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)

 

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

Nashville Conference Will Focus on New Drivers of Agency Business Development

Photo of Nashville Convention CenterIf you’re looking for growth strategies for your agency, be sure to check out the Fuel Lines New Business Conference 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee, October 8-9.

The conference is designed for agency principals and their management, new business and senior account management teams. Attendees will learn from new business thought leaders with a laser focus on the new drivers of business development.

“New business has been a problem historically for agencies. It’s made worse with the paradigm shift in business development. The primary battle for new business has moved online. It’s now more important to be FOUND than to CHASE new business,” noted Michael Gass, founder and president of Fuel Lines Business Development.

And that, in a nutshell, is why this conference is so important: It will help you make your agency more easily discovered by key influencers and decision makers.

I’ll be leading the October 8 breakout session titled “How to Craft an Agency PR Plan That Drives New Business.” In my guest post on the Fuel Lines blog, I discuss what I believe is the key to using PR to drive agency leads and three planning steps to help maximize PR for new business.

The conference has early registration discounts and is limited to the first 200 registrants. Super early registration ends June 15. Visit here for more information or to register.

15 Questions Ad Agencies Should Ask Before Engaging PR Services

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For many small- to medium-sized ad agencies, public relations can be a mystery.

Ad agency principals are experts when it comes to strategy, branding, creative and messaging, but dealing with reporters can be intimidating if one doesn’t fully understand how public relations works and the “magic” used to generate publicity and goodwill for clients or an agency.

It’s not unusual for ad agencies or their clients to say they want to use PR because “no one knows us outside out of (city, region, industry).” They want to increase awareness.

If I were to ask why they want to gain awareness, they may very well look at me and say, “Well duh, we want more people to know about us so that we’ll grow and make more money.”

Fair enough. But if I ask how PR is integrated into their new business plan, more likely than not I’ll get blank stares.

Yet increasingly, decision makers are finding vendors rather than the other way around, which make PR more important than ever for new business success.

Instead of chasing new business through cold calls, which has very limited effectiveness these days, agencies need to use PR strategically to help them be discovered by decision makers.

Here are 15 questions to help your agency get started on the road to PR success.

These questions are designed to assist you in assessing your situation, your highest priorities and needs, and what you really want to accomplish through public relations.

Once you and your team have thought through and answered these questions, you will be much better prepared to have a productive conversation with a PR person or PR agency:

  1. What is the desired result from PR (e.g. increase awareness, change perception, be positioned as an expert in a particular niche, generate new business or something else)?
  2.  How would you rate your agency’s PR capabilities on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the best and 1 the worst?
  3. How would you rate your agency’s new business focus on a scale from 1-10, where 10 is perfectly targeted and 1 is we’re all over the map?
  4. Are you looking for PR help with your agency, to offer it as a service to clients, or both?
  5. What is the primary way you use or would like to use PR in your agency: Agency promotion, new business development, provide as a service to clients or enhance integrated marketing communications capabilities?
  6. How effective were your past PR efforts (assuming you had some)?
  7. What PR opportunities can you identify that have not been maximized?
  8. How would you describe your agency’s positioning/branding?
  9. How would you define your target audience for new business?
  10. How should PR integrate into your new business strategy?
  11. How does social media fit with your new business strategy and PR?
  12. Where would you like to obtain publicity (i.e. target publications, bloggers, radio/TV programs)?
  13. What speaking events would you like to be invited to participate in, and how can PR help with that?
  14. How will you define PR success?
  15. How will you measure that success?

photo credit: timailius via photopin cc


Ad Agencies: Are You Winning Awards or Market Share?

Image of a trophyA number of years ago, I had the opportunity to work on a project with Coca-Cola Bottlers. One evening I went to dinner with the Coke representative for this project, and the subject of Pepsi’s advertising came up. At the time Pepsi was known for churning out some very creative and entertaining TV ads, and it had been successful in generating a lot of buzz.

Acknowledging his competitor’s advertising success, the Coke rep smiled and said, “Pepsi wins awards, and we win market share.”

Touché. He had put his finger on a problem that too often plagues agencies, whether they are focused on advertising, public relations, promotions, direct marketing, digital or some combination of them.

Agencies like to tout their awards, but at the end of the day if you aren’t helping your clients sell more of their products or services, or enhancing their reputations and goodwill, how much good are you really doing them?

Although I specialize in public relations, at one time or another in my career I’ve been involved in nearly every aspect of marketing—and I’ve been fortunate to have been part of some very talented teams that have won professional awards.

Creativity is important, but the most meaningful awards are those that can
be tied to achieving specific results and objectives.

In fairness, it’s important to recognize that agencies often lack control over a variety of factors that can affect a client’s sales. And it’s certainly possible for agencies to win awards and market share for their clients, so it doesn’t have to be one or the other. But too often I’ve seen agencies fall into the “Pepsi syndrome” of focusing more on the awards they’ve won than on how they have helped clients meet their business objectives.

When it comes to ad agency new business, PR should be playing a critical role in your overall strategy. If your agency’s PR efforts are winning awards but not helping you achieve new business success, it’s time to reevaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it.

photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

What Every Ad Agency New Business Director Should Know about PR

 

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While there are many things that go into a successful ad agency new business program, one that is often overlooked or underutilized is the strategic use of public relations.

