The Ever-Changing PR Salesperson

By Scott Signore

My LinkedIn profile lists the (modest in length) stops I made as a PR professional. For the past 20 years I held corporate-side gigs and carried the business card of a number of public relations agencies. I worked in shops large and small – some internationally focused and some local – and in shops that had a focus in almost every category of business, including high-technology, consumer and business-to-business. At each stop I had the same basic responsibilities, being a smart and savvy PR practitioner while working tactically in the trenches and managing accounts. And, at every stop I was somewhat responsible for new business generation.

 Much has been shared about the way the PR gig has changed over the past few years. While all of what’s being said is accurate and important, noteworthy is the fact that seeking new business has also changed. Listed here are a few of the ways new business generation has changed since I first jumped into the business:

 In 2013, prospects find you. This is the first and by far the most significant item on this list. Prospects find agencies or individual PR professionals in a home office somewhere by way of their online presence. That’s an online presence far beyond just a website – although that remains hugely valuable. Prospects are looking for professionals who practice what they preach, and who are active and engaged. They value things like blogs, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn profiles, and Klout scores. They are paying attention to the activity of the organization and of the individuals within the organization. Social media has given transparency to the process, and agencies and professionals need to credibly show-up to be seriously considered by prospects.

Second, no longer are PR people selling one piece of the pie and living in a communications silo. In today’s world we work hard at showing how our time, energy, effort and budget will benefit the other initiatives upcoming or underway. We are true partners of the marketing team but executing programs that smartly compliment the work of their creative teams. (And, in many cases, we now develop strategies while working hand-in-hand with advertising teams – a concept that was unheard of years ago.) Collaboration is a term we use often and we see that it resonates with our audiences.

 Related to the above, the third dramatic shift in selling PR is the opportunity to sell so much more than traditional media relations and social media services. I commonly use the analogy of a sales guy going to market with a suitcase full of “stuff” to sell, as it applies when you offer prospects thought leadership, analyst relations, media auditing and measurement programs. And, when you have the luxury of having a credible in-house creative team, the list of touch points is seemingly endless. You can have a wide-array of points of entry and, subsequently, a number of budgets from where you can secure a fee.

Fourth, referrals are huge – and while that’s not new, its importance is greater than ever. It’s a crowded market and prospects have plenty of agency options, so the best way to get a jump start on a selection process is to ask a friend or industry colleague. So many times we’ve asked about the agencies invited to participate in an agency round-up and learned that a number of those involved were suggested by someone else. (That is, independent of researching possible vendors online.) By working hard to keep clients happy, they directly contribute to new business’ success.

And finally, cold calling is a memory for a different generation. While knocking on someone’s door with a smart and strategic pitch is valuable (for both you and potentially the prospect), rapid-fire outreach isn’t worth the time or energy. That wasn’t the case years ago and I have memories of smiling and dialing a long list of companies –with minimal success. Once in a while you would land some interest – sort of – but it was typically a long sales cycle that rarely came to fruition.

The only outreach we’re doing these days follows some significant research and creative thinking, and we only proactively approach prospects that would be thrilled to hear about our direct experience. This highly-targeted occasional outreach is a heck of a lot more fun.

 Is new business part of your PR gig? If so, what are you doing differently than what you did years ago?