Long before the pandemic, communications consulting firms and PR agencies fell into certain categories. You had your big multi-national firms, usually based in places like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Then you had local or regional firms.
In each of these cases, the firms touted their fashionable addresses in their hometowns as part of their brand identities. When you hired firms like this, you could expect to be treated to meetings in glass-walled conference rooms overlooking a city or with a nice view, and spending time with large numbers of young people in those conference rooms hanging on your every word (and billing you for it).
Other categories of firms are more virtual. You have large firms that bill themselves as virtual agencies. While they may not have a single bricks-and-mortar address, they still maintain full-time staff, but their account team members could be located anywhere in the country. The agency saves a little on real estate but spends a lot on dedicated staff whether they’re busy or not.
Another category is the independent practitioner or solo. Independents likely work virtually and face-to-face with clients, but usually they are based at a home office, and they don’t maintain a large full-time staff.
Still, independents are not to be confused with freelancers. Freelancers tend to work alone, they are task-oriented, and they tend to focus on one or two skillsets like writing or social media management. On the other hand, independents not only bring their own skillsets to the work, but they also have the ability to scale up or down to meet client need, managing teams and projects for the client. So, you get the best of all worlds.
O’Brien Communications, for example, is an independent corporate communications consultancy, which means you get the same client service model I used when I was at the large multi-national firm, but without all of the overhead. We have a clear focus on six core competencies, decades of experience, reduced overhead expenses and scalability. Teams are assembled and modified as needed according to client need.
How the Pandemic Changed Things
During the pandemic, companies and organizations of all sizes learned that thanks to current technologies and America’s changing work culture, you don’t need that downtown location to accomplish big things. In fact, you don’t even need a large agency with lots of full-time employees working virtually to help you.
Since the big agencies have their people working virtually anyway, a chunk of their invoices these days still have to cover that under-used office space.
Why not build your public relations support infrastructure around your needs without continuing to pay for that now underutilized real estate? More clients are doing exactly that, customizing, scaling as needed, and better managing budgets, teams and workflows.
The Impact of Change
So, what impact has this change had on agencies?
A lot of agencies are now re-evaluating their commercial real estate and office leases. They know they don’t need expensive office space to serve clients, but more importantly, they know that their clients have gotten wise to it.
Clients now realize they’re paying more than they need in order to cover those agencies’ office space costs.
As a result, firms like mine have come into their own over the past two years. Our clients realize we deliver by meeting them where they are.
The pandemic was a major pivot-point for everyone, personally and professionally, but I never expected my own long-established business model to be so right for these times.
My firm and my strategic partners are so practiced at working virtually, working to scale, and customizing everything around client need, that we didn’t miss a beat. Now with clients having become more comfortable with tools that make remote work more seamless, I’ve never felt more optimistic about the future. And it all started with the realization that you really don’t have to pay for agencies’ excess overhead.
Have a question about virtual scalability? Get in touch!