Whether your agency emphasizes outbound or inbound marketing – or a combination of the two – PR is an important tool that can help you attract attention and generate new business opportunities.

Here are six things that every ad agency new businesses director should know about PR and how it can give them a competitive edge:

First, as I have noted in previous posts, articles and interviews, PR gives your agency credibility in a way no other medium can because it allows an objective secondary source – a reporter or blogger – to tell your story for you.

Of course agencies provide background information, messaging and insights to help shape such stories, but people tend to give more weight to a news article or a post from a credible blog than from advertising or personal sales.

Second, PR is effective in building widespread awareness, which is particularly useful in getting in front of decision makers who may be difficult to reach through other means.

  • In the past PR shined brightest in generating coverage with TV, radio and print media, but today the Internet can spread the word exponentially.

Third, for inbound marketing initiatives, PR makes you easier to be discovered by prospective clients doing research to identify agencies with your area of expertise.

Fourth, PR can play a vital role in new business development through content creation and management. Many people in public relations have backgrounds with print or broadcast media. Former reporters tend to be good story tellers, which is essential for good content marketing.

  • They know how to consistently provide useful, well-targeted information that is enjoyable to read, builds trust, engages customers and enhances the brand – without coming across as disguised advertisements.

Fifth, with a creative PR writer driving your agency’s content marketing, agencies of any size can compete. To be effective, the content must be relevant, credible and enjoyable to read. It also must be search engine optimized and updated regularly to maximize its potential for attracting new business.

  • It’s easy to talk about producing high-quality, engaging content, but it’s another thing to actually do so on a consistent basis. Agencies that have the discipline to be consistent will reap rewards for their diligence.

Sixth, PR pros are generally the best suited to handle social media engagement. Public relations by definition involves dealing with the public, and PR specialists know the importance of responding to inquiries or complaints accurately, efficiently and tactfully.

  •  Because good public relations focuses on two-way communication with audiences, they understand how to converse with diverse groups or individuals, talking with them rather than at them. And because they often work with reporters who are on deadline, PR people have a keen appreciation for the value of responding in a timely manner.

Social media allows us to start or participate in conversations with individuals we might otherwise not reach. We can answer questions, solve problems, have constructive debates and gain a better understanding of issues and concerns from the other person’s perspective.

To sum it up, PR can give your ad agency’s new business initiatives unparalleled ways of gaining awareness and credibility; enable your agency to communicate directly and indirectly with prospects and influencers; and assist in building your brand and reputation in the marketplace.

photo credit: Cloudberry Communications via photopin cc

Five Tactics for Using PR to Take Your Ad Agency to the Next Level

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Last week during a podcast interview with Digital-Preneur Jason Swenk, I was asked to give some actionable advice to digital, creative and marketing agency owners who want to use public relations to take their agencies to the next level. Great question. Here are five suggestions to help your agency achieve that objective:

1. Develop a written PR plan to compliment new business initiatives.

A written plan will help you manage your time, resources and activities in the most effective way possible. YOU WANT TARGETED, CONSISTENT COVERAGE – and a plan will serve as a road map to get your agency where you want it to go.

As you develop your plan ask yourself, and anyone else involved in the planning process, some important questions:

  • What are the desired results from our PR?
  • Do we primarily need to create awareness or change perceptions of our agency?
  • Do we want PR to help position us as experts in our existing niche or to enter a new industry and become experts there?
  • Who are our key audiences?
  • What are the best communications vehicles to reach them?
  • What are our points of differentiation and key messages?
  • How will the PR plan complement our new business development initiatives?

2. Learn all you can about the news media you are targeting.

The best way to increase your chances for success with your publicity efforts is to understand what the news media want, how they work, their pet peeves and what constitutes a good story – from their perspective. It’s also important to know their audience and what will appeal to them.

Most reporters use social media such as Twitter and have blogs, so you can follow them, learn about their interests and even make comments when appropriate to get on their radar.

The key to publicity success is getting the right story idea to the right reporter at the right time.

3. Identify ways to become a source for reporters and influential bloggers.

This is the quickest route to credibility and achieving the perception of expert status in the eyes of your target audience. If during an interview you prove to be responsive, knowledgeable, trust worthy – and you communicate well – the chances are good that reporters and bloggers will come back to you again for future stories.

4. Utilize your blog to create online buzz and establish your expertise.

Blogs are a great way to build your reputation as a subject matter expert (SME) in a particular niche. Followers look to SME’s to express opinions and insights on things happening in that niche, identify trends and provide perspective. Focus on good, relevant, original content and avoid blatant self-promotion. And don’t be afraid to take a stand counter to conventional wisdom!

5. Write a book.

A book can be used to generate publicity (and therefore increase visibility) about an individual and his/her agency, as well as open doors to speaking opportunities. But it does much more because writing a book enables you to share value lessons and insights about your niche, and it enhances your status a subject matter expert. A book can also help you market your agency.

You may already have a good start on your book through content from blogs, newsletters, industry articles, etc. Or, once your book is published, you can repurpose material from it in the same venues such as your blog.

Niche books are the new calling cards for many agencies, and being a published author can really give you a competitive edge. Think how impressive it would be to leave a signed copy of your book at the conclusion of each new business presentation.

photo credit: FutUndBeidl via photopin cc