Niche PR shops and boutique agencies are popping up left and right, even in today’s challenging business environment. This reality is forcing many well-established organizations to diversify their client offerings in order to remain competitive and win new business.
This is especially true for agencies founded years—if not decades—before the proliferation of social media, which has redefined the scope of client needs and demands drastically. As a result, many agency leaders are (or at least should be) looking for ways to be more integrated, expanding their capabilities to include reputation management, thought leadership, issues management, public affairs and marketing.
But growing businesses period—let alone during a recession—is not for the faint of heart. According to Monty Hagler (president, RLF Communications) and Gary Towning (co-founder, NewCamp Digital), there are five factors that drive new business for agencies:
• Radar Screen
This alliterative combo, Hagler says, is “influenced by the perceptions of who you are individually and what your agencies does.”
To change or enhance these perceptions, consider the following strategies and best practices.
â–¶ Make clients’ perceptions your reality. Once you have established the parameters of your relationship with a client, along with their expectations, it is difficult to deviate from that path.
“It is very difficult to persuade existing clients to let [agency executives] compete for different disciplines outside of how they have come to define us,” Hagler says. “Getting lumped into a box is the biggest barrier to being a successful player for an integrated pitch, both for existing clients and new business.”
To avoid being pigeon-holed, then, it is necessary first to define yourself the way you want to be defined, and then to approach potential clients with that mission and message. For example, Hagler says, “If you want more revenue from collateral, Web, social media, direct mail or print advertising, create that perception. Ensure potential clients learn about those services before they learn about the services you already handle.”
Beyond this strategy, Hagler recommends that agency leaders “use social media tracking for in-the-moment ideas and issues for the brands you plan to pitch.” Looking for tools to help? Try Monitter and Twendzs.
â–¶ Sell the idea, not the implementation. Clients are always looking to determine their ROI—their return on investment, which happens to have a twin acronym: return on ideas. If you are in the running to win business from a potential client, prove how you will turn their investment in your idea into measurable value.
“Ideas are the currency that allow you to both grow your agency and have more control over the work you do,” Towning says. “If you can win at the idea stage, you have a better chance of winning at the tactical stage because you define the tactical implementation.”
To graduate from the idea stage, Towning advises agency executives to take their best two ideas and blow them out in various ways to show the client how it could work online, in advertising or as an event.
â–¶ Create your own opportunities. As is the case in most industries, who you know can make much more of a first impression than what you know, so don’t be afraid to capitalize on your connections.
“If you have a relationship or a referral that can get you into a meeting or pitch, use that power to shape how the pitch is going to go,” Towning says. That said, predetermined relationships aren’t a requirement for winning new business. Rather, adopt lawyers’ eat-what-you-kill model by generating your own leads whenever possible. Both Towning and Hagler recommend the following tactics for doing so:
• Make a target list of people—ones you know and ones you need to know—who can help your agency grow.
• Send targets ideas that are not PR/media relations oriented.
• Send targets examples of ideas to show them that you are thinking outside the box that they put you in.
• To generate these outside-the-box ideas in the first place, buy your staff subscriptions to publications of their choice, provided they find at least one example in each issue that can be sent to a client or prospect.
â–¶ Develop strategic partnerships to increase and enhance your client offerings. With the well-documented cuts in budgets and staff sizes, it is harder than ever to grow your portfolio of skills and specialties, so don’t. Instead, forge partnerships with like-minded agencies that fill voids you cannot, and vice versa. There is also a vast network of freelancers and consultants that can be hired on an as-needed basis, many of whom can be found on sites such as mediabistro.com, elance.com, guru.com and project4hire.com.
Regardless of your approach to developing partnerships, Hagler says, “Find partners that want to work for you and with you, not against you.” He recommends making two lists:
• Current clients with whom you want to expand into a new area; and,
• Potential clients with whom you want to define yourself in a specific way.
This will give you an organized roadmap that can be adjusted as needed. But, especially in the context of current clients, be measured as to how aggressively you push to expand your offerings for them.
“There is a risk in trying to expand your relationships with existing clients,” Hagler says. “If you push too hard, you can damage a relationship and, if you screw up, you can put all of your work in jeopardy.”
â–¶ Own your ideas even if you can’t take them to the bank. They may tell children that it’s not a matter of winning or losing, but of how you play the game.
Unfortunately for executives, the business world isn’t as forgiving as pee-wee sports. However, that’s not to say an integrated pitch that doesn’t ultimately win new business is a failure; think of it as an exercise that can be showcased as an outside-the-box idea for some of your targets, as a case study on your Web site or even as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.
“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose the pitch,” Towning says. “Take the idea that has been fleshed out and repurpose it.”
Robert Merritt, SVP of CKPR, supplements this advice with two additional tips:
“Push for pitch feedback, even when you’re on the losing end,” he says, “and build good karma, even when the client is showing you the door.” PRN
Robert Merritt, email@example.com; Monty Hagler, firstname.lastname@example.org; Gary Towning, email@example.com