As we celebrate our 20th anniversary at PAN this year, I am proud to write these blog posts every month that take a look back at where we have come from and where we are going. Over the next three months, I decided it would be fun to focus each post on one of the three pillars of a PR firm: talent, clients and new business.
Image from Flazingo Photos used under CC license.
Knowing that this post, a second of three, was going to focus on the new business pillar of PR agencies, I spent some time talking with EVP Mark Nardone and his team about just how new business has changed. Mark is truly one of the best business development people I've ever met. He faces each prospect with a passion like no other. Just as the PR industry itself has transformed and grown, he has had to alter the way we’ve approached and pitched new business.
Here are six ways the new business landscape and process has changed over the past 20 years:
We have smarter technology to make connections.
Tools like Twitter and LinkedIn have really enabled us to connect and engage with prospects via a network of relationships in a way that wasn’t possible before. That being said, face-to-face interactions at industry events still drive opportunities as well. However, the rise of social media and its impact on the process cannot be ignored. It has made us smarter in regards to how we follow and engage with brands we’d like to work with.
We are offering integrated services.
This is perhaps the biggest change in new business over the past 20 years. Originally, traditional media – i.e., press releases, speaking and awards and media – really drove new business pitches. With the emergence of the Internet, along with the rise of social media, the world has become much more digital and clients’ needs have shifted focused. Today, clients want to hear about more than pitch topics and product launch strategies. They want integrated programs that touch everything from ebook to video creation. They want programs that focus on the vertical experience. Nowadays, we are seeing more and more companies looking for one-stop-shop firms that can fulfill their entire PR needs.
We define expertise in a different way.
Thinking about the type of technology companies we were pursuing 20 years ago to the companies we pitched just this week, it is clear that PAN’s “expertise” has changed. When PAN launched, tech PR meant engaging with prospects who were software and hardware companies, however today the tech industry itself is much more defined. Now we are experts in different areas of technology such as cloud, security, CRM, big data, SaaS, etc. As the tech industry itself has evolved, so has PAN.
We are pitching companies of all sizes.
A few years ago, the clients who we were pitching had more or less a similar story. They’d been in business for a few years, were well established and had a handful of significant milestones along the way. Recently, there has been a major shift in the types of companies we are pitching. As more and more companies are beginning to realize the impact a PR program can have on their company as whole, we are getting RFPs from a variety of companies. Today, Mark and our team of VPs are pitching everyone from newly funded start-ups to large, enterprise companies that have been in business for decades.
We are targeting different decision markers.
When we first started out pitching new business, we usually found ourselves presenting to the marketing team of a prospective client. Today, the people who are sitting on the other side of the table could be anyone. Teams have gone to pitches and presented to everyone from a board member to a member of the sales team. As PR evolves, we find that it is only not becoming much more integrated as an industry, but also much more integrated with other division of a company.
We are leveraging more connections from marketing.
Given the rise of social media, there are a lot of opportunities and circumstances when a brand’s authenticity can be tested. Today, we find that inbound marketing and smart, engaging content is helping keep brands authentic. In addition, marketing is fueling better connections, and positioning an agency as a trusted resource for prospects who are seeking agency council/partnership.
We are mixing next skills sets with core fundamentals.
Since clients are looking for more than straight media relations, during presentations teams are now playing up skills beyond their pitching and media relations. Expertise in areas such as content creation, influencer marketing, community management, analytics and data-driven PR are now all highlighted and expanded upon when engaging with prospects. Creativity is essential in preparing for and presenting during a pitch, and how we put those ideas to work with a results-driven program always rises to the top.
Despite the fact that so much has changed in regards to new business, one thing has remained – relationships and referrals still and will continue to be the backbone of any good professional services firm. Experience, relationships and great people will continue to make new connections, bring in new opportunities and win business. There are a lot of great agencies out there that are doing a lot of great things and coming to the table with incredibly creative ideas. Every time we win a pitch, we learn something. Every time we lose a pitch, we learn something as well. As this pillar of the PR industry continues to evolve, there are parts of it that will remain intact. What we’ve learned over the past 20 years is that energy, passion, chemistry, knowledge and experience are key in connecting with prospects and closing the deal.