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.

Fifteen Years in Biz Post

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)

What Ten Years Running My Own PR Agency Has Taught Me

Black & Silver Diamond Images medium_4420452321

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my PR consulting business. When I left my VP position with an ad agency to strike out on my own a decade ago, it was a grand experiment that turned out far better than I ever could have imagined.

So what I have learned in the past 10 years? For one thing, I had no idea I would enjoy having my own business so much. Unlike many 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 and energizing having my own clients and handling their communication needs. If a problem or issue arises—and there have been very few—I’m able to solve it directly with the client.

Another thing I’ve learned—or had confirmed, really—is that with technology, you can work from just about anywhere and still provide top-notch service to clients. A laptop, e-mail, a mobile phone and Social Media tools are about the only things you really need.

I’ve learned also the tremendous value of referrals. With only a couple of exceptions, my business has all come from either word-of-mouth or from having one division of a company see what I’d done for another division and contact me.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the phone and someone would say something along the lines of, “I’m Bill Smith and so-and-so gave me your name . . . .”

Which leads me to another observation: You can’t beat starting out with a huge piece of business coming through the door. That’s exactly what happened to me. Initially I expected my first year to be a struggle and my goal was simply to make enough money to survive until I got established. Having a large piece of retainer business from day one gave me a roaring start and a strong foundation upon which to build for future success. I was exceedingly fortunate and blessed.

A friend and colleague who had launched his own ad agency a few years prior and seen it grow significantly gave me this piece of advice when I first got started: Be prepared for success. It was great advice, and he was absolutely right. If you’re going to take the plunge, focus on being successful, not hoping you’ll be successful.

One thing that I thought I’d miss more than I have is the opportunity to bounce things off agency peers. Turns out that several of them have their own agencies now, and we share advice and resources with each other as needed. In fact, I’ve collaborated with a number of my former agency colleagues on business assignments when they needed help, and I’ve hired some of them to provide services for my clients when I’ve been swamped.

I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that there haven’t been some bumps along the way, and my business certainly is not immune to downswings in the economy. But having my own firm has been a blessing far beyond what I envisioned. It’s been a great ride, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 10 years have in store.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.

photo credit: Patrick Hoesly via photopin cc