Trend One – Volatility in Time
Wherever you look, we see economic and political volatility on a scale we haven’t seen for decades. We make no judgement on the rights & wrongs of Trump, trade wars, Brexit, or UK party politics but nobody is immune and that translates into projects moving left and right on the forecast with ever greater frequency as investment decisions ebb and flow.
Talking to agency owners, that movement of projects is probably more often to the right on the spreadsheet and whether you are currently in Q3 or Q4, the runway never gets any longer.
Managing that ongoing flux with a fixed number of people on the team is simply getting harder and harder.
Trend Two - Volatility in Scope
As well as moving in time, the figures on the forecast are changing in terms of what kind of work lies behind them.
10 years ago, the agenda for most PR meetings would be dominated by media relations – reporting on last month’s coverage and planning what activities will generate most positive media coverage in the coming weeks and months.
Now, the work that generates the revenues for agencies will probably range across areas like paid social campaigns, SEO, native advertising, content creation and a number of other activities where earned media is only part of the picture.
Managing that ongoing flux with a fixed set of skills in your team is getting harder and harder. Do you recruit for skills that may or may not be in such demand in a year or do you ask your team to add new skills - possibly at the expense of what they currently excel in?
Trend Three - The Entrepreneur Mindset
Since 2001 the number of 16-24 year olds who are self employed has doubled. Roughly 15% of the working population is now self-employed, a proportion almost exactly mirrored by the number of freelancers in the PR sector – around 14000.
That age cohort is now flowing through the jobs market and seems likely to grow. If your attitude to talent acquisition is stuck in the old ways of fixed employment being the standard, your business will suffer. Technology is the great enabler and it isn’t slowing down.
Trend Four – Ownership Becomes Access
This is the big one for Freelance PR and at the heart of why The PR Cavalry exists.
Frank Zappa famously observed that Communism was always bound to fail “because people like to own stuff”
Astonishing to think that Frank could be wrong about anything, but he might be. The thing is he said it when his generation still had fresh in their minds the privations of the post war era and the explosion of consumerism that followed. The desire to own stuff as a response to poverty is powerful but it is in retreat. Uber, Airbnb, WeWork, iTunes, Netflix all demonstrate that in spades.
Few people coming in to the industry now have a shelf of DVDs. Car ownership is falling amongst younger consumers and home ownership (for a variety of complex reasons) is falling amongst younger people.
The age of buying access to stuff rather than owning it is now embedded and that applies to skills and people too. A bigger headcount is no longer a goal in itself and the traditional revenue/per head measure used in the PR agency sector is probably in need of retirement.
Trend Five - Nomads
If you don’t own your home or can rent it out easily, your roots are not as deep.
If your business is your brain and your laptop and you use the galaxy of online business support services for invoicing, worksharing and about a million other applications, your office is anywhere.
Competing for talent that does not see itself in the same city this time next year is not easy.
Work is what you do, not where you go.
Trend Six – Crumbling Pyramids
The agency pyramid of owner at the top, worker bees at the bottom has had its day. The big agency groups are under severe pressure. Clients know that the work is pushed as far down as possible. They know that there is upwards of 25% staff turnover. The virtual agency is in the ascendancy built around senior consultants with access to the skills the client needs (not what the agency has on offer at that moment) when they need it.
The barrier to hiring the right PR freelancer at the right time with the right skills has always been one of technology, something we are breaking down by using algorithms to allow clients to find the right PR freelancer.
Trend Seven - Collaboration Not Silos
The fracturing of media and proliferation of channels means that one agency cannot dominate the agenda and the overlapping offers of all the agencies on a client’s roster mean that collaboration is smarter than trying to acquire share of budget in a zero sum game. In an era of narrow margins, every hour in playing that game is an hour less trying to grow the size of the pie by pitching big ideas together.
Multi-skilled teams that come together and then break up are more efficient, more focused on delivering to the best of their ability and more emotionally engaged. Because it’s actually more fun to work with someone you respect than someone who sees you as their rival. Clients can smell this from afar.
Designing for What’s Here and What’s Coming
These megatrends are all here and growing. The question is how you adapt.
If your business planning is dominated by thoughts of ‘how can we sell more of what our teams are capable of doing’, consider whether you are really cut out for a career in marketing.
Marketing Handbook, Page One: Sell what people want to buy, not what you make most of.
If your long range forecasting and business strategy is built around terms like:
Collaborative, borderless, project-oriented, agile and mobile, then you are in a good place.
Strip away the hierarchy stuff, the trying to adapt client briefs to what you are able to sell and focus on what agencies are valued for – insights that take the client to places they can’t go alone, creativity, fresh talent and new perspectives that make you stop and think.