The media industry moves at lightning speed and has unpredictable outcomes, yet many public relations firms still rely on a waterfall planning process that is slow and inflexible, and most have never heard of ‘agile’ before. However, I recently had a chance to interview Tiffany Guarnaccia, Founder and CEO of Kite Hill PR, a 20-person tech PR firm based in New York City, and Founder of Communications Week, about how her agency is paving the way for agile adoption in this unique space.
Inspired from the Tech Industry
Guarnaccia worked in-house at a tech company prior to starting Kite Hill PR and was inspired by the outcomes. “I was fascinated at how the teams moved through the process and produced amazing products as a result,” she says. After founding her own tech PR agency, she realized that there was a need to have more collaborative teams and to better align PR and communications efforts with their clients’ product pipelines, how they were coming to market and how the timeline overall aligned with the organization. She immediately knew that agile was the answer and has spent the past two years developing an agile approach to PR planning. With more than 90 percent of the agency’s tech clients already using agile themselves, it was a natural fit.
Alignment Around Clients’ Business Goals
Kite Hill on-boards all new clients by aligning campaign strategies to a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). There’s greater emphasis these days on all agency employees really understanding the client’s business goals before looking at tactical execution. “Agile has allowed us to train our team to think differently about tactics and execution. How does it fit into this bigger picture? How am I going to move this business forward?” says Guarnaccia.
Small, Focused Agile Teams
Kite Hill has organized its staff into small teams of four people, each team consisting of a more senior member that really understands the strategy side. All team members have direct account management duties with clients, along with execution of tactical work such as writing and media relations. Each team supports 4-5 different clients at a time, which is typical in the industry for a 20-person firm. Each team has three roles—a Sprint Owner, Sprint Master and Sprint Team. The Sprint Owner is responsible for the vision and strategy and goals of the sprint. The Sprint Master enforces the rules of the sprint meetings, eliminates roadblocks and ensures tasks get completed. Unlike Scrum where team members self-select and commit to work, here the Sprint Master delegates work to the Sprint Team.
The PR Sprint™ Workflow
Public relations campaigns are traditionally planned in one year cycles. Many have shortened that timeline post COVID to 90 day cycles, but the media industry still moves too quickly for that to be effective. At Kite Hill PR, they created their own framework, The PR Sprint™ Workflow, which very closely resembles Scrum. All work is broken up into 2-3 week sprints where the team defines a list of achievable goals and works together to achieve them. The goals almost always include proactive media coverage, unlike traditional waterfall PR programs where weeks or months are spent planning behind the scenes before going live. The Daily Stand-ups allow the team to be nimble and immediately respond to client issues, what’s coming up in the news cycle, external factors to today’s business and discovering which journalists are on breaking news stories that may need commentary from the agency’s clients that day. While very similar to the Scrum Guide, The PR Sprint™ Workflow prides itself on being nimble, not perfect, and changing and adapting the workflow based on agency and client needs.
How Agile Benefits PR Firms
Kite Hill PR conducted an internal survey to see how agile was working for them and found many positive improvements: Guarnaccia also commented that collaboration is happening at all levels in the agency, rather than the executives keeping information to themselves, or teams staying siloed from each other, which produces better client outcomes.
The Workforce of the Future is Agile
With an unpredictable world moving at an ever-increasing pace, public relations firms can no longer continue to work in traditional ways. Agile is gaining momentum because of its flexibility and adaptability to our present world. “We want to represent the workforce of the future. Agile is on the rise. It’s being implemented in the marketing world and other creative agencies, and I would love for the PR industry to be able to adapt as fast as those other sister disciplines,” says Guarnaccia.