Views: Out with the old, in with the new – business development for 2024

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ASK anyone from all sectors across the PR industry, 2023 has been a strange year for business development, writes Katie Hawkins, Mixology Communications.

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The start of the year was all doom and gloom – brands cutting agency budgets or cancelling contracts altogether. The summer, which is notoriously quiet, saw a busy period for new business, CCOs started to loosen the purse strings and allocate communications budget for the second half.

But overall, I think we can all agree the new business model has drastically changed for the PR profession.

‘Ghosting’ is a term I had only heard single friends use after they had been ignored on WhatsApp after a date, but now this trend has crept into the world of PR. Agencies spend a huge amount of time, money and effort researching companies and competitors, developing detailed strategy planning documents, campaign timelines and tactical activation programmes, for prospects not to reply to emails or even acknowledge receipt of proposals. 

We need to go back to a professional, transparent, and fair process and a well written ‘brief’ can go a long way. Love it or hate it, having a brief makes the process of selecting an agency far easier for both parties. 

Here are some of the fundamental components a brief should include. 

Timeline– set clear, realistic timings for agencies to respond to your brief and stick to them. If deadlines need to be shifted, let agencies know in advance, so they can plan internal resourcing and other client needs. It’s worth noting that agencies respond to briefs alongside usual day-to-day client work, which does have to take priority. In-house teams will receive a better response from agencies who have had the breathing space to think and plan their response. 

Budget – nobody likes getting to the end of a new business call and mentioning the budget, but it’s important. Putting a realistic budget in the brief, which reflects the level of work and markets you want to cover, will help agencies develop the right programme that will help deliver results and drive business performance.

Measurement – by including your business goals the agency can work backwards to plan a strategy to help you achieve those goals. Simple questions need to be answered such as, who are you trying to target? Also tell us how you get measured internally and we can work towards those KPIs. There is not much point in measuring activity in one way if you need the information in a different format, so we might as well all work towards the same outcomes.

Process – being transparent about the process helps. Why are you selecting an agency? Who are the decision makers? How many agencies are you talking to? Is there a chance for us to organise a Q&A session about the brief? Do you have a particular agency in mind that you are looking for, big, small, international?

Feedback – this should work both ways. It’s useful for agencies to receive feedback from clients on why they were not selected, but this should also be a chance for agencies to comment on how the pitch was managed and the basis on which the contract was awarded for future learnings.

As we approach the end of the year, where do PR agencies need to focus their business development efforts for 2024? 

1. Face2Face engagement – Email marketing is dead; people have become immune to cold emails and marketing campaigns, next year we’ll see a big push towards industry networking, thought leadership roundtables, and innovation summits all built around knowledge exchange and experience. Everyone is suffering from ‘Zoom Fatigue’, meeting people in person builds trust, and ultimately a relationship.

2. Consultancy –going back to the basics where agencies take on a larger strategy consultancy role for clients. This will also help restore the value in PR and eradicate the offensive ‘supplier’ label that some brands tarnish our profession with. 

3. Thought leadership – create content that focuses on future changing trends and behaviours, and how cleantech innovation will meet that demand. Content needs to have a purpose; the reader needs to learn something new. It’s a great way of reflecting your agency’s expertise in a sector and gives you a reason to reach out to new prospects.

4. Social interaction – building your agency’s presence on social media, builds credibility and in turn trust. Again, you can demonstrate your expertise in a particular sector and show previous client experience. It’s also a chance to show your agency’s culture and for prospects to get an understanding of the team they are ‘buying in to.’  Say what you want to say with meaningful content, driven by insights, and with a clear call to action. Don’t fall into the trap of simply publishing content to create noise around your brand. 

As 2023 and the year of the rabbit draws to a close, 2024 will see the year of the dragon rising from the ashes and with it a rejuvenated new business playing field, where PR agencies can compete and pitch with a new set of ground rules.