THE idea of on-line business, with no international barriers and even virtual offices, is fast grabbing the imagination of the global business community. In the face of this burgeoning enthusiasm, which even the most outspoken sceptics have failed to dampen, many companies are jumping on the on-line bandwagon to either set up additional on-line services or create virtual companies with no fixed offices. Hong Kong has been no exception to the trend, with the recent move by one public relations firm to establish an on-line service and the creation of a truly virtual ad agency. With the launch of its World Wide Web service and Global NewsWeb service last month, international firm Edelman Public Relations has become what may be the first public relations organisation to actively steer clients towards on-line services. To do this, the firm has opened a specialist group called Edelman Internet Services focused on this role. The services will be offered to all Edelman clients globally with individual arrangements about where to place company's data and where to handle programming for any given project. In Hong Kong, Edelman expects to do a lot of work with local service provider Asia On-line, although the relationship is only informal. 'We have a good working relationship with [Asia On-line] already and we believe they have the technical expertise to support that,' according to Joseph Sweeney, Edelman's technology group manager for North Asia. He said the new service was ideally suited to organisations with a unique local market who wanted to expand their market reach to a global audience. 'It is best to take something which is unique and take it to the global market,' Mr Sweeney said. 'A good example is a specialist dealer in Chinese art. He could set up a home page and offer his art on an international level.' Because the Internet is a relatively new communication medium, few firms have in-house experience with on-line marketing and that is where Mr Sweeney believes Edelman Internet Services will play a valuable role. The group will help clients determine what strategy, services and products can best be implemented and marketed using the Internet. Edelman will also offer World Wide Web home page design services along with on-line marketing campaign services, including database integration, software development and graphics production. Another key role, according to Mr Sweeney, will be to help companies avoid the many pitfalls in using the Internet as a business tool. 'The Internet can best be described as computerised anarchy,' Mr Sweeney said. 'Blatant sales pitches and on-line advertising are not only ineffective - they are dangerous.' Still, other companies believe cyberspace offers a strong future for the advertising industry. One company, Hong Kong-based Virtual Advertising, has launched a venture which it says is the first full-service advertising agency to conduct all its business on-line. Virtual Advertising has chosen CompuServe over the Internet to deliver its services. Presentations, story boards, layout approvals and media plans will be delivered electronically, minimising travelling time and meetings. According to Paul Rigby, managing director of Virtual Advertising, cyberspace offers the opportunity to bring more people together. 'This agency will be run a little differently than other Hong Kong agencies. We believe that bringing everyone together on-line will encourage them to communicate and work more closely. 'We are interested in clients who have vision and who are willing to pioneer the new techniques of on-line and electronic publishing,' Mr Rigby said.