Had some more thoughts on the back of the idea of Aristocracy vs Democracy. Obviously, as the (very kind) person who commented on that post suggests, any purely ‘black and white’ approach to these sorts of questions is probably unwise. It’s dead easy to be provocative, less straightforward to deal with the endless shades of grey that really make up considerations of all things structural.
But I’m betting organisational conundrums are top of most agency bosses’ to-do lists right now. Along with harnessing creativity, I would imagine the biq question is how precisely to deal with the huge changes wrought by technology, currently rampaging across all businesses, and asking massive questions of how agencies should effectively provide the diversifying services that will help them remain relevant to clients at all stages of readiness.
How should different departments work together? How should people in those departments be hired. How do agencies cope with the polarising need for people who specialise in ever-more-micro areas of expertise, and for generalists who can pull all this stuff together and make in tangible to clients?
The Pixar CEO mentioned something powerful in this area. He said that successful companies should be inherently unstable. The organisation that tries to scenario plan, or to second guess every little thing that’s going to come its way, can only get it wrong.
Businesses cannot prevent problems. They can only solve them.
It’s astonishing how few organisations get this, or at least seem to. Even (or rather especially) agencies remain transfixed by old ways of doing things, even as they lecture clients on the need to adapt, and pride themselves on a bespoke approach to each client.
Alright, many now have social media departments or teams, there to advise progressive clients, and liberate slow ones. Some media agencies may be getting into creative and/or production – since what good is the insight that real-time data can tell us, if it’s not put to some tangible application that a client can appreciate? Otherwise, we’re just making them feel bad about how slow they are.
But these innovations can sometimes feel like bolt-ons. We need specialists at first to grow adjacent opportunities, but an agency needs to properly assimilate these practices if it’s going to be the very model of a modern business.
And it’s not just the ‘new’ off-shoots, either. Some media agencies, for example, have ‘strategists’ as well as planners. I’m not sure I understand this. Are they better planners? In which case, why wouldn’t we just make the rest as good? I have a suspicion that agencies are only really as good as their worst practitioner, as the best cannot be spread around, and all clients (and partner agencies) have the power to enhance or degrade an agency’s reputation.
Which brings me back to Aristocracy vs Democracy. The rule of the few vs the rule of the people.
Here’s the thing. I believe that in this age, neither ‘Social’ nor ‘Strategy’ should exist as departments. They are skillsets. They become effective when they are diffused throughout the company, so that they become ways of thinking as much as they are specialisms. They should be democratised, rather than segregated and protected.
I cannot think of one client who doesn’t need strategic and social insight to inform their communications. By sidelining people with these skills, we prevent them having everyday contact with clients. This means we not only fail to encourage new ways of thinking across the business, we also miss a huge opportunity to normalise these essential skills as our bread and butter services.
I understand the grey areas – not least remuneration. But soon enough the issue will become black and white whether we like it or not.