the lines between different types of agencies, such as distinct advertising or PR companies. He also explained that H+K has “invested heavily in research” because “measurement is going to be a critical part” of the future.

Janet Tyler, APR, Co-CEO of Airfoil Public Relations:
Tyler offered insight into characteristics of the agencies, employees and clients of the future. Agencies will become increasingly specialized, flexible and independent, she said, and they must be able to sell themselves like they sell their stories. Employees must understand the power of data, the importance of online communities and the diversity of the field. She added that clients will increasingly desire transparency and appreciate smart risk-taking.

Rob Flaherty, APR, CEO, Ketchum:
With all of the changes in how the news industry operates, Ketchum’s CEO offered a modern definition for “news” as “something that is important enough to find [us].” He added that the role of a gatekeeper, in the absence of a fence, provides newfound implications for agencies. “There’s a reason people around the world are flocking to PR, because the most valuable media in the world are the ones you can’t buy,” he said. A relationship, the currency of today, is “someone saying something to someone else.”

Fred Cook, CEO, GolinHarris International:
With more than 700 employees, GolinHarris is pioneering a new agency model based on its assessment of tomorrow’s roles of digital communicators, Cook explained. Dubbed “g4,” the model breaks from traditional agency structures by offering “mission control centers” as hubs for client work, with practitioners working in one of four roles, he said. Instead of titles like account executives or vice presidents, GolinHarris now uses “connectors,” “creators” and “strategists” who work within these client-focused control centers and who are empowered by campaign-driving catalysts.

Philip Volmar
Philip Volmar is a graduate of Brigham Young University's award-winning PR program. He specializes in digital public relations and integrated marketing.
Email: pvolmar at


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