A LEADING public relations agency is reorganizing its operations in another example of how the marketing communications industry is scrambling to adapt to the significant changes in consumer behavior, most notably the public’s fast and fierce embrace of digital and social media.
GolinHarris, the public relations agency, built a room in its New York office where employees can monitor traditional and social media.
The agency is GolinHarris, which has 700 employees in 34 offices and an estimated $150 million in annual worldwide revenue. The largest clients of GolinHarris, which is owned by the Interpublic Group of Companies, include Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Toyota Motor and Wal-Mart.
GolinHarris is to formally announce the reorganization on Wednesday. The changes include the disappearance of traditional generalist titles like account executive and account supervisor, which will be replaced by new, specialist titles like strategist and catalyst.
“Our growth, our profitability, have always been strong,” said Fred Cook, president and chief executive of GolinHarris, who is based in the agency’s Chicago headquarters, “and we’re in the top 10 of P.R. firms.”
“But one of Al’s favorite sayings,” he added, referring to Al Golin, the agency’s chairman, “is ‘Fix it before it breaks.’ ”
“We’re reorganizing around the areas that are important to our clients,” Mr. Cook said, “areas that are not perceived as strengths in public relations: strategy, creativity, technology, analytics.”
“I’m motivated partly by opportunity,” he added, “and partly by fear.”
Mr. Cook referred to the agency’s strategy as “prevolving,” as in “intentional evolution,” to address client needs as they change in response to the new behaviors among consumers. “We’ve been working on this for 10 months,” he said, “from a germ of an idea of where we want to be 10 years from now.”
The reorganization is primarily meant to transition employees from working as generalists to being designated as one of four types of specialists.
The four specialties are strategists, who analyze a client’s business; creators, people like writers, designers and producers who generate ideas and tell brand stories; connectors, people who reach target audiences through traditional and social media as well as other channels; and catalysts, account leaders overseeing relationships with clients.
“Recently, we hired a researcher, and people said, ‘He doesn’t fit into a particular account. He’s never worked in consumer packaged goods,’ ” Mr. Cook recalled. “But he’s a brilliant strategist; our model has to have room for people like that.”
Among the titles being abolished are vice president, senior vice president and executive vice president, replaced by titles like executive director and director.
Also, associate account executives and account executives are to be known as associates. Account supervisors and account group supervisors are to be designated as “senior,” followed by job types.
The changes will be somewhat physical, too. Each GolinHarris office is to get a multimedia engagement room, called the Bridge, where employees can monitor traditional and social media in real time on behalf of clients.
The rooms, which have been installed in the London, New York and San Francisco offices, Mr. Cook said, mirror what marketers like PepsiCo are doing. Pepsi’s Gatorade brand has a “mission control center” inside its Chicago headquarters where employees monitor conversations about Gatorade in social media.
It is estimated that GolinHarris will spend about $10 million on technology and training initiatives related to the reorganization.
GolinHarris is certainly not the first agency to revamp in light of the revolution in consumer behavior, and it will surely not be the last.
Still, the shifts reflect the reality that, as Mr. Cook put it, “if you started an agency today, you wouldn’t set it up” in the traditional way.
Mr. Cook and other GolinHarris executives have been briefing clients on the reorganization.
“It seems like a positive move,” said Christopher Perille, vice president for corporate communications and public affairs at the Mead Johnson Nutrition Company in Glenview, Ill. “We feel very comfortable with it.”
GolinHarris has “always been very anticipatory of needs,” Mr. Perille said, “and true to their slogan of ‘Fix it before it breaks.’ ”
“Given all the changes in media, communication, the growth of social media, taking a fresh look at how you approach business, staff teams, to make sure you get the right people on the right assignment, makes some sense,” he added.
An executive at another client company who had been briefed on GolinHarris’s plans echoed Mr. Perille.
“It’s different from the way a lot of people are organized,” said Greg Zimprich, director for brand public relations at General Mills in Golden Valley, Minn.
“We’re having the same kinds of discussions internally,” he added, centered on “how to bring about what we are calling the modern campaign,” with paid, earned, owned and shared media “all working together.”
Paid media are traditional efforts to reach consumers, like television commercials. Earned media refers to coverage gained through influences like public relations campaigns. Owned media are the assets marketers control, like corporate Web sites. And shared media are social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
“Some good thinking has gone into” the GolinHarris reorganization, Mr. Zimprich said. “It should be a good approach.”
Mr. Cook acknowledged that a bumpy ride was possible as the agency tried to “stay ahead of the curve.”
“It’s a long process,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough it’s a beginning of a journey.”