Here’s the situation: You see the value of doing more with public relations in your marketing mix and using outside talent to make it happen, but who are you going to entrust with the job?

In the old days, you would probably interview several PR firms, review their proposals, and make your selection. The prospective firms would look pretty much the same on paper, so it often came down to personal chemistry and who you felt was the best fit.

That was then, but times have changed. First, some background.

In late 1990, when I had the opportunity to start my own firm, I looked around and noticed two things: 1) there were a lot of talented and experienced freelance folks who enjoyed their independence and being their own boss, but who also enjoyed being part of a team, and 2) technology was advancing rapidly and making it increasingly easy to collaborate from multiple locations. It looked like the time was ripe for a new way to deliver professional services, including public relations.

In January 1991, Graze Public Relations made its debut as one of the first “virtual” public relations firms in the nation. Actually, truth be told, at the time, I knew I was doing something innovative, but I didn’t know to call it a “virtual agency” until a technology client used the term.

Although there were only a handful of virtual PR firms in the nation at that time, now they exist in every major market in the USA. The ongoing advances in technology have fueled the trend. Now, not only is it increasingly easy to collaborate with other professionals locally, but we can just as easily and effectively collaborate with talented folks located throughout the USA and even around the globe.

The virtual firm, unlike traditional firms, is not locked in to a fixed inventory of talent. This means that a virtual firm has the flexibility to match each account team to the specific needs and budget of any kind of client. And clients can feel comfortable knowing that they’ve placed their business (and careers) in the hands of mature, experienced, talented professionals.

In other words, the virtual agency now is a real alternative to the traditional business model of using senior people to get the contracts and junior staffers to do most of the account work.

What about cost? Sometimes, but not always, a virtual agency can do the job for less than a traditional kind of firm, but the key selling point is that the virtual agency delivers greater value – brain power – for the client’s marketing or public relations dollar.

For me, as the firm owner and leader of every account team, it means that I can spend 85-90 percent of my professional time on client work and minimal time on administrative tasks and other matters.

Not every company or organization, of course, will need an account team. They might need only one talented, experienced professional for their program or project. Fortunately, the virtual agency also gives me the flexibility to work one-on-one with a client or with a team of folks.

The next time you consider working with an outside public relations firm, remember: there are alternatives now, and a virtual firm just might be the best choice.