Even large communication firms are streamlining their operations to restructure responsibilities of their staffers, to move with the changing needs of clients and the new media horizon.

I enjoy watching Mad Men, an award-winning series about a fictional advertising agency.

I am perhaps nostalgic, having been born as a “tail-end baby boomer”. In the old days, when I briefly flirted with the advertising industry as a production manager and sometimes account executive, the advertising agency of that era had strict hierarchies – general management, account management, creatives, production, media, and so on. Lateral movements were out of the question then. Creatives remain as creatives, account executives (or “suits”) remain so as well, until they reach the top (or end) of their careers.

Fast forward to today, and some communication firms are already changing how they are run. Many have seen just how brutal the market forces are, how fierce the onslaught of the economic slowdown (and more storms are coming), and how few good and committed talents there are out there. Instead of highly hierarchical setups, quite many firms, even larger ones, are beginning to flatten their hierarchies, and reducing the ranks of generalists within their folds.

After all, clients do not like to talk to mere “suits”, who then have to return to their offices to brief their creative and media teams, with lots of margins of errors in translation in between. While some people, even young graduates, are hoping to be suits and hope to rise up the ranks to become general managers or even chief executives of such firms, the trend is NOT moving in their direction.

These days, everyone has to rise up and be counted, be ready to serve the firm’s interests and the client’s interests, with specialized and needed skills. There is no more reason for errors of translation between what the client wants, and how and what the firm is going to do. The client expects whoever talking to have the technical and creative expertise to put down proper plans and strategies moving forward – thereby reducing errors, reducing extraneous costs, and reducing wasted time of meaningless production and creative meetings.

This is true for advertising agencies as it is for other communication firms, including public relations (PR) and new media firms.

For us, we have always either led the curve, or was in pace with emerging developments. As a small firm, there is very little hierarchy, because there is simply no reason or budget to. Everyone has to develop into specific skill sets that would serve the needs of the media and the clients, and help each other out in plans and programs that would translate to successes for clients.

For example, we were the first in our area to develop floppy-disk interactive media kits with animations, digital media, and so on, in the mid-1990s even before Internet became commercially available. We develop a short film for a high-tech client with a storyline, even before the dotcom era ended. We have kept pace with technology developments, designing and developing our own media and production systems. We have set up online media newsrooms for clients, and now also develop online video content, e-commerce, social media, and other new media content for clients, helping our clients keep pace with the communication needs of the current generation. One current practice area that we have had long experience with are video news releases (VNRs). We have done field work in operating video cameras and HD DSLR cameras, with handheld rigs and stabilizers, audio inputs, chromakey (bluescreen), animation, and desktop video editing (we used the AVID NLEs as far back as 1990s).

All of these developmental work involved hard work, and compels us to keep learning, keep trying, keep doing. Long hours, sweat and tears are the daily grind.

Time waits for no one, and the communication environment is evolving very fast. The days of merely writing news releases and sending media kits by postal mail to the media are long over. The media scene itself has transformed a great deal, with the need to develop custom owned media properties for clients to deepen the outreach and engagement with the public, rather than only through traditional mainstream media alone.

If you are a client company, you may increasingly find that you expect your communication consultant, yes, the person you talk to, actually be the person doing the hard work, coming out with new ideas, and keeping track of the campaign developments. And you are 100% right in your expectations. Your communication firm should lead your needs, and know about all the communication technologies and applications first-hand with field experience.