Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way public relations works in practically every sense.
However, many of these changes, such as more teams working remotely and more flexibly—meaning that employees are generally happier, while the services that agencies offer are becoming more widespread and streamlined—are a very good thing for profitability.
One interesting result that I’ve observed about this new way of working is that once purely local agencies now have various employees living in different parts of the country, working from home. I believe it’s why many local agencies have grown exponentially despite COVID-19. And it’s surely a counter-indication of how agencies were impacted during the first six months of the pandemic.
From my perspective, most PR agency employees are working from home right now, and it doesn’t matter where they’re located. The advantage is clear: If a PR firm in Des Moines has employees in L.A., Portland or Miami, it’s no longer viewed as a purely regional agency. It means that local agencies can tap into talent from outside their geographic parameters.
As a result, this sea change allows agency owners to boast that they have offices “everywhere” and are national in scope, helping the firm add more dots on the map to its capabilities and offerings.
With this advantage, agencies can attract both clients as well as employees anywhere, again with the premise of a nationwide reach. This gives them the chance to promote their services in new markets and grow.
Good for the team
One major benefit for employees is that remote working can allow them to take positions with PR firms anywhere, regardless of whether they live in a big metropolitan area or a tiny, remote town in the Midwest. Digital technologies—think Zoom, Microsoft Team Meetings and Slack—have become the primary communications tool for all companies—including PR agencies—and can connect employees to clients no matter where they’re located.
Furthermore, even agency CEOs can work and live wherever they want; some New York City agency leaders I know work from the Hamptons all summer, for example.
The shift to the remote—or hybrid—workplace changes the direction of many agencies moving forward as employee skills and capabilities can be traced hundreds—if not thousands—of miles away. This makes the PR agency world that much more competitive, because local agencies have traditionally not been tagged for national assignments.
For instance, if a national account requires boots on the ground by their headquarters, local agencies can now arrange this just as well as the so-called national agencies.
Here are some additional positive pandemic consequences for PR firms right now:
- Having a geographically distributed team gives agencies the ability to “keep work going” across different time zones and provide support for clients that aren’t in the same time zone as headquarters. Remote teams from different time zones help in maximizing a PR firm’s ability to ensure that productive work is occurring at all hours of the day.
- Employees collaborating across various time zones are more likely to reach success if they’re able to work “together” from home. Working hours increase with more flexibility. Also, the business will continue “as usual” regardless of weather conditions that could limit productivity due to commuting.
- Agency clients can have boots on the ground nationwide, which helps their success and bottom line.
- Partnerships, joint ventures and acquisitions can take place more frequently no matter where agencies are located, thanks to video conferencing tools and other advanced communication technologies.
PR agency owners must find the right balance of in-office and remote workforces that will make their company as efficient and effective as possible, especially on a national or even global level.
Embracing the new remote-work trends has become the norm since the pandemic hit, and I don’t believe it’s going away anytime soon. For those naysayers, in the long run, resisting the remote evolution may do more harm than good.
In fact, many PR agency employees now expect remote work opportunities. A recent Buffer report stated that an estimated 99 percent of current remote workers want to work remotely, at least part-time, for the duration of their careers. So, instead of resisting the change, organizations should be open to implementing remote opportunities.
At the end of the day, whether at home or in a brick-and-mortar office, all PR agencies still need to compete for talent, ensure employee well-being and engagement and run a profitable business. By giving your team workplace flexibility—especially from a geographic perspective—you can have an advantage over other firms and earn a reputation as a nationally-recognized and capable agency.
Art Stevens is Managing Partner of The Stevens Group, consultants to the PR agency profession.