How the Remote Economy is shaping the future of the agency model

When we launched Tyto in 2017 we sought to address two questions. First, why as a top professional in your field can’t you choose where to work from and still operate at the highest level? Second, if you were to reinvent the pan-European agency model and deliver clients something fundamentally different and better, what would it look like?

The answer was Tyto’s PRWithoutBorders operating model which sees a multinational team working as one, across borders, to deliver clients with the most integrated, diverse, and therefore efficient and creative pan-European model.

The enabler for this model and the answer to those two key questions was the remote economy, and remote working has allowed us to hire the best people regardless of location, and break down national silos between offices, countries and teams.

Fast forward to today and remote work has become the norm for lots of us, despite some high-profile sceptics. In fact, over half of UK agency leaders expect most their roles will be virtual in the coming years.  

I’m a great advocate for remote work in its binary form – i.e., the migration of jobs from office roles to remote roles. But I get even more excited when I see remote models deployed in new imaginative ways, enabling businesses to launch truly transformative service offerings, like ours.

As the remote economy moves out of its infant stage, what might we expect to see in PR agency land over the coming years as more people start to push the boundaries of remote work models? 

The beginning of the end for the ‘jumbo’ agency  

The age-old perception that giant international agencies offer unrivalled connectivity and ‘on the ground’ insights is becoming a thing of the past. The pandemic demystified remote working, and the advancement of online collaboration tools means agencies can far more easily build global teams, without needing to fork out for local physical offices.  

PR buyers have more choice than ever before too, putting the business models of traditional mega agencies under even greater scrutiny. Hyper-growth tech companies are one audience where the need to speak globally is there from the start, but the funds to pay eye-watering multinational agency fees aren’t. Bespoke, more agile distributed agencies have huge opportunity to steal market share with more tailored services, higher quality consultancy, and more competitive pricing.  

Asynchronous working becomes de facto  

The remote economy is about more than just location – it’s when and how we like to work best, too. Now, workers are no longer confined by the bounds of time zones, the school run, or being a night owl caught on an early morning meeting.   

Asynchronous working – where colleagues collaborate and communicate in their own time, without the need or expectation to respond immediately – offers a new mode for distributed teams to boost productivity, improve wellbeing and transform how we engage and work internally and externally. Zoom fatigue and the feelings of ‘always being on’ many agencies reported following the pandemic are symptoms of remote working models that need work, and asynchronous practices are one invaluable way of helping remote working reach its full potential. 

Diversity and authenticity – if not now, when? 

Remote working is a powerful tool in empowering a whole host of people who may struggle or be unable to work in certain roles otherwise. Consider working parents, those living in rural areas, those with disabilities… the list goes on.   

PR has long struggled with diversity, but remote working addresses some of these challenges. In the next few years, remote economy can help more companies better cater for and welcome in diverse teams, while making a safe space that enables people to feel they can bring their whole, authentic selves to work. PR is storytelling, and remote economy can help fill our industry with people from all walks of life to help find and deliver those stories.

Reimagine the PR agency financial model 

I’ve been a student of some of the great agency entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs all had two things in common. First, they understood how important it was that their agencies were paid for the value they delivered. Second, they knew the importance of rewarding and incentivising their employees who created this value. 

Agency leaders have some decisions to make because the emergence of remote agency models has slashed operating costs, creating a unique opportunity to redistribute those savings. In a well-run traditional PR agency, you would expect operating costs (opex) to be 17.5-20% of revenues. A fully remote agency would expect opex to be closer to 10-12.5%. So, what do agency entrepreneurs do with this extra 5-7.5%? Do they pass on these savings to clients? Do they let them drop to the bottom line and make higher profits? Do they pass them onto the team in the form of higher remuneration and bonuses? Or do they use the additional slack to support social enterprises?

In our case, we already believe our PRWithoutBorders model provides clients with 25% more value than traditional models, so have therefore decided to transfer the opex savings we make into two main areas. Part is shared with our team via a quarterly profit share scheme, which is combined with a universal share options scheme and gives every employee a path to becoming a Tyto shareholder. The other part, the equivalent of 20% of our annual profits, is donated to pro bono causes via the Tyto Foundation. For us, these strategies are invaluable in contributing to our goals of building a sustainable business and being a perfect partner to all our stakeholders. For others, this kind of reimagining of the agency financial model can be hugely empowering.

Agencies ramp up climate creds 

The urgency of the climate crisis is unavoidable, and sustainability is high on both the media and businesses’ agendas. Reports have found telecommuting reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 600k cars, while employees are more likely to invest in their local communities when remote working, such as green spaces. Agency entrepreneurs also have the power to funnel their operational savings into meaningful climate-positive action. After all, PRs should be acutely aware of the damage of ‘greenwashing’. To avoid that danger, Tyto has teamed up with professional consultancy and software company Planetly, who is guiding us on our path to mindful growth in 2022.  

People are increasingly climate-conscious and want to feel part of a company that shares their ethos, so this will soon be part of what helps hiring organisations stand out too.  

Remote wins the war for talent  

The ‘Great Resignation’ has been widely reported and speculated on. The huge upheaval experienced by workers during the pandemic – personally and professionally – has made many reassess priorities and scrutinize their work life.  

For employers, the war is on to land and keep great talent. And undeniably, agencies offering more flexible options will come out on top. It’s a win-win, too – we have a phenomenal pool of talent based all over Europe that we simply wouldn’t have been able to get if we relied on physical, capital-city based offices.  

Remote work

Remote culture resolves its trust issues  

Finally, the death of presenteeism once and for all! And in parallel, the end of ‘burnout’ culture, as people no longer feel the pressure to stay in the office as late as their colleagues to get ahead.   

Those agencies who don’t trust their employees to work from home may soon need to reconsider. Office culture in the remote economy will be more flexible and, by necessity, built on trust. Building a team culture that doesn’t share a physical space isn’t without its challenges, but it can be done effectively. Shared culture previously passed-down verbally simply needs to be built in other modes – whether that’s random team coffees, regular virtual social events, or more written culture guides. Teams can still feel a sense of ‘belonging’ across borders.  

The metaverse transforms, well, everything 

Considering the phenomenal funding going into the metaverse, it’s clear big tech is doing significant behind the scenes to make this new internet paradigm a reality.  

While metaverse may seem an out-of-reach world, it’s closer than you might think. Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are mature technologies, already in use by numerous companies to facilitate better creative group thinking, problem visualisation, socialising and collaboration. Here at Tyto, we have our Tyto Labs and VR initiative that sees a dedicated portion of our team committed to discovering new and exciting ways for us to work powered by these tools. As the remote economy evolves, these technologies will be transformational in resetting the idea of ‘place’ in the workplace. 

The future’s remote 

The remote economy has and continues to have significant implications for the way agencies and the PR industry operates – how we do business, how we hire, how we build a culture, and even how we relate to media and our clients.  

The future of PR agencies is remote and, with that, stronger, more agile and more connected than ever before.