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Pew Research Center estimates the global population of people 65 and older will triple from 531 million in 2010 to 1.5 billion in 2050. As the average age of all people increases, so will the average age of the workforce. Retirement ages are climbing, and as the age gap between the most senior workers and the newest hires widens, workplace dynamics will change. In fact, we are already seeing those changes.

Meanwhile, as the workforce ages, entrepreneurs and HR leaders in every field are expanding their recruitment efforts to encompass new roles and departments because of the increasingly competitive business landscape. Today’s agencies are no exception. Whether they’re in marketing, public relations (PR), advertising, creative, or even staffing and recruiting, agencies are making way for integrated, modern workforces. This is what the term “agency of the future” refers to, and I urge all firms to adopt this concept as a motto if they want to be a part of that future.

What exactly is an agency of the future? It’s an agency marked by college graduates with specialized roles and skill sets, and by entrepreneurs who are focused on people and culture instead of processes and outcomes. The agency of the future understands that to be successful, you need to invest in your employees and be mindful of the generational gaps and shifting skill sets that will characterize the workforce in 2019 and beyond.

Shifting Skill Sets in the Modern Workforce

Gone are the days of generalized roles. The modern workforce has moved away from the “everyone touches everything” model, instead creating specific swim lanes for every employee. Entirely new titles have been created, and industries are evolving radically as a result.

Take the marketing industry for example. Modern workforce trends suggest that today’s marketers are not generalists. Rather, each marketer now specializes in some facet of the role, such as search engine optimization, social media influencing, or content marketing. At the same time, expectations are higher than ever and clients are demanding that all their integrated marketing and PR efforts be handled under one roof. As agency leaders, we must be cognizant of the benefits (and pitfalls) this new model brings.

What the Generational Gap Means for Your Agency

As agencies seek to become agencies of the future, one of the key challenges they’ll face is fully integrating a disparate workforce.

For example, let’s look at the PR industry. Forty years ago, traditional PR relied heavily on media relations, crisis communications, and press release distribution in print media. Today, PR is marked by digital disruption, social media, data, and analytics. A global PR company that once lacked a streamlined way to distribute information now practices modern communication methods, thanks to the introduction of the internet and digital media. I like to call this the “virtual hallway,” a concept that describes the effortless nature of communication across offices and cities around the globe today.

But what happens when you have a 60-something employee who was trained in “old school” PR working with a 20-something employee on a campaign that crosses these traditional and modern boundaries?

It means one thing for you as an agency leader: time to adjust your strategies.

Bridging the Gap: How Agency Leaders Can Help

Throughout my years in business, I’ve learned that investing in your employees is paramount, and that remains true when it comes to bridging the generational and skill set gaps organizations currently face. Here’s my advice to you:

  1. Approach the gap as a learning tool. Take advantage of the wide variety of ages, skill sets and experiences in front of you. Let the seasoned veterans on your team teach the junior hires the lessons they’ve learned. Encourage younger professionals to give lunch-and-learns on digital best practices and strategies. The workforce may be modernizing, but that doesn’t mean you forego the best practices your company was built on. Instead, learn to level up those practices. Find a way to blend the experiences of the senior workforce with the fresh approaches of the junior workforce.
  2. Ensure client relations and HR are in constant communication. When our firm was founded in 1995, client relations teams were few and far between. Now, we know that more than two-thirds of a company’s competitive edge comes from the experience it delivers to its customers. In an agency setting, your client relations team should be gathering customer feedback and constantly relaying it to HR to inform hiring needs. Do your skill sets match clients’ demands? Should you be hiring in new areas to fill any gaps?
  3. Place a stronger emphasis on culture. There isn’t a single candidate out there who doesn’t care about your company culture. It matters to everyone. That said, culture doesn’t start with HR — it starts from the top down. As an agency leader, it is your job to set the precedent and embody your company’s culture. Keep tabs on the perks and benefits your competitors are offering. Don’t just modernize your services — learn to modernize your office space, too.

In the end, it all comes down to your awareness of the changes that are taking place in your industry, whatever that industry may be. It is imperative to embrace the agency-of-the-future model, and every second you’re not meeting modern workforce standards is a second you risk being left behind.

Philip A. Nardone, Jr., founded PAN Communications.

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