Should PR agencies develop technology? Have a CTO?

PR agencies have been people businesses for as long as I can remember.  Yet the emergence of digital has created the opportunity for these same agencies to start selling ‘technology based solutions’ (an overused phrase I know).  These ‘solutions’ cover areas such as analytics, blogs, email marketing, micro site development… the list goes on.  Most agencies outsource this development to… developers.  This is largely because most agency heads can write a press release or a blog but wouldn’t have a clue about how to write code.  Many agencies can see that if they want to get away from an hourly business model they need to sell technology IP and ideally IP that can be resold to many clients without much additional development effort.  Again, though, most agencies simply don’t have the skills in house to develop the technology, or even the skills to effectively manage the  development of technology.  In other words, if agencies really do want to sell ‘technology solutions’ they are going to have to start hiring developers AND people capable of managing these people.  If this happens the idea of a PR agency have a CTO (chief technology officer) that is client facing will become commonplace.  Does your agency have a CTO?  Should it?

5 Comments on “Should PR agencies develop technology? Have a CTO?”

  1. Bret Clement says:

    This is a great question. Our firm just launched in 2009 and we are tiny, but we started hiring developers in late 2010. Managing development projects is hard for a typical PR person to do. We feel as though our projects (simple Facebook apps, some scripts that automate reporting across different social media tools and press finding tools) have been successful so far, but only because they are limited in scope.

    When a bigger portion of our revenues come from tech-enabled projects, we would move CTO. Until then, we will probably rely on being scrappy.

  2. Michael Chin says:

    The smarter thing to do is create a team that can integrate technology. The big mistake that a lot of digital agencies make is they think they should build their own technology. This is probably driven by the billable hours business model. Bad idea.

    You should think of yourselves as integrators that pull together what’s being built by people that build stuff for a living and apply it for your clients.

    If it were me, I’d have a team of front end people who can get really efficient and smart about creating experiences that you plug functionality into it.

    You don’t need a CTO. You just need really good product people.

    • timdyson says:

      it may well be smarter in the short term but in the long term we may well need to start architecting our own technologies. Until then we can make do with people who talk a good game and have an inkling what HTML is all about.

      • Michael Chin says:

        The question is scale. Can you create technology products that are purely marketing vehicles for a client and do it with scale and yet have it meet a particular client’s needs?

        That was the thing that killed me about working at an interactive agency that did everything as a one off having come from a software company that built enabling technology.

        Look at the products that Betaworks (where my company SocialFlow is) throws off with some of the best scientists in the world, those are the shops and brains that marketing agencies should want to get very close to. They’d make for a smart partnership on both ends and allow for scale.

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