Julia Hood’s editorial in today’s PRWeek raises some interesting and valid counterpoints to my post from last week on large agencies. As Julia knows, my original bone of contention concerned the out-of-proportion editorial coverage afforded to the big guys by her trade journal and others. And while there are exceptions to my comments about the dearth of innovation and thinking from big agencies (Ketchum and Edelman are notable exceptions), the fact remains that the big guys simply aren’t the best examples of today’s swift-moving, rapidly-changing marketplace. And, that’s a direct result of what I call the "holding company mentality." Having come from J. Walter Thompson before founding Peppercom with my partner, Ed, I know that the publicly-traded companies worry about:
1.) their stock price
2.) their overhead expenses
3.) their profitability
Notice I didn’t mention the client or agency employees in my list.
While all firms worry about the cost of doing business, the WPPs, Omnicoms and Interpublics of the world exert tremendous pressure on their respective agencies to tow the financial line (which, by necessity forces them to allocate time to satisfying their owners first and their clients and employees second). This sort of pressure also creates a "quarter-by-quarter" management mentality and an environment in which offices with separate P&L’s will often battle over the same client dollar. As a result, we’re seeing very little innovation from large agencies and, from what I hear, dramatically reduced management development programs. Why? Because R&D and management training are expense items.
At the same time, we’re not seeing any serious industry thought leadership from most of the big agencies. Why? Because to speak out too loudly is to rock the boat. And as the Nick Naylor character in "Thank you for Smoking" said, "We all have mortgages to pay." So, Julia, while I expect you to continue to cover the big guys in full-page spreads, give some thought to similar-sized profiles of people like Phil Nardone, Mark Raper and Jennifer Prosek. These are the people who, if asked, would place the client and their own employees at the top of their lists of business concerns. They’re also the people who are reinventing the business to develop new service offerings and future leaders.
The issue isn’t advertising vs. PR (although I’ve waxed poetic on that in past posts). Rather, it’s all about the future of PR. My question to you, Julia, is this: do we have the type of leaders and agencies who will develop the services and train the people to delight clients now and in the future?