From the Pyramid to the Anvil – The Future Shape of Communications Agencies
Since starting inzeption.org in Summer 2011 we conducted a series of interesting interviews with international and national agency leads and communication services buyers at MNCs as well as mid-cap companies. The more intelligence we gather – and we are grateful about just how willing to share insights people are – the following themes about the future of agencies emerge. These are not by any means new or completely surprising, but a good starting point for the journey inzeption.org is planning to take into the future of communications agencies:
Our speakers are convinced that the future will not lie in offering more commoditized services such as yet another press release. The competition around offering those basic services is just too high – and the return of investment just not high enough. In addition, it’s time that the industry faces the fact that a press release just doesn’t garner anymore the attention it did ten years ago. If it ever did.
- Instead, the future will be about creating content and starting the right conversations. Nothing new here, but consensus is that the art of storytelling needs to be revived. Storytelling is an age-old way of filtering and organizing information in an easy-to-recall format. Given the daily information overload we face, it’s astounding that this device isn’t employed more consistently when defining the topics a company wants to talk about. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb puts it in his famous book “The Black Swan“: “We like stories, we like to summarize, and we like to simplify, to reduce the dimensions of matters.”
- With this arises though an obligation to start the “right” kind of story. The fallacy associated with storytelling is that we prefer compact stories over raw truths. This will distort our mental representation of the world, and it is particularly acute when it comes to rare events – or a “black swan”, as Taleb calls them. Examples? Everything that people did never believe could happen, from 9/11 to global bubbles bursting with an unprecedented impact throughout the world. Given that 80% of content in the press originates in communications agencies, we do shoulder a certain responsibility.
- This goes in line with the fact that agencies are evolving from a pyramid-shaped model to an anvil-shaped one. What that means? It’s no longer an army of junior staffers at the bottom and in the middle ranks doing the work of putting out press releases, and a few select people at the top pulling the work in. The future will be more senior staff, less “middle ground” and an equal amount of specialists. Senior communications people will be needed for their communications know-how and, frankly, their network among clients and the media. Gone will be the days when a senior person didn’t need to call a journalist anymore. At the same time, with the proliferation of digital media, specialists are needed to translate and create content across a series of platforms – and make it stick. What does that get you? An anvil-shape with a few staffers in-between responsible for the seamless running of projects. This is echoed by London Business School professor Lynda Gratton in the book “The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here“. She calls these principles “becoming a master instead of a jack-of-all-trades” and “be prepared to strike out on your own.”
Where does that leave inzeption.org for now? With four interesting areas to direct our thoughts and insights: The services agencies will offer, the talent they will need, and the processes and KPIs that will make the whole machinery tick – and last, but not least – the transition this will involve.
Looking forward to your comments – and stay tuned for our forthcoming article “The Schizophrenia of Clients.”