Birds Eye View

Keep up with the latest news and views from the world's leading virtual PR Agency.

The #Covid-19 lockdown meant the closure of production facilities for our client, Toyota GB, as well as the cancellation of all press launches, loans and press trips. As these activities provided the majority of content for our PR programme, the PRN team was presented with a yawning gap in communications for both the Toyota and Lexus brands. Our challenge was how to maintain the dialogue with the media, and remain front of mind for the consumer.

We brainstormed remotely and worked together with the Toyota social media team to create tactical and topical content that ranged from practical advice relating to cars, through to sheer entertainment. Our content programme included:

  • Top tips on how to maintain your car during a lockdown

  • Advice on how to make sure your car is germ-free

  • Arty challenges to keep busy during lockdown, eg Lexus LC colouring sheets, paper templates to cut out and make a GT86 car model and how to make an origami cat using the challenge set for Takumi craftsmen in the Lexus factories

  • Ideas for mental stimulation and relaxation, e.g tips on five Japanese mindfulness techniques, and how to have a week of Japanese culture at home

  • Heart-warming story: Robins found nesting in wheel arch of a Toyota Corolla...

The content spread far and wide and formed the majority of all media coverage generated by the Toyota GB press department in April, exceeding total coverage achieved in March before the full lockdown took effect.

We pride ourselves on being nimble and able to adapt our client programmes quickly. This is a great example of how strong results can be achieved with little time or cost investment.






  • Nicky Regazzoni

Last week George and I hosted a Twitter chat on behalf of the PRCA Virtual PR Agencies Group that we co-chair. The topic was "Virtual Agencies: Vices, Virtues and Viability" - #VirtualPReality.

We organised the chat to provide insights from experienced virtual agency leaders into the reality of running a PR business set up from day one to be virtual. Now that all agencies are virtual, albeit temporarily, there's been a lot of interest in the model and the pros and cons. We wanted to share our collective learnings to help agencies currently running dispersed remote teams and trying to maintain and protect culture without an office hub...

The chat "attracted a big crowd", according to our co-hosts at the PRCA:

  • 426 tweets

  • 71 chat participants

  • Media participation from PRovoke News

  • Highly influential Twitter users including @PRCA_UK, @SparklyPinchy, @Ingers1975 and @dannyrogers2001

  • Potential reach: 1,481,857

The hour-long chat covered a number of interesting themes, including:

  1. What 'virtual' really means in terms of a PR agency operation

  2. The variety of different models our agency leaders have adopted in terms of the mix of perm/scalable team, fixed & remote locations...

  3. The main benefits of the virtual model - accessing a broad range of talent, being able to compete fiercely on price due to lack of office overhead...

  4. Conversely - the issues and challenges faced with managing a dispersed team

  5. Tips for embedding #flexibleworking into business practice

  6. The operational side of running a virtual agency with a flexible workforce, in terms of forecasting business and access to the right people for a brief

  7. How to build a company culture in a virtual environment

  8. How to keep pace with market trends & keep the offer fresh and team skills up

  9. How #Covid19 is affecting our category; impact on the #PR agency landscape

  10. How to standardise workflow & ensure robust governance in a virtual business

I recommend popping over to Twitter to read the full conversation, as each question generated a number of insights, different perspectives and sideline conversations! However here are some of the most salient tweets from some of our PRCA group agency leaders...

@HelloDifference founder @AngieWiles emphasises access to a broad range of talent which can be tapped into according to the need of the client and the brief on the table... MD @Mrs_Wadds is a fan of the unconventional model which allows business and work to 'mould' around work life...

Jo Field of JFG Communications and Women in Transport mentioned the importance of socialising with regards to virtual team building and nurturing a sense of culture...

@PlaytimePR founder Lesley Singleton points out the mental health benefits that are enjoyed when work and life fit properly together rather than jostling for headspace...

Charlie Le Rougetel, owner of Big Top PR on the role of trust in #flexibleworking...

Helen Neal of HN Communications talks about the value of offering a bespoke senior team...

Last but not least, Anne Bleeker who is based in Dubai running In2Consulting identified the fundamental importance of robust, accessible technology to a virtual PR agency...

Thank you to the PRCA and all the founding members of our Virtual Agency Group for participating in the Twitter chat and sharing views on running a successful, sustainable virtual agency. We'll be hosting another discussion soon on a similar theme - follow @prnetwork and #VirtualPReality for details.

