LONDON--Immediate Future, one of the UK’s first social media agencies, has halved its workforce as it relaunches its business model to focus on higher-margin consulting work.

The news comes as long-term IF client Sony confirmed that it had moved the bulk of its business with the agency back in-house. Sony EMEA director of corporate communications Nick Sharples said that the company would continue to work with IF on “more strategic social media consultancy , such as issues and crisis management training incorporating full social media integration, rather than the normal day-to-day PR implementation”.

IF founder and MD Katy Howell said that her firm had spent the last 12 months departing from the type of social media PR work that she believes is being turned into a commodity by rampant competition from different types of agencies.

“If you are a PR agency you are going to sell blogger relations,” said Howell. “If you are a media agency you are going to sell paid-for blogger space and online ads. If you are a digital agency you are going to sell apps and build.

“We don’t have mouths to feed,” added Howell. “We still have a relationship with Sony, we’re just not going to do the day-to-day tactical stuff. That belongs in-house – it’s commoditised if it goes to an agency.”

Instead, Howell said that IF is helping companies understand how to integrate social media into its overall architecture, a ‘social business’ approach that has been pursed to great effect by US consultancy Altimeter Group.

Immediate Future now counts around nine staffers, said Howell. “The cost base is roughly the same – salaries are higher when you come to consultancy.”

“The digital and PR agencies are beginning to achieve those social media skills where delivering a blog campaign or a widget is part of an expansion to what they do,” continued Howell. “As a pure-play social media agency, where do we fit? I could wait until we are squeezed, or we could slip upwards.”

Howell declined to provide details of current clients, other than Sony, but noted that the work involved helping all aspects of a business understand social media and develop an “engagement blueprint”. “The value is in developing an integrated view of social that has no channel agenda.”

“We’re ahead of the curve,” added Howell. “We’re quite used to being in that dangerous place. I can see a future that isn’t marginalised or commoditised.”