Ten years. Seven GAP studies. And a whole lot of interesting data pertaining to organizational integration, social media, and healthy agency/client relationships. I’d like to share some of that data with you in a way that knits together these apparently disparate topics. My argument: That communications-driven management consulting might be the next big opportunity for firms to grasp.
GAP VII asked 620 senior client-side decision makers about organizational integration, querying how the various communication functions within a company interacted, and how communications interacted with other organizational departments (finance, legal, operations, etc.) Among public companies, 53% indicated that they were fairly well integrated or better, scoring between 5 and 7 on a seven-point scale. Digging deeper, we found that integration with other organizational departments correlated with certain “success indicators,” such as how successful the overall organization was and how likely CEOs were to believe that PR/communications contribute to the bottom line. We also found that the two types of integration mentioned above go hand in hand. In short, a “culture of integration” seems to spell organizational success.
How about social media? Looking beyond the obvious, we found that usage of certain tools has become mainstream in a short period of time. For example, the use of social networking sites moved from a score of 3.44 in 2009’s GAP VI to 4.75 in 2011’s GAP VII (again on a seven points scale). In my 40+ years in the business, I have never seen any tool so quickly adopted. We asked about both budgetary and strategic control of social media and found that PR generally has greater control than marketing. While we didn’t specifically ask why, social media’s role as a two-way relationship-building tool rather than a one-way sales tool would seem to put it squarely in PR’s wheelhouse. If integration is a good thing, and social media (under the leadership of PR/Communications) can help drive it, we begin to see a new model: the highly engaged, social organization with communication at its center.
We also asked about agency/client relationships. When analyzing why clients work with agencies, we found clients clustering into two groups: Those that work with agencies on a “Tactical” basis, and those that work with them on a “Strategic” basis. The former are more likely to hire firms for “extra arms and legs” because they’re “cheaper than adding staff,” or due to a “limit on internal headcount.” The latter are more likely to value firms’ “unique expertise,” “market insight,” “strategic point of view,” or “ability to quantify results.” For firms, tactical relationships can be profitable but are too easily commoditized. They may not motivate agency staff, and may offer the client little added value beyond labor. Strategic relationships, on the other hand, demand more expensive senior staff involvement, but they are built on stronger foundations of added intellectual value, are excellent motivators, and are far less likely to be seen as commodities.
We created a graph showing how our respondents’ agency relationships could be distributed into four sub categories. Here are the results:
- High Strategy/Low Tactic relationships: 29% of respondents that work with firms
- Low Strategy/High Tactic relationships: 17%
- High Strategy/High Tactic relationships: 27%
- Low Strategy/Low Tactic relationships: 26%
We were quite surprised to see a fairly even distribution of the typologies, but here’s the real nugget: High Strategy/Low Tactic relationships appear to correspond much more closely than other types with the highest scores on multiple success factors, such as CEO perceptions of and support for the PR function, positive external reputation, and organizational success. Conversely, Low Strategy/High Tactic relationships are much more strongly associated than other types with the lowest scores on multiple success factors, such as CEO perceptions of and support for the PR function, positive external reputation, and organizational success. Agencies would thus do well to serve as strategic partners to clients of all types as they transition to the new, engaged model of organization with social media as its spine. We’re not talking about helping clients use social media to strengthen relationships; that’s table stakes in the new game. We’re talking about communication-driven management consulting—perhaps turning the tables on the management consulting firms that have struck fear in the hearts of some PR agency leaders.
I hope you’ll take the time to explore the copious, practice-centric data you’ll find at Annenberg.usc.edu/gapstudy. And please send your suggestions and feedback to
. GAP is (and hopefully always will be) a work in progress that will evolve and improve with the profession.