Posted At: March 1, 2013 8:45 A.M.
by Lindsey Green
Virtual, or cyber, agencies are on the rise as possibilities on the Internet increase each and every day. By minimizing overhead costs, these agencies are able to offer lower rates to their customers. Many virtual agencies are also open to working on a project basis, instead of being kept on a monthly retainer like some large, traditional agencies require. This option has been especially beneficial for smaller companies and organizations who otherwise might not have enough room in their budgets for publicity.
Vanessa Wakeman, CEO and founder of The Wakeman Agency, said that one of the greatest benefits to a virtual structure is the ability to get the best team of professionals, regardless of geographic boundaries.
“Our primary need was to get the best possible group of executives assembled. We decided that if we used technology as a network, we could bring in a better talent pool to support our clients,” Wakeman said.
Recruiting the best talent is also a major focus for Peri Marketing, whose agency format has allowed its founder and president, Paula Peri Tiernan, to hire a virtual team of senior professionals with extensive knowledge of specific industries.
“When I left the corporate world, I had managed a number of agencies with large retail clients,” Tiernan said. “I had always been a little bit frustrated that although the most senior member of the team would be the one to pitch new business, it was typically the most junior member of the team who was doing most of the work and they didn’t have much experience with retail or the PR industry. The burden would be on me to teach them about it.
“We created a different model in which everyone on our team has a minimum of 15 years of experience and we only specialize in a few industries. This assures the client that only senior and experienced people are working on their account, and that they’re all people who have extensive experience with that client’s specific industry.”
In addition, the virtual structure removes the geographic boundaries of finding a client base. Although Peri Marketing is based in Colorado, it has clients ranging from theme parks in Alabama to nonprofits in Montana. Because a virtual agency doesn’t technically have a “home market,” clients can rest assured that the team members working on their accounts are comfortable working with media outlets all across the country.
The key to a successful virtual agency is having a committed team that sticks with the agency, rather than hiring freelancers with every new client or project. This team continuity helps to maintain a consistent creative vision and allows clients to build lasting relationships with those working on their account.
“Our turnover is very low, so our creative team has been able to be very consistent and the synergy on our staff is great. This has been a huge advantage to our clients,” Tiernan said.
Even traditional agencies are beginning to incorporate this virtual model into their practices. Websites like InternQueen have listed an increasing amount of so-called virtual internships, with both traditional and virtual agencies. Students are able to work remotely for all sorts of different companies.
Casey Rogers, a senior at The University of Alabama, was able to turn a successful summer as an intern at Story Partners, LLC in Washington, D.C. into a virtual internship after she returned to Tuscaloosa.
“I wanted to continue my learning experience and because they have a partner firm in Birmingham called Direct Communications, it seemed like the perfect fit. Last semester I commuted from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham two days a week, but because my class schedule is very different this semester and I had previous experience with this firm, this internship became virtual,” Rogers said.
As a virtual intern, Rogers starts her week with a conference call with the firm on Monday morning to discuss her projects for the week. During the week, she works from 9 a.m. to noon each day and typically puts in additional hours as needed. Communication is essential in order to conduct her day-to-day activities.
“To maximize my learning experience as a virtual intern, I have made it a priority to properly communicate with those I am working with and for,” Rogers said. “Emails are an incredible tool in today’s world, but it is also important to realize when a phone call is more beneficial. Because relatively everything about this internship is virtual, properly communicating and understanding project and task expectations is imperative.”
Both Peri Marketing and The Wakeman Agency have used virtual interns before. Tiernan offered a word of caution for students interested in this type of opportunity.
“I would only do it if you are assured that you will also get the opportunity for training and professional development. A virtual environment does not always offer the same opportunity for this as you could get in a traditional agency, because you’re just not physically there. I would suggest that any student should be very clear with a potential virtual employer about how they receive communication and direction,” Tiernan said.
Whether an internship is based in an office or on the computer, it is up to the intern to make the most of the experience. Asking questions, being creative and making the best of opportunities are important to any internship. Rogers agrees that there are benefits to both set-ups.
“Any internship is a positive career move for students. Virtual internships can open doors that many students wouldn’t ordinarily have,” Rogers said.