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Virtual Agencies Are The Key To Future Success

In January 2018, Sophie Wilson launched Tuesday Media, the creative communications agency from a remote Moroccan village about an hour outside of Agadir. One year on, she discusses why she thinks the virtual agency model is the future.

We’re named after the Rolling Stones song Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday about a wild woman who would not be pinned down: “she would never say where she came from…No one knows, she comes and goes.”

The genesis of the idea for the agency came to me in the back of a TukTuk in Cambodia in 2012 when I took my ‘gap year’ at the age of 30. Whilst I enjoyed travelling and had some essential life experiences wandering through Asia alone, I found it quite easy to get bored. I liked the idea of experiencing other cultures and doing something meaningful with the rest of my time. I encountered many bright young things who were freelancing designers, developers and writers, whilst experiencing life in places like Chiang Mai in Thailand that were emerging as hubs for what would later become popularly referred to as ‘digital nomadism’. This craze has now spread from Lisbon to Ubud, with seemingly a new city springing up as the ‘next big thing’ for co-working, practically every week, proving the appetite for the model.  

Remote working was nothing new for me. In my previous career in international broadcasting, I had always worked at a global level; most days started with catching up with Asia and ended in talking to America. I worked with clients and suppliers in locations as disparate as Bucharest to Boston and didn’t think anything of it. Back then, email and telephone calls were the standard way of communicating, Skype came a bit later. For a time, I worked client-side for a UK company with global clients and all the employees worked from home. Scheduled meetings, email and skype updates were the backbone of the business. So if clients have been at it forever, why weren’t agencies catching on?  

After a stint as a freelance consultant, where my only tools were my MacBook Pro, my mobile and a hot desk space in North London; my first experience of walking back into a London agency with set desks, wired in PCs and telephones was strange. As PRs, who need to monitor the media and spend a lot of time reading and writing, it’s a downside to the job that we can easily become chained to our desks. I found the experience of sitting down for the best part of nine hours a day stifling to my ability to write and think creatively. A culture of presenteeism pervaded, which felt more about being seen to be at the office, rather than the quality of the output. To me, hiding behind a desk seemed an easy excuse for my more timid colleagues not to get out and about into the world, meet prospects and clients and generally have conversations, the very lifeblood of what we do as communications professionals.

When I founded Tuesday Media, I had the clear vision that I wanted not only to empower myself, but those who work for me, to live their best lives. I believe that it is in enabling people to live the lives that they want to live, that you truly get the best out of them. What better way to create ‘employee engagement’ than to give talented individuals the freedom to live how they want, whilst producing work that they are proud of? 

Leading with my experience as a consultant (and having hired and fired PR agencies over the years when client-side), I was determined to put strategy at the heart of our process. In my view, too many agencies take a generic, ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to answering briefs to fund their own overheads. Huge amounts of money are required to cover agency expenditure on rent, salaries and all of the other costs that go into keeping a ‘bums on seats’ workforce motivated.

Our core team is based in Brighton, with senior members covering PR and Communications, Digital Strategy and Creative Direction. Our team devises the strategy in response to the client need, then brings in the right talent to deliver. This ensures that our clients always get the right expertise they need to achieve their goals, whether that’s an SEO or inbound marketing expert, a traditional advertising Creative Director or a Consumer PR. Bespoke teams are handpicked from #tuesdaytalent, our homegrown online and offline community of over 100 creatives. In 2018 we gave 21 freelancers work: one of them is bringing up a child and lecturing in journalism in Cardiff; another is studying for an MA in Madrid.

Operating this way does pose unique operational challenges. We have solved these by introducing a consistent onboarding process for all #tuesdaytalent, implementing digital collaboration tools for project management and time tracking, and using a cloud platform for storage, backup, email and calendar management. Whilst email forms most of our correspondence, clients tend to like an ‘in person’ catch up via video call, and we have found that Zoom works best for this, as well as FaceTime or Whatsapp. Technology has advanced at such a rate in our personal lives that we think nothing of taking a phone call on Facebook – so why limit ourselves I our professional lives to talking only on a business landline? Our processes create the structure for clear communication and co-working practices, allowing everyone to work efficiently, flexibly and transparently, which ultimately benefits our clients.

Our client have very quickly adapted to the model: as long as they are getting the right people for the job, who they can easily communicate with, with ease. and we are producing results-oriented work, they are happy to have the expertise of a collective of talented individuals, rather than the ‘mother ship’ of the traditional agency. Because we’re senior led, we are also very ‘hands on’ with clients – which means they get the experience they buy into in the pitch.

We have a fantastic office base at PLATF9RM in two locations in Brighton and in Hove, where we host clients (and they enjoy coming, not least to enjoy the funky décor, the cute dogs and the beer on Fridays). This gives us a presence on online web directories, a place to collect post and meeting rooms, as well as an office base and access to the talent and the thriving network that our 300+ company neighbours provide.

The concept of virtual agencies first kicked off in 2005, but the ‘virtual revolution’ has really started to gain ground in the last two years, with several influential former traditional agency heads going out on their own to work ‘location agnostically’. These people understand that every employee engagement initiative in the world can’t add up to allowing the best talent to work on their own terms, wherever they are in the world. In fact, the advent of agencies that are now seeing the benefits and adopting the model led to the PRCA launching a new Virtual PR Agencies Group in October 2018. With many industry commentators predicting that more talent, clients and agencies will follow suit in working for, commissioning and running these organisations, the virtual agencies will no doubt start to steal a march on their big brothers and sisters in Agency Land. Watch this space.