Building the world’s biggest virtual public relations agency

George Blizzard and Nicky Imrie, Founders and Directors, The PR Network explain how their network of freelance practitioners provides the expertise, flexibility and scale to work with large clients.

Profile: virtual public relations agency

Insight: a virtual agency made-up of independent consultants offers clients a breadth of flexibility

The explosion of the custom built economy means that businesses can no longer dictate their terms. Whether it’s a suit or a car - customers know that someone, somewhere will be able to give them exactly what they want.

We used that insight as the bedrock of our thinking when we set up the PR Network in 2005. Instead of starting with a particular model, we started with a bunch of great independent consultants, and let our clients decide how, when and where they wanted to use them.

For ten years we have worked in a variety of ways, here’s four of the most popular:

#1 Classic retainer

Amongst our many retained clients, we are the agency of record for Zipcar in the UK. Part of our appeal to a young, dynamic company like Zipcar is the breadth of talent to continually evolve our team to meet their needs e.g. having won the business to raise their profile amongst b2b and b2c audiences, we seamlessly switched to provide a public affairs programme to lobby Parliament. We’ve also launched the brand in Spain and advised on European strategy for public relations and public affairs.

#2 White labelling for agencies

We work with a growing number of UK and US public relations and advertising agencies. Some outsource particular areas of specialism to us where they don’t have the in-house capabilities to cover a particular opportunity. A great example here is a UK tech agency that used us to help win and retain a brief to represent an African Government.

More commonly agencies will use us to provide a white labelled global or hyper local outreach, using our international and regional teams. Examples here include launching a major mobile phone network upgrade across major UK cities; and launching a ten country consumer campaign for a major automotive company. All behind the scenes.

#3 In-house extension

One of our clients is a major car manufacturer. Whilst its experienced in-house public relations team has the car industry media licked – it wanted to increase its profile in the luxury and consumer tech space. Having pitched against traditional agencies they chose us because we could integrate our team on site with theirs – reporting into our central team for support and guidance.

#4 Hub and spoke: international team

Most of our international work involves providing a central point of co-ordination. A great example of this is when Viagogo hired us to promote the brand in the Netherlands, Japan and Central / South America during The World Cup. With minimal internal resource to manage the team we also provide a UK-based hub to direct the team and provide one point of communications for the client. This test project was successful and we have worked subsequently with Viagogo on other multi-market projects.

We believe that versatility in terms of a broad range of skills and expertise, together with the ability to adapt to different client structures and resource needs will shore agencies up for the future, making agencies truly #FuturePRoof.