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

A close friend has just launched her own business. She asked me what it’s really like and what she can expect. I told her it’s like bringing up a baby. What?!

#1. It will give you sleepless nights. Unlike an actual baby, unfortunately this is not a phase (see #6).


#2. It is your responsibility and no-one else’s - even if you have a business partner to share the load, it’s your name on the door (virtual door, in our case). Unlike when you’re an employee, suddenly you are responsible for bringing home the bacon, for protecting from danger (risk), for learning and development and keeping presentable!


#3. There will be many hidden costs. Few business plans cover every eventuality. Build as big a contingency fund as you can, and keep it replenished.


#4. It will drive you crazy. You won’t always understand its behaviour and you need to be on constant high alert to anticipate risk and where it’s going to swerve next (think two year old in the park).


#5. You get out what you put in. Neglect at your peril! Apply constant attention and you will see the benefit of the time and energy you devote. Don’t expect it to grow and improve on its own.


#6. Everything that happens is ‘just a phase’ which can feel interminable. However, as with newborns waking for a feed, the terrible twos, and the tear-your-hair-out teenage years, this is a truism. All things will pass.


#7. It will make you feel utterly exhausted - but also invigorated, elevated, inspired and encouraged to be the best you can be. Remember the highs.


#8. You’ll make lots of new friends. Not just ‘contacts’, but true lifelong friendships forged through mutual experience. New circles expose you to wonderful people you wouldn’t otherwise have ever met.


#9. At times, you’ll think, “I just can’t do this!” You’ll be faced with challenges and situations that you never had to deal with before. You’ll wonder when the grown-ups are going to show up. You’ll figure it out (with help).


#10. It will be more rewarding than you ever dreamed. You’ll change and grow in new ways and it will teach you about yourself.

Fellow business owners, please add the many things I’ve no doubt missed (never got over the baby brain - here are the culprits, my real babies, now aged 13 and 8)...


Our business baby is now a fully fledged 15yo teenager, growing fast and continuing to challenge and amaze us on a daily basis!


  • Nicky Regazzoni

Updated: Feb 25

The PRCA Virtual PR Agencies Group which George and I co-chair has just published a short ‘State of the Nation’ report, looking at awareness levels and perceived pros and cons of the virtual model. We were delighted that PRovoke published the research last month, following its 2019 podcast, “The Rise of Virtual Agencies”.


Senior in-house PR and communications directors based in the UK with a UK and / or international remit provided input to the research project, responding to a brief questionnaire and providing additional anecdotal insights and opinions. Over half (51%) of respondents had used a virtual agency in the past. The data and insights have been assimilated and form the basis of the recent report.


The research found that 64% of senior comms leaders agreed that they would use a virtual PR agency. However 41% expressed a lack of awareness of where to find one, and 46% have concerns over the management of remote teams. These are the main barriers to adoption of the model, according to the new research. In terms of benefits, more than a quarter (26%) felt the biggest benefit of a virtual structure was access to a wider network of skilled professionals, based either locally or internationally. Value for money was the second perceived benefit (20%).



Alec Stanwell, head of internal and external communications at Shell Energy Retail suggested we should steer away from navel gazing about what clients think about the model as it becomes more normalised, commenting:

"I think the focus is less on the model and more on the delivery. The benefits of the virtual model may be important, but are secondary to the work being delivered. It’s a little like cloud computing - it’s almost not relevant as long as the product works well and works effectively.”

The PR Network grew topline sales by 36% in 2019 to over £3million and ran projects in 40 countries. The clear client appetite for the model demonstrated in this research backs up our direct experience that the virtual agency sector is burgeoning in the UK and worldwide.

The PRCA Virtual PR Agency Group founded in 2018 with the support of the PRCA and Francis Ingham will continue to drive growth and improvement in the sector through our work around Reputation, Growth & Leadership, Team & Culture and Technology. Founding Group member Sarah Waddington (MD, Astute.Work), who led the research project, said:

“What’s clear is that we need to build confidence in the model, which gives in-house teams access to senior PR expertise with the ability to scale quickly, confidently and cost-effectively.”

As a collective we will demonstrate strong governance through initiatives such as the new CMS redesigned for virtual agencies, which The PR Network is leading and planning to achieve ourselves in Q1. We will also encourage our members and the broader network to promote their good work through awards to ensure we stand alongside traditional agencies.


This comes on the back of several comments about the lack of visibility of virtual agencies such as this from Doyel Maitra, head of PR and consumer affairs at Moneysupermarket who said:

”Virtual agencies need to do more to promote their client testimonials from big brands (not just during pitches). This will encourage other companies to try a new model of agency.”

Like the old adage about builders and their houses, some PR professionals are notoriously poor at their own PR, focusing more on their clients’ images and reputations. However the research shows there is a strong appetite for our type of agency, but if clients don’t know we exist, they can’t find us! We’ve taken heed and entered two award schemes this year already, and have been shortlisted in the Boutique Agency of the Year category in the PRMoment Awards 2020. Wish us luck.



