How to modernise a PR agency or Comms team

Where should you start when thinking about modernising a PR agency or Comms team? What does that even mean?

WaddsYou’re in the right place to find out thanks to current President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Stephen Waddington @wadds (pictured). He’s just published a guide and it’s such a corker I thought I’d share it with readers of my blog.

This week is the World PR Forum in Madrid, Spain, which you can follow via #WPRF2014 on Twitter. Stephen has published his thoughts on this topic as speaker notes after taking to the stage yesterday, and looking ahead to the PRSA International Conference in Washington next month.

He said: “There is much said at conferences and events, and written on blogs and in traditional media, about the fundamental shifts taking place in the media and the impact on the business of public relations.

“These conversations focus on who (practitioners, agencies and communication teams), what (modernise public relations), why (media change and opportunity) and when (now) but very rarely how.

So true, I’ve lost count of the number of talks I’ve heard that address all of the above, but the how – and how much – is often missing.

So what has he done?

Stephen has explored how and looked at the journey public relations is making from publicity to a management discipline, suggested how to transition an agency or communication team while limiting the impact on organisational performance, and included case studies from UK agency the Crowd & I  (which is run by the fab Gem Griffiths @GemGriff) and the UK Government.

What do I think?
What struck me from reading through was that there was an obvious gap for this to be written – and Stephen was absolutely the right person to do it. I’ve enjoyed working alongside him as part of the CIPR Social Media Panel in recent years and think this information, particularly in this format, was long overdue, and I welcome it.

His sage advice, no-nonsense approach and canny ability to guide people through how to improve themselves and their organisations (without preaching), makes this an essential read.

I particularly like the fact the AMEC Valid Metrics for PR Measurement Framework is referenced and think readers will find the references peppered throughout useful to be aware of.

What I like: The evolution of PR

evolutionofPRIn the guide he looks at how to transform agencies and communication teams to engage with new forms of media and states:

“The challenge, as with any business transformation, is how you tackle organisational changes while limiting the impact in terms of organisational or financial performance.

“I created this chart in my job at Ketchum to describe the shift we need to move through as we work with clients to tackle the new opportunities that the Internet offers our business.”

There are four areas:

  • media relations
  • influencer relations
  • community management
  • social business

– and each of them require a new set of skills.

Stephen has looked at what’s needed for each area and the changes that need to be made to modernise. He’s identified three ways to transform.

Three ways to transform

There are three ways to transform a public relations business or communication team around digital, depending on the scale and the potential for investment.

#1 Training
Upskill existing staff to address the opportunities that digital media provides. Having set a strategy for modernising a team, everyone’s learning and development and key performance indicators should be aligned. This is ultimately the only way to transform an agency or communication team.

#2 Embed
Hire new staff with the skills that your organisation lacks to plug the gaps and work alongside existing staff. This is a disruptive approach but is often essential to kick-start change and can only ever be a short-term strategy. In time everyone in the team must become digital.

#3 Build or acquire
This is a combination of the first two approaches whereby a team of domain experts is hired to speed change through training and practice. This process can be accelerated through acquisition but that raises an additional set of challenges in terms of integrating the new team.

One thing is for sure: communication teams and public relations agencies in the future will look a lot different to how they have in the past. (Tweet this)

Sarah Hall Sarah Hall, @Hallmeister, is quoted in the guide saying: “Despite the demands placed upon practitioners by 24/7 news and social media, public relations agencies have been surprisingly slow to introduce flexible working arrangements.

“Servicing clients around the clock and employee work-life balance are not mutually exclusive. Implementing new working arrangements is a sure-fire way in which consultancies can modernise, and quickly.”

So what does the future look like?
Teams will be based on the skills that have been outlined here such as research, planning, content or community management, rather than generalists being the norm. They’ll almost certainly be flatter and more agile than they have in the past. They’ll have to be in order to serve the needs of organisations, markets and media.

How can you access the full information?
It’s been published in text format and as a Slideshare document, below, under a Creative Commons licence. You’re welcome to help yourself and help to develop the conversation.

What do you think? Are you thinking about modernising your public relations agency or communication team? If so, does this information help? What advice would you give to people looking to do the same?

As ever you’re welcome to comment below or you can Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Post author: Rachel Miller
First published on All Things IC blog 24 September 2014.


  1. Hi! Very illustrative article. Would you share with us any new tips on how to modernise a PR agency in 2020? Thank you 🙂

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