Thoughts About Opening a New Shop

Kelly Penton Chacon
Kelly Penton Chacon

ASGK Public Strategies is a Chicago-based communications agency with offices in New York and Washington, D.C. I joined ASGK as director of the PR agency’s office in Miami, which opened earlier this year. As I work with my new colleagues to build the firm’s presence in Florida, some “do’s” and “don’t’s” have emerged concerning opening an office and expanding a company’s footprint.

Here are five tips for PR professionals who are helping to set up an office for a PR agency. They apply to communicators working for brands, organizations and nonprofits.

Tap your network. If you are a PR executive with 10 or more years of experience in the industry, you probably have worked with dozens—even hundreds—of people. Reach out to them and let them know about your new gig.

For those who could be great referral sources, clients, or partners—invite them to meet you for coffee or lunch so you can bring them up to speed on what role the new office will play for the agency or company.

If they don’t respond to you on the first try, look for opportunities to follow-up with them. If there’s an interesting article you come across about their industry, share it with them.

If you’re going to be in their area for another meeting, send a note in case they have time for a quick meeting.

And on occasion (you have to use your best judgment here), send them an out-of-the-box idea about how you would handle a situation their company (or client) is facing so they see how you think and understand how you can help meet their goals.

My initial list is 150 people deep and although I haven’t been able to see everybody on it yet, I’m working my way through it and enjoying the opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues and friends.

Be strategic about your new business targets. After a few weeks of reaching out, meeting and submitting proposals without hard leads, it can be tempting to take any client work you can find.

Although you want to be open to prospective business, you also want to avoid clients without strong growth potential. The most valuable asset you have is your time (and how you bill for it).

Identify the top companies you want to work with, think about what it will take to work with them and start taking steps to forge those relationships.

Treat your agency as if it were your top client. While you’re busy setting up an office—from finding new business generation to ordering supplies—don’t forget to build a communications campaign for your agency, just as you would for a client.

Be creative and proactive. Create key messages and an elevator pitch for yourself.

Develop a series of tactics that will put you in front of key decision makers in your market, including the one-on-one outreach described above. Include also direct marketing, media relations, social media and events.

Make sure your bio is updated and easy to find on the company website. Check that all company digital platforms and written materials are updated to reflect your new office.

Know about acceptable retainers in your market. If you’ve lived in more than one city or traveled a good deal, then you know that one size does not fit all when it comes to the cost of living.

A meal in New York likely will cost at least twice as much as the same meal most anywhere else in the U.S.

The same holds true for fees you can charge. It is important for you and your agency’s management team to understand the differences in your market when budgeting for the new office and forecasting growth.

Even if you have a good idea about standard rates for communications services in your city, it doesn’t hurt to talk to friends in the business about what they charge typically.

And it’s also important that you research potential clients so you have an idea of the size of their budgets before proposing a fee.

Start to identify potential hires from the first day. When is the right time to bring on new hires? That’s one of the most pressing questions on the mind of any manager or executive at a new business.

In many cases, it is difficult to tell exactly when there will be enough of a need to warrant the investment. Even more difficult—as any manager will tell you—is being able to find the right talent at the precise moment you need it.

For that reason, you should be thinking about ideal hires, and reaching out to them, the minute you open the office.

You don’t want to find yourself rushed or desperate to hire someone; rather, you want to engage the best people who will support your company’s current situation and help it grow.

Think about the skills you seek and qualities you want your first hire to have.

You should find people with knowledge and abilities that complement your strengths. If they like to work on things that you don’t like to do or don’t have the time to do, then that’s a plus.

For example, I spend most days meeting with colleagues, prospective clients and referral sources. I don’t have much time for writing messages and copy for client materials.

Finding strong writers is very important to me. Since our agency specializes in public affairs, I also want someone knowledgable on current events and who understands South Florida’s political landscape.

For these reasons, I’m looking for candidates in press offices of elected officials and major government agencies.

Of course, when opening up a shop other responsibilities and tasks will pop up.

By paying close attention to the blueprint above, however, you can be effective quickly and start contributing to your company’s goals and financial objectives sooner rather than later.

CONTACT:

Kelly Penton Chacon is a Director at ASGK Public Strategies in Miami. She can be reached at penton@asgk.com

This article originally appeared in the March 16, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.