You can download the full report here


Get in touch to talk virtually or meet physically - we do that too.


Read about the VPRAG here and see a full list of founding members.

#virtualpragencies

@prnetwork

@PRCA_UK

@mrswadds

@nickyregazzoni

@georgeblizzard



I was thrilled last week to be included in a prestigious list of PR and comms people who are innovating in many different ways to effect change in our industry and beyond. Every year global communications publisher The Holmes Report produces rankings for the Americas, Asia and EMEA and the EMEA #Innovator25 list includes several people I have been lucky enough to meet during my career, and some (Greta) who I will always admire from afar.

Here is the profile which accompanies my place in the list. I credit my inclusion to the work that my co-founder George and I along with our partners in the business have achieved.


Nicky Regazzoni had worked at several big London agencies, including running global accounts for the likes of Philips, Hitachi and Sun within Citigate Dewe Rogerson’s tech practice, before she met George Blizzard, then also a tech PR specialist at Bite. The pair clicked instantly, wanted to work differently, and spotted an opportunity to service clients through a new kind of agency model by creating a network of senior independent communications professionals managed through a central hub. In 2005, The PR Network – the first global “virtual PR” agency – was born. The network now extends to more than 1,800 senior freelance consultants across 30 countries, working with brands such as SoundCloud, Dropbox, Toyota, Lexus, Sophos, Snapchat, Patagonia, Vodafone, Western Digital and Zipcar, as well as working with entrepreneurs and start-ups such as Peak Labs. Three-quarters of The PR Network’s clients work with Regazzoni and Blizzard in multiple countries. In 2018, the pair – both passionate advocates for flexible working and female leadership – launched and co-chaired a new working group with the PRCA to champion virtual agencies as a credible choice for clients.

In what way(s) does PR/communications need to innovate the most? "There’s a huge amount of innovation already in terms of creative concepts and new platforms. I’d like to see more innovation in the area of measurement – finding a universally accepted way by which to calculate and demonstrate value. Current methods of evaluation are either too basic (crude back of fag packet), or too expensive (third party platforms) which most clients aren’t willing or able to pay for. We are all tired of shunning AVEs and yet having no popular alternative. AMEC is doing good work here, led by industry leaders.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines? About the same as other marketing disciplines.

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation? Industry diversity and equal pay.

How do you define innovation? Monitoring socioeconomic and cultural trends and innovating around them in terms of initiatives or platforms that your agency or brand can become known for, rather than one-off campaigns for a short-lived splash.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months? The HSBC campaign (Weber Shandwick & That Lot) using deepfake tech, where a “fake” Rachel Riley claimed she was bad at maths to show consumers their risk from identity theft. Personal finance isn’t the most sexy topic, but the concept was so clever in using technology as an integral part of the PR campaign to convey a message.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing? Unilever. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” remains one of the best future-proof brand PR platforms. This year Dove launched Project #ShowUs - a photography campaign encouraging women and non-binary individuals worldwide to send in their selfies to kick against stereotypes of conventional beauty. This was in response to research suggesting over 70% of women don’t see themselves represented in advertising. There are now over 5,000 images in the #ShowUs library.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative. 2004, when George and I conceived the idea to connect amazing out-of-agency talent with clients when they need it. The PR Network was founded one year later on the back of significant client and industry support.

Most underrated trait in a PR person?  Humility. I know so many incredible PR people who don’t even know how bloody good they are at their job. If they realised this and stopped overworking to compensate and prove themselves, I really think we could see a big reduction in the mental health problems caused by work stress, which are pervasive in our industry.

How do you get out of a creativity rut? Never try to force it. I find being outside running or gardening is great for inspiration. Annoyingly, I also often have “big ideas” in my sleep! Whether I can remember them in the morning is another matter…

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation? I grew up in the tech world where companies are starting, listing, being sold for billions and/or going bust every day. The fast pace showed me that if you have a fresh idea about how to change the way things are traditionally done – or for a new product or service – what’s to lose? This mindset helped George and I go for it when we decided to launch a disruptive agency into a crowded market full of amazing PR firms.

What are you thinking about most these days?  Like most of us, the planet. In terms of how climate change is going to affect our children and what we can collectively do to help. In terms of business, we are currently looking at how we can innovate as an agency to minimise our own impact.

What one movie, book, TV show or podcast do you recommend to rent, read or stream tonight? The Freakonomics Radio podcast series from the author of the Freakonomics books, Stephen J. Dubner. Like the books, each episode uncovers weird and wonderful off-piste insights into all manner of topics."


@HolmesReport

@SparklyPinchy

#Innovator25

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featured on The Holmes Report podcast by Markettiers