Management POV: New Agency Ecosystem: Be Ready for a Street Fight


Luke Lambert

“Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.” These were writer E.B. White’s words in an essay 65 years ago when he observed the inhabitants of New York. The author, whose work ranges from “The Elements of Style” to “Charlotte’s Web,” could just as easily have been describing the individuals working in PR today.

Agency leaders know their clients are competing in a street fight economy. To win the fight, clients want at their side a robust communications team armed with intellectual, cultural and functional depth. This new level of competition requires external communications advisors to weigh in on business solutions that affect the fundamental ways an organization grows, not merely how such decisions will be shared with its audiences.


The old PR agency “concierge” arrangement of offering an ever-broadening array of stand-alone communications solutions is fast becoming unsustainable for both the client and the agency. In today’s 24/7 information environment, it’s like offering a buffet menu for drive-through customers who are endlessly hungry. It’s a no-win situation when quality takes a backseat. Why not shift the service model back to quality and results?

According to the USC Annenberg’s seventh biennial Communications and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices (GAP VII) Study, published in 2012, the top reasons corporations partner with agencies are because they provide “arms and legs,” a unique perspective, marketing insight and a strategic point of view. 

That’s why creating an ecosystem of trained PR and marketing practitioners who possess a range of communications skills—storytelling, writing and editing, media relations, media publishing, research and analysis—is critical. Understanding how these skills are applied in diverse business settings makes more sense for clients seeking every competitive advantage.



Agencies that adopt a more agile business communications model give their clients a dynamic, abundant ecosystem of advisors without being burdened by scale or stagnation. Let’s take a look at how the most active contributors to the agency’s client service ecosystem can interact using White’s musings as inspiration:

â–¶ Natives: Full-time agency veterans constitute the underpinning of the ecosystem. In some firms, these agency natives enjoy relationships that can span multiple generations of client-side teams. Their adept counsel is especially useful during periods of organizational change, such as mergers and acquisitions or executive successions, when clients lean on trusted agency advocates to ease transitions.

â–¶ Commuters: Commuters are like the freelancers upon whom the business communications agency ecosystem depends when short-term assignments call for temporary resources or specialized expertise. Borne out of an economic recession that forced their displacement in unprecedented numbers from companies, agencies and not-for-profit groups, this group of solo practitioners is deeply experienced and highly skilled.

â–¶ Settlers: The communications industry has increasingly welcomed professionals who are newly transitioned from other fields, such as journalism, technology, law and finance. Settlers who join the agency ranks infuse exciting new knowledge into the communications advisory process.

The USC Annenberg GAP VII Study found that the majority of respondents in public companies (53%) and in private companies (46%) “strongly agree” the PR function is well integrated with other departments, such as finance, legal and operations. Agencies would better serve clients by bringing a similar approach in their business thinking.

Settlers with the business fluency to mirror this inter-functional framework can also help an agency expand its counsel to other internal clients within an organization, including human resources, information technology, finance, legal and other administrative areas. 


In his homage to the Big Apple, White also captured the way individuals contribute their own energy to the greater body. Agency leaders managing the waves of activity in the business communications ecosystem must also make sure each PR professional produces an accretive effect on client service.

The mission of helping clients compete in the new street fight economy will take more than scale or smarts. In this long fight, only the gutsy will survive.



Luke Lambert is president and CEO of PR agency Gibbs & Soell. He can be reached at