What Is a Virtual Marketing Agency?

A virtual marketing agency is a small firm or solopreneur that uses gig economy platforms to deliver many of the same services as a full scale, traditional marketing agency at a lower cost.

In this setup, one or several marketing/creative professionals generally handle sales, account servicing and project management, while calling upon external freelancers for much of the execution.

The virtual agency model has grown more popular in recent years due to the emergence of online freelance platforms where people across the globe offer their services, including copywriting, graphic design, SEO, social media and web, at competitive rates.

Who should use a virtual marketing agency?

A virtual marketing agency can be of value to a number of clients, such as:

  • Start-ups
  • Small and medium size firms
  • Fast-growing companies without a regular marketing agency or agency of record
  • Teams or divisions within larger corporate structures looking for agency-style support

A virtual marketing agency may not be a good fit for large, established brands–particularly in the B2C space, as these typically have high requirements in terms of scale, capabilities and production value.

Different structures

A traditional agency will have an in-house team of specialists, often including a designer, copywriter, web designer and artistic director. By contrast, a virtual agency has none of these–or may have one of these skills and then farm out the other work as needed.

The benefits of a virtual marketing agency

1. Cost. Cost of services is a key consideration when it comes to traditional versus virtual marketing agencies, as the latter can offer more competitive prices.

2. Agility. By virtue of lower fixed costs and a vast potential network of project contributors, a virtual marketing agency can be more nimble and tailor their capabilities to a client’s project.

3. Custom capabilities. A clear advantage of being able to source contributors on a project basis is that you can ask for a wider range of services from a virtual agency. Personally, I’ve been on the client side a number of times and have asked “Can you do X?” then I often get the response that, “No, sorry we don’t offer that.” A virtual agency will likely say, “I haven’t done it, but let me see who I can find.” If you’re willing to hop on a learning curve, the experience can be instructive for both you and the virtual agency.

The drawbacks of a virtual marketing agency

1. Lack of certain services. There are many tasks which a standard, full service marketing agency is well suited to perform. A virtual marketing agency –being somewhat more transient– will in all likelihood not offer media buying services, for example.

2. Less quality time. As a client you may get less ‘hand holding’ since a leaner structure is by necessity more focused on getting results for you, and less concerned about your upcoming vacation plans. (This may come as a relief to many. Personally, I know plenty of more technical and sales-oriented folks who wear marketing hats in addition to their main roles, and they can hardly tolerate the soft, fuzzy marketing blah blah that delights other marketing people and confounds everyone else).

3. Scale or consistency. Since a virtual marketing agency operates a more lean structure, high volume requests may be tricky to handle. This may be counterintuitive, since calling upon an entire freelancer platform to perform tasks should be highly scalable. However, each freelancer on a given platform operates a bit differently and with their own skill set. As a client of a virtual agency, you may find lots of variability in the results of a large scale project that has been handled by an untold number of hands. Alternatively, you may find that similar type work is done by different freelancers, with little continuity

Table 1. Weighing up a virtual marketing agency

Benefits Drawbacks
Cost advantage Not full service
Agility Less ‘quality time’ / relationship management
Custom capabilities Scalability/continuity

What to look for in a virtual marketing agency

The key in selecting a virtual marketing agency is to identify one with a successful track record that you can trust to deliver your project at or above specifications.

Also, don’t forget about non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs. When dealing with a full service agency, the NDA they sign with you covers the in-house team. If you want to keep your brand or in-progress marketing projects off the internet, make sure that your virtual marketing agency sets up an NDA with each freelancer it engages for your project.

Bottom line

Ultimately, a virtual marketing agency with the right core team can deliver many of the services of a traditional marketing agency at a lower cost. While full service agencies may be less keen on this development, in my view it brings marketing services within reach of a whole new set of companies that may have in the past been dissuaded by high fees or vague value propositions.Virtual marketing agencies will likely occupy this niche for a long time to come.