3 Advantages PR Agencies Lose by Going Virtual

September 2020
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Every industry is speculating about the future of the physical office and whether our experiment of working from home during the coronavirus pandemic will morph into a permanent reality. As someone who once worked full time for a completely virtual PR agency, I say “Not so fast.”

Some industries can go virtual without missing a thing, but not so for marketing and communications agencies. We just had a three-month taste of a virtual workplace during an extraordinary time when it became clear that the little things that make physical agencies and their people go and grow simply don’t translate to virtual settings.

In my experience, we lose three major advantages by moving an agency to a fully virtual model:

Spontaneous creativity

Some of the best ideas I’ve seen materialize in communications agencies didn’t arise during formal meetings. They happened through informal human interactions in the office: because someone had overheard a colleague talking about a movie they saw over the weekend, and the reference sparked an idea. Or maybe someone spotted a mock-up on a co-worker’s desk and asked about it. Or a work group was stuck and grabbed someone from another team to add their perspective.

The best ideas come from spontaneous, not planned, moments. The virtual world, however, is all about planned moments. I can’t drop by your desk or bump into you in the office kitchen. Instead, I have to know that I want to talk to you in particular, and then call you, set up a Zoom meeting, or hunt you down via chat. No matter how hard we try, spontaneous creativity is less likely to happen during virtual meetings.

Relationship-building

When we put a bunch of different people in an office together, from entry-level staff to senior executives, they will eventually interact and share their varied experiences and perspectives. We need that interaction to bond, learn new things, grow as professionals and cultivate our soft skills such as listening and empathy.

In a virtual agency, junior staff members in particular will miss out. For example, my role as a vice president means that I’m always connecting with leaders and staff across our agency, sister company and clients. 

But most of my team’s contact, on the other hand, is with one another and with me, by virtue of whatever project they’re working on at the moment. Sure, we attempt to bridge the gap by planning Zoom happy hours, agencywide virtual meetings and virtual professional-development sessions, but “get to know the real me” relationship-building simply isn’t possible through computer screens. 

Real-time support and motivation

In an agency, you’re surrounded by people who do what you do every day. Like you, they know how tough it is to place a story in the media or design a social media campaign that generates leads for the client. In an agency, your colleagues support you. They can sense your frustration and help you overcome it, in real time.

Being together with kindred spirits motivates us. It helps us when we’re stuck.

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