The Case for Virtual Agencies


In 1992, when our boutique agency was founded, we hung up a virtual shingle. At the time, this type of storefront was viewed as the opposite of commercial success. Most competitors and prospects alike assumed that any virtual agency was simply one that was marginally profitable and, most likely, just a solo practice. Today, this business model thrives and has become a rock-solid example of sustainability from its remarkable profitability to its small carbon footprint.

Geographically, Marek & Company’s professionals include a public relations counselor in New York City, a copywriter in Franklin, Tenn., a digital media producer in Richardson, Texas, an environmental graphics designer in Houston and principals in Dallas.

Branding like the Film Business
To curious clients and prospects, we initially described our business model as one that patterned itself on the film industry. The value to them evolved around our ability as a team to collaborate, innovate and deliver highly productive marketing and media relations services by engaging professionals whose experience, knowledge and insights would enable us to move quickly into their markets and deliver the results they sought.

For a small firm, we believed we were the Davids among the Goliaths of the marketing communications industry. And the bonus to clients and prospects was that we could also perform these services at competitive prices, although we did not seek to be the low-cost service provider. Our business model hinged on experience, an exemplary portfolio and creative collaboration—attributes that do not require a physical storefront, given today’s technologies.

The Value of Virtual Brands
WorldatWork, an association of human resource professionals from Fortune 500 and other leading organizations worldwide that focuses on recruiting and retaining employees, reported in their 2007 survey that more than 28 million Americans work remotely, connected through various technologies that have come of age, including the Internet, cell phones, broadband and wireless communications. This number represents a 63% increase from 2004 to 2006 when the latest figures were released. By 2010, approximately 100 million U.S. workers will be working away from conventional offices.

The significant adoption rate of Fortune 500 companies embracing telework indicates its mainstream acceptance. More importantly, this business model has become one of the most environmentally responsible models available, and an excellent vehicle for promoting the value and social responsibility of an organization’s brand.

Agency principals constantly seek ways to demonstrate brand value and brand difference because marketing firms, advertising agencies and public relations groups abound. As a consequence, to some clients and prospects, smaller firms more closely resemble a commodity (i.e. a client shops for creative services, compares bids and, often, selects a firm based on price). So there are few ways to gauge a firm’s brand, except by reputation, referrals and size.

Earning professional credentials, winning awards and promoting both help to separate one agency brand from another. This is particularly important for virtual agencies. By implementing sustainable business practices, virtual agencies can further differentiate themselves from the competition and a noisy marketplace, while serving people and the planet.

Building Sustainable Credibility
To be credible, virtual agency owners should lead the way, both personally and professionally in going green. In addition to the implicit green attributes of being a virtual agency, leading the greening means agency guidance that embraces a sustainable philosophy of doing business.

Begin with an environmental mission statement and the core values that support that statement. Communicate these principles to the entire team. Encourage everyone to assess and, subsequently, reduce his or her carbon footprint. Calculators abound online and quickly demonstrate the impact of everyday decisions. Carboncounter.org offers both individual and business carbon footprint assessments. The World Resources Institute (www.wri.org) provides a global perspective on environmental stewardship initiatives from access to ecosystems, and climate to markets.

Lead by learning. For example, in 2006 when the U.S. Green Building Council began to more visibly promote its LEED® AP (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional), I participated in the daylong workshop and later studied for the exam. Earning this credential created buzz in Texas since we were the first virtual branding agency in the state of Texas whose principal held a LEED® AP. More importantly, the credential garnered respect among leaders in the architecture, engineering and construction industry for which the designation is perceived to be highly desirable.

As a result of our long track record in sustainability, I was named one of the top 13 environmental stewards by D Magazine, Dallas’ premier city magazine, last year. These credentials led to an invitation to serve on the city of Dallas’ green building task force and to represent a neighborhood association as a sustainable consultant in reviewing planned developments in the area. It also led to an invitation to serve on the correspondence committee for LEED—Neighborhood Development for the U.S. Green Building Council. Clearly, the decision to earn this credential has helped to increase our firm’s brand visibility and value.

At Marek & Company, we encourage all of our practice partners to embrace greener guidelines for their benefit. Individually, most of our team consists of people who have been involved in sustainable practices, both personally and professionally, for decades. Living greener lives has been central to their disposition and is not a trend du jour.

At year’s end, a virtual agency’s success also depends upon its profitability. Despite the economic cycles of the past two decades, our team includes many of the original members—all independent contractors whose practice specialties vary, whose age and gender vary, whose geographic location varies and whose interests vary.

The key to our sustainability as a virtual agency resides in our common goals, our passion for the work and the small but humble creative footprint that we are leaving far beyond a centralized place of work. We call it “ROWE,” an acronym coined by former Best Buy executives meaning “results-only work environment.”

For creative people and the planet, a virtual agency can respond to today’s sustainable imperatives and lead by embracing and promoting best practices in sustainability.

This article was written by  Annemarie Marek, CEO of  Marek & Company. It was excerpted from the PR News Going Green: Case Studies in Outstanding Green Business Practices, Volume 1. To order a copy, visit the http://www.prnewsonline.com/store/.




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