Sunday, June 07, 2009

Shapes and Organisation..

That said, the tastiest shape is pear shaped. Via Kaptain Kobold. Usual rules apply.

Hello there.

I've been doing some more dangerous bits and pieces. Yep, i've been thinking again. Mind you, with recent events, I've had a little bit more time to.

One of the topics which keeps cropping up is organisational structure (yes, I go to really, really boring dinner parties in my spare time). Is it better to be a triangle? A circle? A rhombus? A diamond? After a while, it all seems to become as redundant as Terry Venables' famous Christmas tree formation.

You use what suits your organisation, surely? If the founders are still there, and still have a stake, it'll naturally be like a triangle, with a lot of capable wingmen who have to cede to the overall bosses.

However, if you're set up as a co-operative, or something a la John Lewis, you can try and be a circle. Everyone has a stake, and everyone needs to keep things turning. And this works great in the good times; when everyone sees what the end point is, and has a palpable sense of reward and duty.

And given that digital agencies seem to favour a far more freeform and flexible approach (usually practiced by smaller shops, in my limited experience), which leads to favour quicker, more shared meetings with genuine shared agendas to get stuff made, it should perhaps be no surprise that the wider communications industry isn't sure about just what shape'll help it embrace the next ten years.

I think more traditionally minded agencies can learn something from the likes of PR and Digital shops - two models which mean you simply can't have much waste.

PR, with its more legally minded ways of billing, is interesting. Project billings with allotted hours mean you really can't have much time spent dicking around. But it also leads to the assumption that those amount of hours will solve that particular problem - and hell, it can be solved in twenty minutes or a month, if it's a creative problem, and there needs to be some way of recognising this.

Digital, with the amount of technologists and developers involved, also needs very strict timelines and demands a lack of wasted time. There are more, shorter meetings. Not endless hours of umming and aahing over the problem, which can usually be defined quickly.

And traditional creative agencies, where there are lots of meetings which are devoted to strategy, contact reports, tissues and brainstormings, where the clarity of idea is paramount, and there's an unwritten assumption that the organisation should be agreed and then executed. There doesn't tend to be the flexibility to amend it as it goes. TV doesn't tend to lend itself to this.

And what now happens when these three organisations merge together, when you really can't afford to to try and fit in a bastard hybrid, nor have separate bottom lines? (It strikes me as madness, which leads to infighting and politics).

I think that it comes down to how you regard strategy and ideas. Is one fairly fixed, and the other flexible? Are they both? Should one dictate the other?

Personally, I don't believe either is static, nor one leads the other by the hand. Agencies need to get less precious about the 'right' strategy, and allow ideas to shape it as you go. In my experience, the most effective work is based on an original strategy that has the flexibility to be amended as you go.

I'm a fan of having a solid base; a base of web monitoring/real time search/qual research, which feeds into the amount of hours you bill, the amount of strategic and creative time. A certain level of this will be fixed into the overall fee. 'Digital' will be at the heart, though the definition will become increasingly unnecessary.

I'd like to see research feed a LOT more into how agencies bill; if the communications agency is going to be seen as the lead partner and an agent of change, then clients have to accept that they'll bill for different research, research which is more attitudinally focused.

How they react to this will surely have implications on what the agency's shape looks like - if they accept it, then project fees will lead to something like a chinese fingertrap; rigid with research, yet loose with how strategy and ideas are developed and fed in.

If they don't, the agency will have to make allowances, and develop their own research more generally across their client base, at a cost to them. Project by project fees will drive the agency, much like Digital and PR. The shape would be a bit more circular, and I can easily forsee a mixture of the two approaches, depending on client.

What do you think? This is very much a work in progress.
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