"How are you handling your public relations?”
For PR professionals making their way up the agency ladder, it’s important to keep in mind that servicing clients is just one side of the job. For those really looking to increase their own value and marketability, you should recognize the importance of bringing in new business, too. Remember rule #1 in working at an agency: Clients leave. Rule #2: You can’t change rule #1. And it’s Rainmakers that keep an agency afloat and growing.
One place to look for new business is trade shows. Trade shows are a target rich environment. And if you are persistent, talk to the right people, and embrace the process -- and it is a process -- you can find business.
I’ve spent many, many hours walking trade shows asking exhibitors a very simple question: “How are you handling your PR?” Here are some of the most common responses and some thoughts on how to interpret:
“Business is good. We have a pretty defined customer base. We don’t really need much PR”
If anyone tells you this, RUN AWAY. They are NOT a prospect. They are driving a bus with blinders on and probably won’t be around very long.
“We handle that in-house. We do our own press releases”
If someone thinks writing press releases constitutes a PR program, they don’t understand PR. And attempting to “educate” them is a waste of time. Just exchange cards and maybe add them to your promo list.
“We have an advertising/marketing agency”
Again, this usually indicates a lack of understanding of PR and its true value. Advertising and marketing agencies usually focus more on creating ads, brochures, websites, etc. These demand bigger budgets and have deliverables the client can see and feel. Most “full-service” agencies that say they offer PR services don’t offer anything more than press releases. And they will put that release on “the wire” because (a) that’s all they know, and (b) they can do it quickly and mark up the cost for rebilling. Ask if their agency works from a separate PR plan, or if they simply rely on press releases as the bulk of their PR efforts. Chances are it will be the latter, and that may be an opening for further discussion. And you can ask them if they’d be open to speaking with you after the show about what a more robust PR program can deliver for them.
“Oh, we just can’t afford it”
This might actually be the case. It’s probably not worth a long discussion, but if the company looks more substantial than the person is letting on, ask what they think it might cost. Maybe it’s a budget you can work with.
“I tried using an agency, but it was an awful experience”
A bad experience or two may have soured them on the whole agency concept. But ask them what went wrong. If you know the root of the problem, you may be able to overcome it.
“We have an agency”
Your best longer-term prospects are companies that already have a PR firm. They already understand the value of a firm. And while they may not need/be looking for a firm now, this person may be someone to stay in contact with. Even though you want short-term results, it’s advantageous to have a long-term vision, as well.
The BizDev side of the PR business is not for everyone. But adding this skill set to your professional repertoire can distinguish you from your colleagues and increase your value to the firm.