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I was part of a panel discussion at last month’s Public Relations Society of America International Conference.  I was joined by some of my Counselors Academy colleagues…we each presented two 5-minute “ignite-style” talks on a variety of topics on the theme “Keys to Agency Management.”  I took on the topic of growing your business.  Here’s what I had to say, would welcome your comments.

When you first started your business, you probably did a lot of research. You may have sought help from advisors; you may have gotten information from books, magazines and other readily available sources. You invested a lot in terms of money, time and sweat equity to get your business off the ground.

You met with accountants, lawyers, bankers who gave you plenty of advice.  Some advice you took, others maybe not.  Your spouse, significant other, maybe even your brother or sister were there to offer advice.  Again, some you took, others maybe not.

You knew you could be successful.  So you hung out your shingle, bought a domain name and BOOM you’re in business.  Slowly but surely you found a couple great clients, maybe contracted with a freelancer or two.  Perhaps you even hired an employee and thought, hey, nothing to it.  I’m a business owner, hear me roar.

And then…crap, one of those clients decides they can’t afford you anymore. And that big project you thought was coming in gets postponed for a couple months. Not too worry, you don’t need much sleep anyway, you can handle what’s in-house and still be fine, right? There’s plenty of new business to be gotten.

Sounds great in theory and like all of us that own and manage an agency, you seem to spend all your time working IN your business that you forgot you need to work ON your business.  So, in no particular order, here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Is your current market serving you well? Are there others that you should consider? You bet. There are plenty of categories AND subcategories to choose from and plenty of potential clients from within those categories. When you get good at law firm marketing, think about other law firms in other markets you could approach.  Have a niche with children’s issues?  Maybe there is a non-competing nonprofit that you can also do work for.
  • Create incentives for your team or outside vendor partners to refer business to you.  This doesn’t have to be a costly endeavor.  A small percentage of the billings (upon collection, of course) or perhaps a nice dinner gift certificate or a spa membership.  Our best source of new business comes from people who know us, why not give them a little thank you to make sure that you’re at the top of the list.
  • Grow business with your current clients.  So often we are brought on for a very specific purpose and get siloed into only that work. We work hard to get our clients, work a little harder to let them know what else you are capable of.
  • Network. Network. Network. Whether through industry associations like PRSA or through the professional associations of the industries you’d like to be in, you need to show up once in a while and let it be known that you are available to take on new clients.  We are often the only agency at these client industry events.
  • For all the good, bad and ugly of social media, using these networks to grow awareness of your agency and your offerings is one of the “good.”  Are you blogging?  Are you including posts about what you do, how you do it, your views on the industry?  What about discussions about the industries you are currently working in or better yet, would like to work in.  Use these to your advantage.
  • I know it is often difficult to think about “giving away” some of our ideas, but in front of the right target audience, it might be worth the 45 minutes and a couple nuggets of wisdom. Present at industry functions, guest lecture on the college campuses or submit guest opinion pieces to local business journal and community papers.   We can point to a handful of clients that have come from this type of effort.
  • Dump the bad clients.  What?  Dump the bad clients?   Yep.  I know that is a difficult thing to do.  But if you are spending more time on these type of clients, over-servicing and being underappreciated, think what you can do with that available time.  Is the money really worth the stress and frustration?  Now I’m not suggesting that every stressful client is a bad client, you’ll have to judge for yourself.  I’m just suggesting that you consider what you could be doing with that time.

Now, I’d like to be able to tell you that I have this new business thing under control.  That every idea I have ever tried has resulted in a great new client.  But you all know that would be a big fat lie!  So in the interest of transparency, it is probably best that I share some of the ideas that, shall we say, did not quite hit their mark.

  • We are all big fans of the popular Business Journal’s Book of Lists.  A ready-made list of the who’s who in business.  And all of them are just clamoring to hear from us about their PR needs.   NOT.  Once those lists come out, everyone from realtors to insurance sales people to PR people are contacting the named owners on the list.  Not exactly the best targeted approach.
  • I have heard from some of my agency colleagues that dialing-for-dollars can work.  We’ve just not been very good at it – either we haven’t qualified the list well enough or we aren’t getting through to the decision-maker. We’ve attempted to do it ourselves, but think it might be a job better suited for someone with a sales background.  I’m not a big fan of cold-calling so maybe if there is a person warms it up a bit there might be a better chance of getting the meeting.
  • Whether snail mail or an eblast – our success rate with direct mail has been less than stellar.  What I have come to learn over the years is that what we do is not something that can be easily decided on.  You kinda need to know you need it before you go out and buy it.  So yes, we want to be in front of prospects, but this approach may not be the most cost-effective or efficient way to do that.

It comes down to this…we are experts at helping our clients’ businesses grow, right? We know how to put them in front of the right people at the right time.  So consider back to what I said in the beginning, start working on your business and not in your business. Make your agency a client and do what you know how to do – market your business.

Care to share your best ideas for new business development?

Photo Via Tech.Co

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio


  1. David Landis says:

    We’ve started an aspirational marketing campaign with companies with which we would like to work – sending them pithy, short communications/digital/social media tidbits for free. We’ve begun a conversation with some and are hopeful that it will bear fruit. Cheers, David Landis, LCI, San Francisco

  2. Ken Jacobs says:

    Excellent points all, Abbie. One I’d add is to go through the effort of separating your business development plan from your marketing-PR-engagement campaign. Many agencies combine these, or do the latter without the former. That’s a mistake in my view. When I work with agencies who swear it’s fine to do so, I ask them “But to whom are you marketing?! Write the business development plan, and then write/execute your marketing-PR-engagement plan to support it.

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