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July 19, 2007


Jinal Shah

Cross-functional collaboration and the ability to value both left and right brained skill-sets. I think that is the number one need of the agency of the future.

IDEO, is one example that comes to mind that strikes the right balance between the the Booz Allen's and Crispin's of teh world. IDEO has consistently produced brilliant work and has still managed to stay under the radar. Their work philosophy is such that an engineer, a designer, a psychologist and a UI expert work together to produce (time after time) brilliant work for their clients. And this agency sticks to it's guts and does what it knows best: solves design related problems. I think IDEO has for long been the agency of the future.

With the 'Whole new minds' and 'rise of creative economy," thinking, I'm afraid the newer agencies have built a foundation skewed heavily only on the creative side. They might have been successful until now, but I am not confident if the success will continue in future....

Mike Spataro


I couldn't agree more. For whatever reasons, some agencies feel very uncomfortable in the arena of direct communications with people online, especially if they are not reporters. It seems like public relations didn't really want to deal with the public, but now they don't have much choice. Agencies and companies will need to rely even more on younger "connected consumers" who live the way society communicates today, not just understand it as a way to sell a client. The industry is more networked together than ever before and it's a great time to be in the business.


Interesting... Seth Godin posted the following on his blog today, seems in line with what you are talking about:

Jobs of the future, #1: Online Community Organizer

If you want to hire a union organizer, you probably know what to look for. Someone with resilience, passion, persistence and excellent interpersonal skills.

What if you want to hire someone to build an online community? Somebody to create and maintain a virtual world in which all the players in an industry feel like they need to be part of it? Like being the head of a big trade association, but without the bureaucracy and tedium...

It would help if that person understood technology, at least well enough to know what it could do. They would need to be able to write. But they also have to be able to seduce stragglers into joining the group in the first place, so they have to be able to understand a marketplace, do outbound selling and non-electronic communications. They have to be able to balance huge amounts of inbound correspondence without making people feel left out, and they have to be able to walk the fine line between rejecting trolls and alienating the good guys.

Since there's no rule book, it would help to be willing to try new things, to be self-starting and obsessed with measurement as well.

If you were great at this, I'd imagine you'd never ever have trouble finding good work.



I couldn't agree more. PR is easily the most geared up to deal with reputation management which is what the new media frontier is all about. I'm surprised our PR cousins aren't recruiting the best and brightest from advertising and building the comms/design strategies from there.

Julie Wittes Schlack

Hi John,
As a founder of Communispace, I absolutely agree with your emphasis on the importance of agencies developing direct and long-term relationships with customers. One need only look to the launch of alli, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare's new over-the-counter weight loss product, to see how multiple advertising and PR agencies, GSK, and Communispace all made communities of target alli customers the center of gravity in informing and implementing their strategy. The authentic, uncompensated consumer-to-consumer and consumer-to-press advocacy that alli community members are generating is a great example of what can happen when agencies enlist customers as their teachers and partners.

So while I appreciate and endorse your views on this, I do want to correct what I think may be an unwarranted assumption inherent in your comment that "The danger in seeing this as another outsourced service is that the clients are not put in first person contact with their customers or potential customers." We most definitely do not see ourselves or function as an "outsourced service." In fact, we enable and actively encourage our clients -- both our agency clients and the companies they are representing -- to be visible and active participants in our communities. And if they choose not to -- because recruiting, nurturing, and maintaining communities does indeed require time, commitment, specialized skills, and a lot of "secret sauce" -- we employ multiple reporting techniques to ensure that the words, pictures, and sentiments of community members are hard-wired are always available to our agency partners so that they can do their best strategic work while letting us handle the logistics and heavy lifting.

Thanks for initiating this most-needed conversation. I hope it prospers.

John Bell

Great comments one and all.
Jinal - we have done some work with IDEO with a client and I am a fan of their work (and have read at least one of Tom Kelley's books). I am not sure they are the prototype for the communications/marketing agency of the future. Their background in product design and, I would argue, superior approach to defining brand experiences whether they be products or processes makes them the the brand agency of the future. It is not longer enough for a brand agency to define the visual "clothes" of a brand, it must define the experience of the brand (e.g. why I like the Royalton Hotel in Manhattan).

Julie - Too often, clients hire agencies to do stuff for them vs. developing a deeper, collaboratory approach where everyone has a unique contribution. There is a natural tendency to provide complete services for clients to make it easy for them to accept those services regadless of their internal capacity.

When it comes to a community of customers, the danger in outsourcing the relationship (which you make clear you do not do)is that community becomes this generation's outsourced call center with 'scripts' and inauthentic relationships. It's as if you could put all the furniture of a relationship in place and "community" would just happen.

At the end of the day, I believe companies either care deepply about their customers or they don't. Those that do will embrace the idea (and, often, the practice) of community development to help those customers and build business. Very often they will need to invite experts like yourselves (and Ogilvy) in to make it happen but they cannot outsource the whole activity and expect the best results.

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