Sept. 13 Session in HubSpot’s Agency Expert Webinar Series Will Focus on Using Ad Agency PR to Drive New Business

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HubSpot’s Agency Expert Webinar Series is an excellent opportunity for agency professionals to learn more about trends and strategies for successful agency growth. In live, hour-long YouTube sessions, industry leaders share their insights on topics ranging from agency growth and winning more pitches, to finding new talent and gaining a better understanding of client behavior.

Viewers can join the conversation, submit questions for presenters in real-time and follow along and connect with other viewers via Twitter at @HubSpotAgencies and #AgencyExpertSeries.

Michael Gass, founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, set the bar high when he kicked off the series with “Three Things a New Business Director Needs for Success.”

I’m honored to have been asked to be part of the series, and will focus my time on discussing how to build an effective agency public relations plan that will drive new business.

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My Sept. 13 session will walk through the building blocks of creating a performance-based PR plan for your agency. It will explain how the strategic use of PR can enhance awareness and credibility; distinguish your agency from competitors; and make it easier for decision makers to find you.

Key takeaways:

  • What PR can do for your agency that no other marketing tool can replicate
  • How a small or mid-sized agency’s strategic use of PR can level the playing field with larger competitors
  • What your agency’s PR plan should include
  • How to integrate PR into your new business development strategy
  • Cost-effective resources that can help you generate publicity
  • Why not having PR capabilities may cause your agency to miss out on new business opportunities


 

 

 

Ad Agencies: Are You Calling Prospects or Are They Calling You?

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Not long ago, I answered my cell phone to hear the exciting news that I could have a free new home security system.

Now, as annoying as these telemarketing calls are to me, I have a certain amount of empathy with the callers because shortly after graduating from college, I was making similar calls on behalf of a direct marketing company. Telemarketers can get a lot of abuse, so I always try to be polite and let them talk through their script so they can at least get credit for completing a call.

I also know you can have a lot of fun with these calls if you get telemarketers off their scripts.

As I listened to this enthusiastic young lady talk, I lost track of how many times she used the word “free.” Finally, she reached the end of her script.

“I just have one question to see if you qualify—are you a homeowner?”

Notice that she didn’t ask if I already had a home security system, and if so, was I satisfied with it.

“I have question for you,” I replied, slightly irritated at having my intelligence insulted like this. “How does your company make money if everything is free?”

After a moment of stunned silence, she said she didn’t hear what I said, so I repeated myself.

“Are you a homeowner?” she asked, completely ignoring my question.

“I’ll answer your question after you answer mine—how does your company make money if everything is free?”

“Are you a homeowner?”

Our conversation ended shortly after her that.

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“Are you a homeowner?”

Now I realize that telemarketers typically are not trained to engage in “off script” discussions. They may have a section in their scripts where it gives instructions about what to say if the prospect asks X or says Y, but if you ask them anything not included in the script, they usually are lost—like this poor lady.

I’ll bet you’ve gotten calls like this yourself, so I have a question for you:

Would a call like this make you more or less likely to do business with the company?

Now envision a scenario where you don’t own a home security system, and several houses in your neighborhood have recently been broken into by criminals. You are suddenly aware of a new problem and interested in a solution that will protect you and your family, so you begin to think about purchasing a security system.

Would you trust a security company that told you its services were free and wouldn’t answer a simple question? I know I wouldn’t.

Like a lot of people, I would begin talking with friends and neighbors about home security systems, and start doing research on the Internet.

Now suppose I come across Sam’s Safe & Secure Inc. Several of the people I talked with mentioned Sam’s as being honest, dependable and reasonably priced, with great customer service, so I already have a favorable impression of the company.

I start my research by going to Sam’s website and find lots of impressive testimonials; community awards for being a good citizen; sponsorships of local school bands and athletic teams; helpful and easy-to-understand videos about home security; and blog posts about everything from how to choose a security system that’s right for you to tips for forming a neighborhood watch to ways you can help keep kids safe while using the Internet.

When I leave the website and use a search engine to find home security systems in my area, Sam’s dominates the listings.

  • Customer reviews are very good—4 ½ out of 5 stars, with lots of favorable comments.
  • Next up: a community calendar that includes a listing of places where Sam’s does free seminars about ways to keep your home secure.
  • Then I see a news story where Sam’s CEO was interviewed about simple steps homeowners can take to make their houses more secure and less likely to be burglarized. The CEO didn’t say a word about his home security system; rather, he used the publicity to educate (and in the process gain awareness and credibility) without make a sales pitch for his product.
  • The next hit comes from someone blogging about how Sam’s has partnered with the local police to do free home safety checks for the poor and elderly, with discounts on home security systems for those who can’t afford to pay the full price. On that post I read a comment from a reader who has a Sam’s security system, where he shares about how well the system worked when someone tried to break into his home.

My findings indicate that Sam’s Safe & Secure has a great reputation, and the company knows all about security. Chances are, I’ll call Sam’s to discuss the next step for my home.

What a contrast: A company I’ve never heard of interrupting my day with a sales-driven telemarketing call about a product that doesn’t interest me vs. a company I call because I have a need and am interested in the product it offers. I’ve heard good things about the company from others I know and trust, and I like what I see online, so I don’t need anyone to sell me anything; I’m already sold.

The same principal applies to ad agency PR for new business: It’s far better to be discovered by prospects and have them approach you, and the best way for that to happen is to have a good reputation and a robust online presence.

If your agency cold calls a prospect, there’s a good chance the call will go to voicemail. If you send a sales email at a time when the prospect isn’t looking for what you offer—and therefore is not interested—it probably will be deleted and your email address maybe blocked. If you send direct mail, odds are it will end up in the trash.

And even if you manage to get through to a prospect, is this really an effective way to present yourself and position your agency? I don’t think so.

The buying process has changed, and trying to sell services through aggressive cold calling makes an agency look desperate and out of touch. A more effective approach is to use public relations to complement your new business initiatives and build your agency’s brand.

A consistent PR effort will enable you to more effectively generate awareness among the decision makers you want to reach, when they are ready for what you have to offer.

Best of all, when a prospect asks you a direct question, you’ll be able to answer it clearly and confidently, rather than replying, “Are you a decision maker?”

photo credit 1: Chris Pirillo Should I Take the Call or Not? via photopin (license)

photo credit 2: aqua.mech Call center operator via photopin (license)

 

What I’ve learned in 15 Years of PR Consulting

Earlier this week I hit the 15th anniversary of my PR consulting business. When I left my job as vice president of an advertising agency to strike out on my own in 2002, I wanted to test the waters, see how well I liked consulting and find out if I could make a comfortable living as a PR consultant.

It’s hard to believe 15 years have passed, and that during that time I’ve served nearly a hundred clients from a variety of industries, including ad agencies in need of PR services. Some of my clients have been with me for many years.

Unlike a lot of entrepreneurs I’ve known, I never had a burning desire to be self-employed. But once I got a taste of running my own business, I discovered it was exciting to have my own clients and energizing to handle their PR/communications needs.

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Here are some lessons I’ve learned from running a consulting business that specializes in ad agency PR:

Technology makes it possible to work from just about anywhere and still provide top-notch service to clients. With a laptop, e-mail account and a mobile phone, you can connect with clients, prospects, reporters and colleagues throughout the world. This is something I knew before venturing out on my own, but it was driven home to me within days of going into business for myself. I was blessed to land a huge piece of business immediately—an energy company that covered fours states in the northeast. From my home office, I was able to service this client effectively and generate extensive publicity regionally on its behalf.

Social media and blogging can make you “discoverable” by people you want to reach. Providing great content is important in establishing one’s expertise, but it takes work to promote that content and get in front of decision makers. Still, it’s worth the effort because the entire conversation changes when a prospect approaches you rather than you approaching the prospect.

A niche is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. Having an area of specialization enables you to speak to a specific audience and establish a foothold in a particular industry. In my case, I’ve focused on ad agency PR, which involves providing public relations services to small- and medium-sized advertising, digital and media agencies. That doesn’t mean I turn away business in other industries, but with my corporate communications, journalism and agency background, I can speak to the specific needs these firms have when it comes to using PR strategically to increase awareness of their agency and drive new business.

A blog is the best way to showcase your expertise. I know, I know. There are a gazillion blogs out there all competing for attention. That’s why having a niche is so important—it positions you as a subject matter expert in a specific area and makes you easier to be found by prospective clients searching for the solutions and expertise you offer. Being seen as a credible and knowledgeable thought leader who offers useful (as opposed to self-serving) content can have big payoffs down the road. When done right, your blog will become a magnet for search engines, bringing business to you when a prospect is ready to engage your services and usually has a budget to do so.

Being a trusted source for reporters is a great way to gain credibility as an expert and expand your reach. That’s because publicity allows an objective secondary source–the news media or bloggers–to tell your story to the people you most want to impress. The bottom line is that strategic use of PR, especially publicity, can help small- to mid-sized agencies level the playing field with larger agencies.

Cold calling for new business is unproductive. With only a couple of exceptions, over the past 15 years all my business has all come from repeat business, referrals, someone finding me while doing an Internet search or from having one division of a company see what I’d done for another division and contact me. Cold calling is annoying to prospects and makes you look desperate.

Trust is at the core of any partnership. A lot of consultants have expertise in PR and good technical skills, but not all of them are trustworthy or provide the kind of service that is conducive to long-term relationships. If you do all of the things listed above well but fail to keep your word or deliver on your promises, you’ll have a hard time keeping clients. While many things go into a successful client-agency relationship, trust and character are at the top of my list.

photo credit: chrisinplymouth 15 via photopin (license)

Ad Agency PR: A Key Driver of New Business

One of the most effective ways to build your agency’s your brand and attract new business is through a targeted public relations initiative that includes a heavy dose of publicity. That’s because publicity enables objective secondary sources—the news media and bloggers—to tell your story and build your brand for you.

It also gives your brand something no other marketing tool can replicate: credibility. Although you lack control of the content, that’s precisely why such coverage is so much more credible than an advertisement.

When it comes to cost, PR is an inexpensive way to generate awareness quickly among important audiences—including decision makers you may otherwise not be able to reach—which can ultimately drive sales.

In the past, PR coverage came primarily from traditional media outlets—such as print, radio and TV—but today the Internet offers ways to not only spread media coverage, but to supplement it through social media. It also enables you to go directly to your audiences, which has enormous benefits not the least of which is building brand ambassadors.

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Ad agencies that use publicity strategically have a competitive advantage, especially when it comes to new business development, because it gives them a consistent presence in the marketplace.

Rather than reactively trying to create coverage out of things that are not genuinely newsworthy, a strategic, proactive approach promotes your agency in a way that is compelling to prospects and distinguishes your agency from competitors.

There also are a number of creative ways to expand the reach and benefits of media coverage to aid new business development not only by reaching new customers, but also helping you retain current ones.

The key to successful ad agency PR is to have a strategy in place that compliments your new business development initiatives with a clear focus, target and purpose.

photo credit: timailius via photopin cc

Why a Niche Blog Is Essential for Ad Agency PR

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear “public relations” is publicity in the form of radio, TV or print media coverage. That still is an important part of ad agency PR, but with so many media outlets either shrinking or going out of business—and the increasing influence of content marketing and social media—a niche blog that showcases your agency’s expertise is essential.

Here’s why. When you have an immediate need (i.e. a “problem to solve”), chances are your first step is to begin searching on the Internet for a solution. If you’re like me, you don’t appreciate the spam emails, junk mail and unsolicited sales calls that interrupt me on a daily basis for products or services that don’t interest me.

Outbound marketing—which involves cold calling, direct mail and other forms of chasing business—is becoming less and less effective, and agencies that rely on it for new business are more likely to be perceived as an annoyance than an expert. To put it bluntly, salespeople selling ad agency services smack of desperation. They also put the emphasis on your agency rather than providing value to a prospect.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, draws customers to your agency by providing them with valuable content.

You want to attract clients who need and can afford your services, and the best way for that to happen is for them to find you when they are looking for a solution.

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A niche blog positions your agency as a subject matter expert in a particular area, and makes you easier to be found by prospective clients searching for the solutions and expertise you offer. When done right, your blog will become a magnet for search engines.

The entire conversation changes when a prospect approaches you rather than you approaching the prospect, who may or may not be interested in what your agency has to offer at the time of the contact.

One of the most important reasons for having a blog is to establish or enhance your ad agency as an expert in a particular niche. Being seen as a credible, trustworthy and knowledgeable thought leader that provides useful (as opposed to self-serving) content can have big payoffs down the road.

Once you reach expert status in a niche, the news media covering that niche will come to you for insight and commentary—and your target audience will see you that way as well.

A niche blog gives your agency continuous opportunities to demonstrate that it:

  • Communicates effectively
  • Has the ability to solve problems
  • Is well connected within your industry niche
  • Knows about important industry developments and trends

Just as publicity tends to beget publicity, as your blog becomes a repository of relevant content, it will rise in search engine rankings and draw targeted readers to your doorstep, making your agency increasingly “discoverable” by decision makers you could only dream of reaching through sales calls.

photo credit: christophe.benoit74 Blog via photopin (license)

Ad Agencies: Your Client’s Smoldering PR Issue May be an Opportunity in Disguise

One of the best ways an ad agency’s PR team can earn its keep (and impress clients) is by identifying issues that could have an adverse effect on an organization and then getting in front of them with a proactive plan of action.

