A coordinated public relations plan is the key to successful business development.
By Susan Shelby
Strong client relationships are the core of business development (BD). Strategically building and nurturing client relationships can help you navigate your firm into the directions of growth you wish to attain. Public relations (PR) sets the stage for these relationships by enhancing your public image and increasing market exposure to create brand awareness and establish your firm as a thought leader. PR ensures that cold calls are never cold.
Successful BD requires setting achievable objectives designed to grow your business. It starts with identifying your target audience, understanding what drives them, and determining how best to reach them. It requires creating materials that showcase your thought leadership to demonstrate your firm’s expertise and experience in the market.
The key to effective business development is an integrated approach that includes PR and marketing. PR is integral to building a long-term presence in the industry and maintaining top-of-mind awareness among current and potential clients. Promoting expertise, strengthening credibility, and delivering actionable content that educates your target audience should be a priority.
Once you determine business objectives and growth strategy, rally your team to brainstorm and design a focused PR and marketing plan. Ideally, a PR brainstorming meeting should be held each fall to prepare a plan for the upcoming year. Of utmost importance is generating topics for thought leadership to target your plan towards stated BD objectives. Prepare for the meeting by thinking about industry trends and what keeps your clients up at night. What are the common issues and problems that typical clients face? What technical knowledge, best practices, and project experience can your firm offer clients? Take this information and develop three-to-five solid topics that showcase your expertise and on which you will base the tactical PR and marketing activities in your plan.
A well-prepared PR plan focuses on delivering key messages to your target audience based on your business strategy. Common PR tactics to shape the public’s perception include:
- Press releases. Consistently distributing meaningful company news to relevant local and industry publications increases credibility, maximizes visibility, and elevates brand name recognition among your target audience. PR professionals know what constitutes newsworthy coverage, how to create professional content, and have relevant media connections.
- Byline articles. An engaging and professionally written article placed in a respected publication solidifies your industry expertise and presents additional BD and marketing opportunities for the firm. Refer to your prepared list of topics when identifying target publications and relevant editorial opportunities. Know which publications accept contributed byline articles (versus articles that are written by their own editorial staff). Prepare the pitch, and, once secured, be sure to meet the editor’s deadlines. Published byline articles are especially useful, as they can be easily promoted to current and potential clients via email blasts and social media posts.
- Media relations. Just as it takes time and effort for you to develop business relationships, it takes a similar effort to establish relationships with the media. If your firm doesn’t have those contacts, a PR professional can assist with reaching targeted press and establishing your firm as a credible expert source for articles and contributed information. Again, rely on those previously determined PR topics to offer editors expertise in line with the publication’s editorial calendars. Typically, an editor will ask for a phone interview with your expert on the stated topic.
- Industry awards. Industry awards can differentiate your firm from the competition and highlight exceptional work. Seek industry award programs that align with your business goals and project achievements. Remember to tap the project team to strengthen the project narrative in award submissions.
- Speaking opportunities. Identify speaking opportunities at conferences, trade shows, and local business events to position your staff as experts in the industry. Research opportunities, noting required experience, materials, and deadlines for submission. Using one of your brainstormed PR topics, help your staff write a speaking abstract with learning objectives and submit to the event organizer. Once secured, assist your team with materials preparation and rehearsal, if needed.
Strategic thinking and planning are essential to any business. Successful business development identifies areas for growth and employs public relations and marketing strategies to help achieve those initiatives. Match your PR efforts to your BD goals to shape the future of your firm.
Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is the president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations.