How to Win at PR: Looking Ahead to a New Business Year

This is a guest post by Courtney Lukitsch. Courtney is the founder and principal of Gotham Public Relations, a 14-year-old boutique agency in New York City.

As we head into 2016, it is important to take a moment to reflect and evaluate. Winning in the future PR media landscape means anticipating clients’ needs many steps in advance.

Teetering on the horizon of a new year filled with opportunities and challenges alike, it is imperative that PR agencies take a long look in the mirror to evaluate the good, the bad and the ugly.

PR agencies must always anticipate change, evolution and the need to keep the dialogue open and healthy. In preparing to wave goodbye to 2015, agencies are eager to begin working with new clients while cultivating winning collaborations with existing ones for a more fruitful 2016.     

It is crucial for agencies to appraise current client standing as well as highlight their goals for the future. In other words, think about what is working, what is not and what can be improved for better business. As the timeless adage goes, make new friends but keep the old.

Ideally, an agency should be aligned with a client that’s of equal caliber in order to invest time, resources and team equity. Both agency and client should respect each other, as this new contract is based on partnership, as much as business.

Communication, as always, is key. The agency is not an outsourced vendor, but rather a highly results driven new business partner. Tailoring a creative and strategic campaign to heighten awareness about the client, as well as drive sales, has become part and parcel of the digital economy and the purview of the agency partner.

How To Win It

Win-It

Timely traits to employ a winning stance include networking and aligning interests in tandem with award-winning storytelling abilities and marketing prowess. The thin but power-packed volumes How to Win Friends and Influence People as well as The Power Broker have been bestsellers for decades for a reason, given the imparted wisdom of keeping the focus exclusively on the client.

The supreme PR pitch is an abstract intellectual property. Largely reliant upon the client’s perception of the pitcher, in as much as what is being conveyed creatively in the pitch, it revolves around how the listener identifies with their potential new business partner. Most of these activities are decided upon within the first 20 minutes of any given encounter so it is crucial to begin poised and confident as there is a unique chemistry exchanged when working to win new business.

According to Mustr it is imperative to kick off the appointment on the right foot, noting “you should engage the catcher as soon as possible in the development of the idea. Once the catcher feels like a creative collaborator, the odds of acceptance are secured.” The PR pitch, albeit it potentially challenging, becomes less routine and more an understanding of human perception.

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Next-Level Thinking

According to Paul Holmes in How to Design the Agency of the Future there are several criteria to factor into how to win or become a next-level agency. The best agencies are those that adapt, evolve and progress – rather than stay tied to antiquated definitions of what an agency delivers a client. This may mean a unique blend of marketing, social media and advertising practices into the PR mix in 2016. The digital realm necessitates multidisciplinary expertise and results.

Forbes asserts that there are core traits the client expects from any PR agency. According to American Express Open Forum, when hiring an agency it is important to know the difference between media relations and public relations, share your business goals with PR professionals, have realistic expectations, spend time with the potential firm, embrace social media and accept the formidable archetype that being “uncomfortable” is in fact okay.

What the agency considers when taking on a new client has as much to do with defining an emerging category and building a new brand and business model as managing a reputation. Cision recommends that PR agencies nominate themselves for awards because it constitutes a golden opportunity to generate awareness and potential new business.      

How To End It

Cut-Cord

After winning a particular piece of new agency business where the respect, communication and overall accomplishment of mutual goals begins to languish, there may come a time to cut the client loose. This often occurs very early in the game, often between months one and three, or sometimes less than 30 days into the contract. Interestingly, not much is written on this sensitive topic.

Ignoring advice and creating further drama while insisting upon unrealistic demands may be a sign that a PR agency should quickly cut the client cord. Everything-PR highlights the importance of recognizing this behavior as well as freeing the agency from further anxieties before impacting other clients on the roster – or even press and strategic industry partners.

INC suggests that knowing how and when to walk away from a client is an arduous but sometimes unavoidable part of the business. It is crucial to make termination professional, succinct and ideally seamless in execution.

Forbes advises that a lack of integrity is a red flag in the agency/client partnership. Because trust is the very foundation of the rapport built, when a PR agency feels this has been compromised or violated, they should cut the client loose.

Perhaps the most obvious indication that it is time for an agency to release a client is underlined in PR Daily. When a PR pro no longer believes in the products/services of the client, they cannot accurately and fervently represent their needs. When creative power is lost, the ability to yield results dwindles and the preeminent solution may be a departure from each other.       

The contrary of the above is also sometimes the case. Clients may initiate the break-up with the agency, citing vague dissatisfaction or different tactical versus strategic approaches that are unrealistic.

Brian Lustig of Bluetext emphasizes the signs to look for that may indicate a client is preparing to detach from their agency, which includes radio silence and time-wasting micromanagement. If and when the relationship reaches this point, either serious troubleshooting is necessary or a mutual severance might occur.

New Approach in 2016

As 2016 rapidly approaches, agencies gear up to sign even bigger and better clients in the new year. The close of one business year and the impending blank canvas that arrives with the next brings about inevitable triumphs and trials for PR agencies.

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Images: Christopher Michelacme401Stephanie Overton (Creative Commons)