Founder & CEO, theONswitch & nunu ventures.
Eighteen years ago, I launched my own marketing consulting practice.
A former big-brand client, I reflected on the traditional agency and built my company around all my pain points. I created a remote/hybrid model long before the pandemic forced us to rethink how agencies were structured and managed.
Some of my colleagues back then thought I was a little nuts. “You can’t do that,” they said. “Clients won’t like it,” they declared. “How can you lead your team?” they asked.
Now I realize that I may have been about two decades ahead of my time.
Just as humans become “adults” at 18 (or thereabouts), agencies now realize that they may need to change habits and lifestyles. The marketing consulting world is starting to “shave” to survive and compete.
Big offices, big budgets and big salaries have long been putting a strain on both agencies’ and clients’ budgets. Now that more people are working remotely, the expensive office may seem unnecessary.
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Co-working is no longer a novel concept. Shared spaces, like shared transportation and housing, are commonplace. Why do we need to buy our own equipment and pay for dedicated conference rooms and refreshments when we can leverage the discounts that shared spaces may offer?
Unless you own your real estate, taking advantage of fractional workspaces makes financial sense. You can enjoy luxury office accommodations without paying exorbitant rent or buying your own toilet paper.
Those savings result in higher margins for your agency or firm, some of which can be applied to hiring the right talent (or even savings for your clients).
In the past, you were somewhat limited in your hiring because your team needed to live in your city or town or within commuting distance.
As I’m scaling my business, I’m now able to find best-of-class creative, digital and operational talent anywhere in the world. Our current team represents a terrific cross-section of professionals from throughout North America. One independent contractor will be living in Latin America, giving us an immediate global staff.
Many employees are happier working from home or from anywhere else, for that matter. Van life? A remote island or cabin in the woods with Wi-Fi? No problem. It’s a fact: People are moving to where they want to live rather than where their employer is located.
Smart agencies discover that their creatives can be even more creative when they have work and life balance. People can choose where they want to live and when they want to work. Parents can spend more time with their kids and partners. Those professionals who are more productive at 3 a.m. than 10 a.m. can get their work done during non-traditional hours. You may even find that building a geographically eclectic team adds more hours to the workday, enabling you to get more done.
Remote and hybrid work can also lead to a more diverse workforce. OGs of advertising and marketing are struggling to find great jobs. Others may be looking for part-time gigs as they head toward retirement (or, as I call it, pre-tirement) and flex their creative muscle without committing to full-time work. Recent grads can enjoy some of the perks of entrepreneurship without the pressures and costs of living in big cities. Remote work can present great opportunities for people of all ages, ethnicities, social styles and locations to contribute to organizations without having to deal with the live face-to-face biases of interviews. Leaders focus more on the work product and less on the person behind it.
Of course, this challenges agency leaders to deal with the complexities of independent contractor engagement (which may be difficult in some states) and team-building from afar. But technology enables people to stay connected without sitting next to each other.
Management can find and retain best-of-breed talent, no matter where employees live and work.
Like maintaining any long-distance relationship, creating a remote or hybrid agency requires commitment, clarity and communication. Daily Zoom stand-ups and tools like Monday.com ensure we’re all on the same (digital) page. At some point, we may gather live. But for now, remote interaction seems to be working just fine!
At the end of the day, isn’t that really what we want? Our pipeline and referral network provides the lifeblood of agency revenue and profitability.
Unless a marketing project is hyper-local, an agency’s location doesn’t really matter. For example, we just landed a global client that has multiple offices. They don’t really care where we are, provided we get our timezone correct for virtual meetings and that we deliver a level of service and involvement that contributes to great work.
In fact, we have found we can do an even better job because we have a national perspective and apply learning from one assignment to others. We also seem to be attracting more visionary clients, who are not wedded to the way business has always been done.
Check Your Ego At The (Virtual) Agency Door
Those agency owners who love looking at their logo outside a building or office space or counting up their employees must ask themselves, “Do I need this because it makes sense or because it makes me feel more legit?” After all, you take Uber and Lyft and stay in hotels and shared vacation homes. The fractional economy is simply making its way into an industry that has long been wedded to “100% ownership.”
Hybrid/remote work is not for everyone. But my view of the world hasn’t really changed much as a result of the pandemic. I want the best work from my clients, the freedom to do it from anywhere, the best people on my team, and the extra margin that comes from not having the burden of expenses.
Clients may soon stop asking where our companies are located. After all, does it really matter?
Just because we can now return to offices doesn’t mean we need to. The new agency model is here to stay. And it’s paying off in client delight, profit, and creativity.
Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?
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Author: Nancy A Shenker, Forbes Councils Member