Virtual Agencies

I’ve been waffling on the project topic, working with Alex to try and come up with a final version. I’m going to write my thesis on Virtual Agencies. I now need to clarify who my target audience is going to be, as well as generate a 1-2 page abstract for the overall paper.

My basic idea comes from real life observation. While working as a Creative Recruiter, I found myself filling ‘staffing’ requests for individuals instead of corporations. Or rather, single individuals with LLCs or else individuals well known to my boss. These folks weren’t working within the standard job paradigm for advertising. They were individuals who were all former Account Managers or Marketing Managers, the people who typically initiate and ultimately assume responsibility for the advertising process. The business face of the advertising and marketing world, in other words.

This business facing person was at a senior career level, but not affiliated with any one company. Instead, they used their extensive business networks to find out about potential project work. Sometimes the projects were for the clients directly, sometimes they were niche roles that were needed by traditional advertising agencies. They assembled a team that was hand-picked from among their connections to work on the upcoming project. Usually they pull folks in for comp-work prior to the pitch, with the understanding being that if the project is awarded to the impromptu team that this team will be awarded the business. Nothing so formal as contracts, just perhaps a few MNDAs between everyone until the project was awarded, and then formal agreements as to contractor payments driving budgets.

When the project was awarded, the head contact would then fill in any occupational or skillset holes with freelancers or friends of friends. The project would materialize, each person would do their job, hopefully deliver on target and budget, and then the “company” would split back up, with each person taking their chunk of the profits.

Zero overhead. Reputation-based business model built completely upon the networking model. Flexible, agile, quick to business, no extraneous employees, maximum profits for individual efforts. Professionals acting professionally or else getting quickly ditched from the project rotations.

Calling for Testimonials

I’m looking for examples of folks who work like this. I work with a couple of them in my current job, and I’m friends with a woman who has worked this way for a few years. I’ve been part of some of these teams, at least up to the pitch portion (the pitches I’ve been on haven’t materialized into projects).

My personal feeling is that this is the shape of things to come. I don’t think that ad agencies will go away, but I think that there is a long tail of business projects available for those who can offer the right services at the right price points. The Virtual Agencies are already cutting into agency profits in certain cases, and it would be impossible (yes, impossible) for traditional agencies to meet deadlines in many cases without these virtual teams.

I just need to figure out what the exact angle of attack will be. Who am I going to be writing this thing for? Should I focus on the threat that virtual agencies represent to traditional advertising agencies? Should I focus on the virtual agency as a continuing trend of the future, becoming a sort of new set of freelancers/supertemps? I mean, really… what if the temps all worked together to form their own transient companies? Combining and recombining as needed, a world where it really is all about who you know. I could focus on the role that the web is playing in making this kind of business model possible in the first place.

Time to figure it out. This weekend I’d like to write up the first draft of that abstract. Get the ball rolling.

We’ll see.

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2 responses to “Virtual Agencies

  1. I completely agree with your thought process. I have been running my virtual agency, Savant Creative Group, this way for the past 4 years. I have zero overhead and complete flexibility. I concern myself with my client’s need and profitability objectives. Most of the opportunities are word of mouth, but lately many are organic internet searchers.
    Once I meet with the prospect, I custom fit a strategy and budget and then put together the best creative team for that particular account. This allows my company to have little agenda other than my client’s success. Additionally I act as account executive on all of my company’s accounts. Clients like having the attention of an agency owner regardless of the amount of business they are generating.
    I also agree with your thinking on this being the wave of the future. As media vendors including Google are going direct to businesses, the days of the large shop may be numbered with the exception of companies like GM and the like.

  2. Right on. This is exactly the kind of entrepreneurial opportunity that keeps opening up more and more in the advertising world. Let me ask you, Bruce… are you finding your assignments coming more and more directly from the client, or do you tend to do lots of pick-up work to help out when Trad Agencies can’t quite fulfill their commitments? Or is the trend somewhere in between?

    Also… since you’re out there actually doing this sort of thing… what might you like to see in print/on the web about the Virtual Agency model? I’m narrowing down my subject material for my thesis for a business degree… part of business involves finding and filling needs, so what kind of research or what kind of article would be useful or helpful to you in your business lifecycle? Raising awareness about the trend? Seeking theoretical background to connect the trend to greater social shifts? Explanatory materials to help potential clients understand the cost savings and benefits of working through Virtual Agencies?

    Just curious where the needs are among those professionals who are already out there working this emerging trend.

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