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So... How Do Virtual Creative Agencies Work?
by Stephanie Orma

While it’s no surprise that virtual agencies are digitally dependent, it’s still impressive that a robust creative firm can be run entirely online. From file-backup systems to storage, project flow, communication, billing, time tracking and beyond, “We would be lost without many of the web-based programs out there,” admits Reed of Ogmog. “Important information can be miscommunicated, so having a project management system like Basecamp and using tools like Google Apps that let everyone share and collaborate on projects is essential.” He adds, “Because of this set-up, we actually have more open-flow communication than traditional agencies.”

Marlowe of Creative Noggin concurs. “We have all the good processes you’d find in a conventional agency, but without all the hierarchical layers,” she says. “When I worked at other firms, scheduling a meeting with the creative director was much more of an obstacle than just hopping on Skype to ask a question. Everything is much quicker because it’s all online. I’ll post a client edit on Basecamp and an e-mail immediately goes out to our team, so everybody’s always in the know.”

Partner McCabe Rawls, who regularly uses Egnyte, a cloud-based file storage system, adds, “If somebody’s on vacation or goes to a doctor’s appointment and a client needs a change ASAP, we’ve always got access to the latest files and can jump on revisions—even faster than a traditional agency.”

The agencies also stress, however, that just because they’re virtual doesn’t mean face-to-face time doesn’t come into play.

Whenever possible, Creative Noggin will nix the screen for in-person meet-ups. “We’ll get together with the writer or art director and collaborate at a coffee shop or one of our homes. And if that’s not doable, we’ll brainstorm using the phone, Skype or screen sharing, which feels just like I’m in the office looking over my co-worker’s shoulder,” says McCabe Rawls. “Virtual collaboration isn’t a hurdle for us.”

The same philosophy holds true for client interactions, whether fostering new connections or presenting important creative. “We prefer to get as much face time as possible when we first work with clients, to develop the relationship, but it’s not needed so much after that level of trust is established,” says Mike Zitt, a long-time partner and creative director with Undisclosed Location.

So how are virtual presentations handled? No office dress-up, no pony shows—just creative sent to the client, followed by a conference call. “It forces us to let the work speak for itself,” says Reed.

Sure, some old-schoolers might still be hesitant to forgo the brick-and-mortar model, but Creative Noggin has found their set-up to be an asset and uses it as a selling point. “Clients want to know they’re making a smart spend with marketing dollars,” says Marlowe. “We explain that our overhead is lower so we can charge lower costs for senior talent. For them, that is a smart choice. They get it.”

Gorder of Undisclosed Location suggests that the appeal goes even further. “There’s no obstacle or water cooler conversation that gets in the way of work. And clients have direct access to anyone, whether they’re in the creative, media or project management departments.”  She adds, “Why wouldn’t you want to work with a talented team dedicated to your business that pulls in experts and lets you pay as you go?”

Virtual and traditional differences aside, these forward-thinking agencies will also be the first to concede that you can’t measure success in square footage, or lack of it. Office or not, it’s all about delivering great creative and great service. Period. ca Orma
Stephanie Orma ( is a San Francisco–based writer, illustrator and cartoonist. When she’s not writing copy for top creative firms or penning articles for publications like HOW, Entrepreneur and Travel + Leisure, she’s creating humorous editorial illustrations for her greeting card and art line.