Building the Agency – Part II

In our last post on this topic we reviewed the new challenges agencies face in staffing to handle the much broader knowledge base they expect of employees.  PR, marketing, and the other related arts previously had a comparatively limited set of tools that they’d actually use on a regular basis – media relations (print, broadcast, etc.), event marketing, etc. – with the occasional foray into something digital.

Now, in addition to the old tools, we’ve got all the digital arenas (platforms) to play in and on, each with their own set of rules and standards and much more specialized types of media – lifestyle bloggers (or as some like to call a large subset of this group – “mommy bloggers”), bloggers affiliated with mainstream outlets, bloggers who consider themselves journalists, bloggers who don’t want to be journalists but rather paid advocates and so on. 

Throw in the lack of hierarchy and “reputation management” when dealing with non-traditional media types and you potentially end up with situations where rather than a simple pitch rejection, you , your agency or your employee can be skewered  by the very outlet that was pitched. Admittedly, some of the pitches we’ve seen related to these skewerings are very bad. Regardless, this kind of conduct is something I’ve never seen from a “mainstream” publication. The question still remains – how to appropriately rebuild the agency to accommodate all these variables, and the platforms’ appropriate codes of conduct in this new environment.  There are two common approaches:

  • Hire for expertise in using the tools
  • Hire for expertise in the subject matter

Each of these two approaches has its own set of pros and cons.

Hiring for tool or platform expertise, e.g. someone with a deep understanding of video production, metrics analysis, community management, blogger outreach, etc., provides you with an employee that fully comprehends that specific area, which can be great.  The downside to this is that in times of flux – changing client needs, short-term project work – you have an employee whose ‘man hours’ are not as easily moved around as that of a generalist, their long-term value to the organization is in doubt, and their upward mobility may be more limited.

Hiring for subject matter expertise, e.g. someone who knows financial services backwards and forwards, means you’ve got someone with a thorough understanding of the topic area and speaks the same language as the press, bloggers and end-users.  What you lose is that deep knowledge of the platforms. You do have to adjust for that learning curve – ongoing training is basically a requirement at this point (or have someone internal who has already established some level of expertise come in occasionally and ‘consult’).  If your shop is somewhat siloed in industry categories, this person is likely more able to work cross-client, however.

What approach are you taking?  In our next post, I’ll address the direction we’re taking, and more importantly – why.

Image Courtesy flickr user insidious_plots