In recognition of the rise of virtual PR agencies, the PRCA recently launched a new version of its Communications Management Standard (CMS) designed specifically for a virtual business. We welcomed this development - we’ve always wanted to put The PR Network through the rigorous pace of CMS to demonstrate our high standards of governance - but until recently, the assessment criteria and process just didn’t fit with the virtual model.

Our co-founders jointly chair the PRCA's Virtual PR Agencies working group, and were approached by the PRCA last year to support the development and rollout of a special version of CMS that would officially measure and benchmark virtual agencies. We don't have an office and therefore file all our client and consultancy materials in the cloud, plus we work with dispersed teams all over the world using different systems. This model calls for a consistent approach to systems management to ensure strong client and team organisation. so we were delighted to work in consultation with our friends at the PRCA on this project.

This latest framework has stripped out some of the assessments that don’t make sense for virtual agencies, meaning agencies in our category can now gain accreditation on an even footing to our bricks and mortar peers. So we agreed as a management team to ‘take the CMS plunge’ in Q1 at our annual planning meeting.

As often happens in PR agency life, clients come first - and those vital plans to look after your own organisation can get somewhat delayed. Sound familiar? When lockdown hit the UK, we decided to put the extra desk time to good use, and set ourselves the target of taking and passing CMS before the end of Q2. At risk of spoiling the ending, we passed the test! 

More importantly, we want to share our experiences and to encourage other virtual agencies to take up the CMS challenge. After all - the more trust we can build in our sector, the better for all of us.  We’re all virtual now, at least for the time being, so even if you aren’t ready to pass the test, embedding the framework now will help to make your virtual business more robust - with an eye on taking the assessment once your new processes have been adopted throughout your organisation. With that in mind, here are our top five tips for any virtual agency leaders considering installing the CMS framework.

1. Pre-assess The PRCA will send you a spreadsheet detailing all the 'evidence' the assessor will need to see, across eight core areas. Go through the requirements in the spreadsheet, and be honest about your ability to provide the evidence in each area. If you‘re scratching your head - you probably aren’t ready. At this point you need to decide if the CMS is really for you, and if it is, use the framework to install better processes in your business. Then live those process for at least a year before coming back to take the assessment. 2. Divide and conquer If you decide to go for it - don’t go it alone! The assessment envelopes all parts of the business from business planning and finance through to campaign management and HR. Whilst you might have a project manager to corral, they won’t know absolutely everything - so enlist a great supporting team 'on the bench' to share the load. 3. Don’t be humble! Prior to the test you have to do your own self-assessment to ensure you're ready for the full assessment from the PRCA. Ironically, given we are in the business of PR, the inclination can be to mark yourself down, but it's best to be honest and acknowledge where you do score well. The scoring is very prescriptive for each section, and it's really simple to follow. 4. Be focussed and ready  The assessment slot allows 3 hours and you may take less time. So clear the desk, put on your OOO and ensure you're focused and ready on the day to give this your best shot. 5. Celebrate your strengths but work on your weaknesses You don’t need to get 100% to pass, but that doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to it. Every day is a school day, so even if you do pass make sure you note any highlighted weak areas and work on them. Don’t forget, this is an annual exercise as the accreditation only applies for one year, so there’s always something to work on for next year! I hope that gives you some insight into the challenges and opportunities that the new virtual CMS framework and assessment offers. For PRN, and I’m sure for many of our peers, it serves as a great opportunity to validate that we're actually doing ok and our virtual status is irrelevant - our standards are the same, and now we have the certificate to prove it!

Don’t just take it from us. In the words of Carol Magill, CMS Assessor at the PRCA:

“Congratulations to the The PR Network on achieving the new CMS designed for virtual agencies. It is worth highlighting the commitment to excellence The PR Network has shown by obtaining CMS for the first time at a very challenging period for business both in the UK and globally. 
“During the CMS moderation process, The PR Network demonstrated that they are an agency which is deeply committed to delivering on complex, international campaigns, and is focused on transparency and measurable KPIs.  The evidence on diversity was an especially strong aspect with evidence of active endorsement of diversity through the engagement of the company’s leadership in PRCA seminars, training and in representative groups on diversity.”

Our virtual house was in pretty good shape already, but going through this exercise has ensured all areas of our business are organised to the highest professional standard.

It costs just £499 to achieve the virtual agency CMS accreditation. Find out more here.

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