The practice of ¡§virtual¡¨ public relations and marketing communications, as well as collaborative partnering among senior professionals, is evolving to meet new market challenges and opportunities, according to research conducted by a veteran consultant and professor.
Richard Toth, a university lecturer and public relations and marketing communications specialist, conducted the study this spring in conjunction with a Syracuse University graduate program in information management.

¡§Virtual pros¡¨ were defined as those who ¡§collaborate with clients and colleagues primarily using information technology, not usually face to face¡¨ and/or ¡§sometimes are members of a ¡¥virtual agency¡¦ partnering with colleagues informally¡Xrather than in a traditional client-agency relationship, employer-employee basis, or legal partnership.¡¨

¡§Collaboration¡Xvirtual and otherwise¡Xis at the heart of the business world of today and tomorrow,¡¨ says Toth, a former adjunct public relations professor at Syracuse, Southern Methodist and Webster universities. ¡§Just last year, an IPA study reported 22 percent of individuals in private PR practice said they belonged to a ¡¥virtual firm.¡¦ So I wanted to take a closer look at this phenomenon and their use of new information technologies, alliances, cooperatives, networks and coalitions.¡¨

Among the findings:

„X Virtual practitioners responding are predominantly senior professionals (11 or more years in the field), with lots of virtual and traditional experience. Some price their services at the same level as traditional agencies or consultants, but most virtual pros charge less than their traditional counterparts.  
„X Client challenges include making up for lack of face-to-face interaction, and convincing clients that virtual service can be as good or better than traditional.
„X Challenges with the PR team included getting together in-person, coordinating styles and schedules, and juggling roles and responsibilities
„X The main benefits for clients were cost-effectiveness, speed and accessibility
„X The main benefits for the team included fresh perspective, diversity, energy, synergy; strength in numbers; and the freedom to do what you¡¦re best at and like to do 

Virtual pros overwhelmingly are bullish on the growth, acceptance and evolution of their practice, says Toth, but cite several cautions and issues to work on, including the abuse of technology, spreading oneself too thin,  appearing too different, failing to differentiate focus or cost-effectiveness, self-esteem, increasing competition and perception of service as commodity.