LONDON — New research into client consideration for virtual agencies has found that 64% of in-house communications leaders would now consider hiring a virtual PR agency.

The first Virtual PR Agency UK Market Report – carried out by The Pulse Business for the PRCA’s Virtual PR Agency Group –  surveyed in-house comms leaders based out of the UK. Over half of respondents (51%) had used a virtual agency, defined as an established business staffed predominantly by senior freelance experts.

The biggest benefits were seen as access to a wider network of skilled professionals based locally or internationally (26%), the flexibility to tailor the service depending on the client’s needs (24%), value for money versus the traditional agency model (20%).

However, a lack of awareness of how to find a virtual agency (41%) and concerns over the management of remote teams (46%) are the biggest barriers to adoption. The results also show that more needs to be done to build confidence in the business model, via transparent governance, account management structure and working practices.

One respondent, Moneysupermarket’s head of PR and consumer affairs Doyel Maitra, commented: “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.”

The group, which was set up at the end of 2018, is co-chaired by Nicky Regazzoni and George Blizzard, co-founders of The PR Network, which estimates its own YOY growth at 36%. Regazzoni said the new research would inform the group’s activities this year: “What is holding our category back is awareness of where to find us, and understanding of the breadth and depth of the offer. The group will be actively campaigning in 2020 to promote the benefits of virtual agencies for clients and practitioners.”

Another founder member, Astute.Work owner Sarah Waddington, added: “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. Running remote teams requires strong governance and working practices and this is a message we need to push out there assertively to ensure strong cut through and take up of our services.”