The third episode of E!'s flack-o-rama reality series brought up an important element of agency life, though one that is little-discussed in schools and corporate training programs: inter-agency cooperation.
In this installment, Jonathan and Simon take on billionaire Alki David's assignment to make his girlfriend (model and swimsuit designer Jennifer Stano) "famous." Our heroes are surprised when in walks the twin sisters (blondes, natch) that together form another consultancy, Duet PR. Alki's vision is that Jonathan and Simon would handle Jennifer's celebrity PR and the Duet girls will tackle the promotion of the swimsuits themselves.
What could possibly go wrong?
As the two firms immediately get into competitive name-dropping, jockeying for the client's favored-nation status, I was thinking that many viewers would find this to be an unusual situation in PR.
Is it? Find out more after the jump.
To tell you the truth, instilling a spirit of collaboration in multi-agency situations is an absolutely necessarily skill in this business, especially when dealing with multi-national or multi-brand clients. Such clients sometimes go for the "best of breed" approach—hiring one specialty agency for crisis comms, another for consumer branding, and so on—while others choose to take advantage of a single firm's specialty groups and practices, preferring tighter functional integration.
This is to say nothing of the non-PR comms/marketing agencies that a company might have retained, each of which must work together to ensure that all communications are effectively integrated. Consider that, at one time, Dell worked with "more than 800 agencies globally, including full-service marketing communications agencies, digital agencies, media agencies and agency services vendors." (Dell's remedy for this, having a super-agency formed by a large conglomerate on its behalf, didn't fare too well. Oracle tried to do the same thing about a decade earlier, only to have the business go back to the software company's original agency.)
Much of the time, I've seen multi-agency situations go fairly well, with each company sticking to a well-defined area of expertise. In this regard, I consider myself unusually fortunate. However, even this involves frequent discussion and re-affirmation of who-owns-what, especially as the lines between PR and other communications disciplines continue to blur.
About just as often, though, every agency partner wants every other partner's piece of the business. This possibility grows more likely with the onset of any recession or overall contraction in the agency marketplace. "When the water gets low enough," a former client at Hitachi Semiconductor used to tell me, "the rocks start to show." (He sold memory products, so he would know.)
Clients see this, often long before it begins to affect the work. In most cases where one agency partner isn't pulling its own weight, it's not as if anyone has to actually tell the client.
All that said, here are the key differences between what I saw in this episode and what happens in "the real world", such as it is:
- Note that Jonathan and Simon were very clearly ambushed. Any client that doesn't tell all partners up front that other partners are in play simply isn't managing the relationships well. Nobody wins.
- Even recognizing that celebrity PR and product promotion are two separate things, I really don't think the assignment was complex enough to warrant multiple agency partners. It looked to me that Alki was trying to be a nice guy and throwing some friends in the PR community a bone.
- For all this, though, I didn't start yelling at the TV until the Duet girls essentially moved into CommandPR's offices and starting helping themselves to resources like conference rooms, phones, and staff. That's certainly no way to forge and maintain a strong inter-agency relationship. It's a really good way to come off as a fly-by-night shop on basic cable, though.
Well, my DVR says I'm already an episode behind. There was so much more to react to in this episode (e.g., Jonathan's conspicuous consumption in the form of a $30k hourglass, Simon thinking that Jennifer Stano could possibly compete with Stacy "The Legs of WWE" Keibler in a papparazzi photo-focus face-off, etc.), but I gotta pick the important points, not just the interesting ones. Until next time...