These situations are sometimes referred to as a “smoldering” crisis, meaning that a potentially damaging condition is known to one or more individuals. Most crises start out as smoldering issues that could have been anticipated and minimized—or headed off altogether—had appropriate action been taken in the early stages. Smoldering Issues Mgt Blog Post 5073940305_aa2ab32fc7_n

For example, if you have alligators roaming around parts of a theme park in areas frequented by guests, as was the case with Disney, you can foresee the potential for problems and do something preventative before tragedy strikes.

“A problem ignored is a crisis invited,” as Henry Kissinger once put it.

A crisis not only can damage an organization’s image, but also impede its ability to function because so many resources get diverted to dealing with the crisis. Issues management is the best solution because it proactively addresses a problem before it gets out of hand and wreaks havoc.

Some of my best PR successes are those that never saw the light of day—they had potential to turn into a crisis but were averted by dealing with them in the smoldering stage.

Such PR “saves” don’t show up in an agency’s “stats sheet,” but they can save a client millions of dollars in bad publicity and untold damage to a brand.

Sometimes, they can open the door to new opportunities and revenue for a company.

A number of years ago one of my clients—a regional energy company in the northeast called Agway Energy Products—was facing a smoldering issue, as was its competitors. High energy prices had been one of the most significant events in the news the previous winter, with the wholesale cost of natural gas having risen more than 400% in the past year.

Through a series of carefully timed news releases and media contacts, we were able to turn the negative issue of rising energy costs into a positive story for consumers by (1) explaining why these costs were rising so dramatically and (2) providing tips on ways to save on their energy bills without making great sacrifices to their comfort.

By taking the initiative to address this issue head-on, the company gained credibility and goodwill—and, likely lots of new customers. In just eight months we generated more than 200 interviews, appearances and information sessions with print, TV and radio media.

As far as I know, none of the company’s competitors made a similar effort to address rising energy costs in the region.Michael Meath AEP Photo - Copy

Commenting on the PR campaign, the company’s spokesman wrote, “In almost every instance, we were able to turn any negative angle around to a positive story which would help consumers find ways to increase the efficiency of their energy equipment, reduce the amount of energy they used, and focus on how they could increase their comfort by expanding their relationship with Agway.”

If something is smoldering at your agency or with one of your clients, deal with it now because chances are it won’t go away or improve through neglect. You’ll not only keep the situation from getting worse, but you may also find there’s an opportunity to turn those lemons into lemonade.

photo credit: 2008 08 18 – 3353 – Bila Tserkva – Shashlyk via photopin (license)

My Ad Agency PR New Business Basics are Now Online

Audio of my “How to Craft an Agency PR Plan that Drives New Business” presentation from Michael Gass’s inaugural Fuel Lines New Business Conference is available at the Fuel Lines website.

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Michael Gass

My session walks through the building blocks of creating a performance-based public relations plan for advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.

It also explains how the strategic use of PR can enhance awareness and credibility; distinguish your agency from competitors; and make it easier for decision makers to find you.

Key takeaways:

  • How PR helps prospects discover you
  • What PR can do for your agency that no other marketing tool can replicate
  • How a small- or mid-sized agency’s strategic use of PR can level the playing field with larger competitors
  • What your agency’s PR plan should include, and how to integrate PR into your new business development strategy
  • Cost-effective resources that can help you generate publicity
  • Why not having PR capabilities can cause your agency to miss out on new business opportunities

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My podcast interview with the Agency Management Institute’s Drew McClellan about what goes into a successful in-house ad agency PR program also is online.

Key takeaways:

  • The dramatic changes PR has seen over the years
  • How agencies can use PR as a strategic tool to drive new business
  • How to determine what stories to pitch
  • Ways you can become discoverable so that reporters can find you
  • The kind of news that is truly newsworthy for agencies
  • Why you shouldn’t think about using PR with the expectation that people will write stories about your agency
  • How agencies can get the right kind of attention
  • Incorporating PR into your business plan
  • How to correctly use PR in relation to speaking engagements
  • How to use Google Alerts to capitalize on PR opportunities
  • The steps to take right away to boost your PR