Anatomy of a PR Business Win

Ken Jacobs
Ken Jacobs

New business is the lifeblood of any communications agency. While the added income an agency can generate from existing clients is the best and most profitable type, obtaining new clients is critical, because there’s generally a limit to how much additional income even the most satisfied clients will give its agency in a given year. And most agencies will lose some business through no fault of their own, such as a new VP of corporate communications or marketing who has a preferred agency.

Here are ten tips on how to bring in that piece of new business your agency desires. We successfully employed many of these techniques when I was on the agency side as executive VP of Marina Maher Communications, and I encourage my PR agency clients to use these techniques.

1. Target right. Don’t make the mistake of marketing to the wrong prospects. Make sure you’re targeting right by looking at the industry categories that are most likely to need what your agency offers now and in the future.

2. Market your true strength. Make sure you truly know your agency’s sweet spot: What it does that’s not just different from, but better than your competition.

So think about programs that have not just won industry awards, but where you have the before-and-after metrics to prove their positive impact on your clients’ business. In an era in which clients are mega-focused on measurement, this is a must-have.

The good news is that this will make you much more attractive to target prospects, because they’ll think, “If they did that for their other clients, they’ll do it for us.”

3. Think quality, not quantity. This may appear counterintuitive, because one might think, “The more prospects I pitch, the more clients I’ll win.” While to some degree it’s a numbers game, remember that it takes time to target, pitch and win the clients you most want and that will have the most impact on your agency’s success and growth. So focus your resources pursuing a small number of key prospects, and do it exceedingly well.

4. Get leadership team buy-in. Winning “game-changing” clients is a Herculean effort. Having your leadership team as driven as you are about key target prospects will have a big impact on your win rate.

So get their input and win alignment on which prospects you’ll pursue.

If they select key clients they wish to pursue—so long as they achieve the agency’s vision—get behind that effort. And remember that successfully winning new clients is an agency-wide, multiple-level effort. Find ways to get buy-in from “the troops,” and they’ll be a lot more motivated.

5. Use every connection.

Use everything in your power to get to the decision makers at your prospects, remembering that LinkedIn is your friend.

And now’s not the time to be shy: Call in those favors among your contacts who can get you a hearing with the prospect, who’ll sing your praises and give you over-the-top recommendations.

6. Engage, engage, engage.

In the era of social media, it’s much easier to reach, know, get known by and engage with your targets. Just be sure to rein in the desire to sell, and follow the rules of social media etiquette: Listen. Comment. Share. Engage. Add Value.

7. Offer your knowledge.

Few prospects want to meet to see your latest case studies or capabilities.

But imagine calling one and saying, “We don’t want to give you a dog and pony show. We know things about your target consumer, her media choices, and her purchasing habits, that we think will help you win with her. Could we meet for 45 minutes?”

How many prospects would say no to such an offer? (And if you do that meeting right, chances are you’ll be asked for the dog and pony show and, ultimately, a chance to recommend how they could do a better job of communicating with their key audiences and influencers.)

8. Better brand right. If you’re not absolutely thrilled with your own agency’s branding, if you’re not appropriately active in social media, if your website looks like it was developed at the turn of the last century, why would a key prospect trust you with their marketing communications? Get your own house in order before telling a prospect that you can help improve theirs.

9. Research is your friend.

Now is the time to understand your prospects’ communications, marketing, business and strategic issues.

Remember, you’re trying to replace an agency or be added to a stable of agencies that have tremendous knowledge about these things. You’re going to have to invest your time and resources into getting smart about these issues.

10. Act as if you’re already their agency. While you’re not going to put a team on its account, if you really want the business, you must give the prospect a taste of what it will be like when you’re its agency.

So monitor and analyze the company’s news coverage and that of their competitors, be on the lookout for news and content it would find valuable and offer bits of counsel.

Do be careful with that last part, because if you don’t know the business category well, you risk missing the mark and closing the door.

Execute these ten steps, along with whatever business development “magic” has worked for you in the past, and I’m confident you’ll see a marked increase in the number and quality of new clients who partner with your agency and enhance your financial outlook.

How to Keep Your Clients in Tow for the Long Haul

Congratulations. You’ve landed the big fish, that client that you’ve diligently pursued, and will make a major difference in your agency’s top and bottom lines.

Here are four tips that will help you keep (and grow) that account for years to come:

1. Kill it in the first quarter. The first few months of an account are when an agency comes up to speed on a client’s business and needs. Regardless, you’ve got to do something major in the first quarter—a killer placement, a superb event, writing the best speech its CEO’s ever had—to kick things off right and give you some breathing space. If you can do it in the first month, so much the better.

2. Invest in growing the account. Decide what you’ll do—spending unbilled time counseling senior leaders, providing additional research, executing extra brainstorms that lead to valuable ideas and worthwhile new activities—and how much time you’ll spend doing so. Carefully monitor the time and, more important, the results of those investments.

3. Carefully monitor if you’re meeting client expectations. Everyone on the team must be passionate about meeting and beating client expectations. But you can’t do so if you don’t constantly know the client’s perspective on your performance. Create systems to do so, both formal and informal, and be obsessive about implementation.

4. Create relationships on multiple levels. Ultimately, keeping and growing an account for the long haul is about growing your relationships. This will be priceless when the initial honeymoon ends and you get into the regular ebb and flow of account life. So decide which person on the agency team “owns” the one-on-one with each major client representative, and make sure each one is building strong, personal relationships, spending ample face time, surprising and delighting and monitoring that client’s perspective on agency performance versus expectations. —K.J.


Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, which helps communications agencies grow their business. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the March 31, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.

  • MissSuccess

    Great tips Ken!