Public relations professionals have seen the practice of our craft change over the years, brought about in large part by technology’s influences on both how and where we work.
The digital revolution and information age have generated a growing acceptance of and demand for a remote workforce. Doctors practice telemedicine. There are virtual law firms. Enterprise corporations and governments are opening their doors to telecommuting options for employees. PR is no exception as we are beginning to see the rise of the virtual agency model. It is not an option for everyone—but it is viable, and it offers a range of competitive advantages for both clients and employees.
I founded our agency on a virtual model five years ago. My motivation to go virtual was personal; I needed to adapt my career to my family’s ex-pat lifestyle, as well as parenthood. I quickly found other communicators who did not fit into the brick-and-mortar, 9-to-5 mold, but had boundless professional potential. Our agency gave them a means to contribute and grow as communicators—on their terms. For practitioners seeking work-life balance, virtual agencies can be part of the solution, and they can also bring unique benefits to clients.
When we started out, there were already remote PR professionals and freelancers, but they were largely operating in pockets. What sets virtual agencies apart is that they’re not loosely affiliated networks, but highly collaborative teams, working closely on projects and running accounts in the same way as a traditional agency. Our members appreciate the flexibility the model offers, and our clients enjoy both access to talent regardless of geography and lower rates made possible by our low overhead.
This year we’re celebrating five years in business. In that time, we’ve grown our revenue and our team, and I feel confident that we have proved the value and viability of the model. Our eight members work from home or shared office space and are located in six states stretching coast-to-coast.
If you are weighing the pros and cons of hiring a virtual agency, consider the following:
Successful virtual PR agencies…
- Offer great talent: They rely on practitioners who are organized, disciplined, dependable and self-motivated.
- Are more intentional and specific about integrating and collaborating.
- Maximize technology to keep things running across the time zones and miles.
- Are able to establish traditional agency reporting structure with virtual weekly or biweekly one-on-ones.
- Like brick-and-mortar agencies, they hold regular all-hands meetings and retreats.
- Leverage video and instant messaging chat systems, and all the great tools technology has to offer.
- Offer competitive rates: Low overhead means lower rates.
- Have no boundaries on the talent they can offer clients: Virtual agencies can bring the best people to the job, regardless of where they live.
- Offer expanded business hours: Working across time zones, you can offer round-the-clock coverage if a project is pressing, a benefit typically enjoyed only by large agencies.
- Have less turnover: Built-in flexibility means they can retain staff through life changes or moves.
In conversations with other PR leaders, we learned there is an emerging need to connect accomplished practitioners who are interested in working virtually with agencies that are interested in adopting a virtual or hybrid model. As the concept increases in popularity, PR will need to adapt to support virtual agencies.
Melissa Mathews is president and founder of The Mathews Group. Currently in Washington, she soon will work virtually from the Middle East, where she'll accompany her family on a diplomatic posting. She can be reached at email@example.com.