How a virtual PR firm owner turns WFH challenges into opportunity

by | Apr 23, 2020 | Analysis, Covid-19, Public Relations

In March, a majority of the country made a transition as they moved from their offices and started working from home. Remote work isn’t a new concept—in fact, a study by Owl Labs says 16 percent of global companies, or 3.5 billion people, are entirely remote. The 2017 US Census claims there are over 8 million people whose jobs don’t require an office. That’s roughly 5 percent of the US population. It’s safe to assume that many of those jobs are in new industries like tech or data, probably require minimal human interaction and are geared toward a certain millennial age group that is computer savvy.

Public relations might not jump to the front of the list when considering industries with ‘remote work’ opportunities. PR has been around in some form or another for centuries and while it’s made room for advancements, it’s an industry very much stuck in old school practices. At its core, public relations is about relationships, and we often think about creating those connections in traditional terms, both at the office with staff or clients and in the real world meeting new writers, editors, etc. But thanks to advancing technology, meeting someone for coffee isn’t the only way to have a fully functioning and striving PR business. More and more companies are seeing the benefit of a remote staff and implementing this model may take your PR efforts to new heights.

I’m a boutique agency owner, and I only see my employees 30 days per year

Our agency is a team of 5, including lead publicists, assistants, and interns, most of whom have never met face to face and live on opposite sides of the country. A remote team can broaden the network of people in your circle by expanding your access to talented individuals and the ties they’ve made in their home base. With our web of PR specialists based in New York and Los Angeles, we can now prosper within those cities without having to be there physically. Clients, contractors and building leads for client coverage can come from anywhere our team is or has been, regardless of a coffee meeting.

Having worked remotely for six years I’ve seen the benefits of this professional lifestyle and understand why remote work works… for us. Hopefully my experiences and insight can be a solution for your company or lead to a variation that’s better for you.

Teams from different time zones

Looking at your company outside of the traditional 9 to 5 hours of operation can be hard to see. Still, by having people accomplish projects out of different parts of the world, you can expand your operating time and get more work done for your clients. The New York team has a 3-hour head start on Los Angeles, so they work on calls, meetings with New York-based clients, and spearhead creative projects. When the New York team is done for the day, the Los Angeles team has three more hours to do research, write pitches, and draft emails for the entire team to review in the morning. There’s more time to focus on a particular task and build a successful PR campaign. Working outside of the “normal” hours can make you wonder if this will create a disconnect in the workflow, but I think you’ll find it’s an easy adjustment.

Tools for connection

This model of communication means that your team becomes used to not seeing each other, but you can supplement this by implementing tools that keep the conversation going and everyone on the same page. In recent years, tech companies have caught on to the popularity of remote teams and have created platforms to maintain the links within your agency. Microsoft created Teams and tagged it “Productive Way for Teams to Work from Home & Stay Connected,” and Google has the well-known G Suite. Other popular apps are Zoom for video conferencing and Slack for team messaging. Picking the right one comes down to preference, but it goes to show that more and more agencies are seeing the benefits of a remote staff and the options for which tools to use are plentiful.

Lower overhead

There are many ways a remote team will keep costs down for your company. One of the most expensive overheads for all businesses is an office. The total price tag to consider isn’t just rent, but everything that comes with having an office- desks, chairs, phones, printers, paper, binders, insurance, decor, etc. And while there are certainly perks to having a home base, it’s not always necessary. By going remote, you commit to being fully digital (no paper carbon footprint) and working with the bare minimum—an actual back to basics cell phone and computer only.

You don’t need all the bells and whistles to be a legitimate, growing business and in many cases, you can do more with your life, your money and for your clients without it. There’s also the opportunity to work with other freelancers or small businesses and share expenses for tolls and services that can run very expensive on your own. Our ability to keep our overhead low is also what results in our ability to offer very competitive monthly retainers. We don’t have to build in as much padding for the costs it takes to run the business as a whole.

Explore nontraditional practices

I took a leap of faith a few years ago when I put my ‘work from anywhere’ theory to the test and participated in a program called Remote Year, an international travel program designed for professionals that manage their own business or aren’t confined to an office. Remote Year offers 4 to 12 month programs for groups of 20-80 people arranging a globe-trotting experience and providing work and living in each city along the way. In 2018, I traveled to South America for 5 months starting in Lima, Peru, stopping in Medellin and Bogota, Colombia and finishing in Mexico City, Mexico leaving my then team of three in NYC.

The experience was enriching beyond words. I immersed myself in new cultures, everything from food and music to local art and regional traditions to daily lifestyles like fitness regimes and business practices. Above all else, the connections I made were and are invaluable. Which leads me to….

Networking and community building

Long lasting relationships can be formed anywhere, especially when you wander outside of your daily routine. Remote Year connected me with peers and professionals I would have probably never met and we’ve been instrumental in growing each other’s businesses.  When I was in Columbia, I met a beauty writer who, since our happenstance meeting, has featured some of our brands and we met up in NYC just last year. I met my Google Ad manager while traveling abroad. David Matthews is the founder of a marketing company called Ree-Rah and he’s implemented a new Google Ad campaign strategy for my company since the outbreak of Covid-19. I’ve also acquired new clients through the RY platform.

Even the mention of travel can lead to a better connection. Account Executive Allison Ullo says, “I often tell editors I am traveling when I pitch them on the road out of courtesy because my email can hit their inbox at an odd time, but almost 80% of the time it peaks interest with them because either they are also traveling or interested to know about your trip and it leads to more fulfilling conversations and personal bonds. My trips in the South of France and Vietnam, specifically were huge conversation topic starters and resulted in me getting press for clients with editors that may not have normally responded as fast.”

I understand Remote Year or international travel isn’t always an option or the best fit, but the larger point is, you can’t predict the connections you will make outside of your immediate network. Meeting someone new requires leaving your comfort zone, even if it’s only to the coffee shop down the street or trying out a contractor based on a really awesome Zoom interview.

Personal growth

I have found that my team has learned a set of soft skills that enable them to excel in a remote environment while being able to regroup with the rest of the company. They are more resourceful, more analytical, and more creative. The flexibility to travel and experience new cultures can bring new perspectives to your company will undoubtedly enhance individuals on a personal level and make for a happy employee.

Oftentimes we’re most inspired and the most successful when we’re pitching from a relaxing location and enjoying ourselves and feeling constantly inspired by life. Pitching from a back porch in Nice France, or the villa in St. Tropez, or invoicing clients from a tiny hostel before hiking Machu Picchu, or taking client calls while sitting on a plastic stool at a cafe in Vietnam are examples of moments we’ve felt most stimulated and entirely in love with our job. The freedom to work at their own pace, paired with the common goals for the client, allows your team to function in an atmosphere that will empower them to produce their best work.

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Sara Spiegel
Sara Spiegel is a PR professional residing in Brooklyn, NY. Having worked for reputable agencies and consulted for a variety of lifestyle brands, Sara launched her boutique agency w/Sara pr, specializing in strategic communications and brand awareness.

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