The Blurred Lines of Agency Staffing: Where to Place the New Experts?

Does the Analytics Hire Go With Brand Strategy? PR? Account Management?

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It used to be that when we made a hire we knew exactly where that individual belonged. An art director joined the creative department. A publicist joined the public relations group. But things are not as clear-cut anymore.

Do I place the analytics person in the brand strategy group, the PR/social media group or the account management group? In my agency, all would make sense. The same goes for hiring search experts: I could make an argument for placing that kind of expertise in many of our agency's departments.

When we wrote a job description for a director of technology, we received responses from applicants with a wide range of technology experience -- but not the kind of experience that our opening required. We soon learned that the difference between what we sought and what applicants thought we needed was subtle but real. A few candidates debated the nuances of the position, and how it might apply to them, but in the end, we agreed it wouldn't be a perfect fit. I never had debates like that in the old days. The agency business for decades had clear-cut roles and job descriptions, and management knew exactly where to place to assign new hires.

Public relations is another example, where staff need to be storytellers able to use social media to talk not just with reporters but directly with consumers.

Note to self (and my HR team): We need to craft even more precise job postings and descriptions, because today there are so many blurred lines within agency roles.

Agencies need to hire people with new skill sets and learn how to properly manage them and integrate them into agency disciplines. What works for one agency in such assigning talent to a particular department may not work for another. And that's OK. For example, we moved social media into our PR group early on, because in our view, the skills required for both were similar. But other shops place social-media teams in their digital group, or even in the creative department.

Sometimes individuals end up defining themselves as experts in a variety of disciplines. Analytics experts who work in PR firms, for example, will identify themselves as public-relations professionals, and often wind up learning that business and contributing to it in more ways than measurement.

I predict there will be fewer departments inside of ad agencies -- especially small-to-mid-size ones -- as the lines between disciplines continue to blur, and internal collaboration increases. While figuring out where to integrate new expertise within the shop may be a little confusing, I have found that there are many roads to success. You need to do what's right for your agency structure. Just make sure your leaders know how to manage the new players on the team.

Marc Brownstein is president and CEO of The Brownstein Group, Philadelphia.
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