PR TECHNIQUE: PITCHING TO PR AGENCIES - 10 Tips for courting a PR agency. It used to be that PR agencies went foraging for clients. Now - in this topsy-turvy world - it’s increasingly the other way round. Aimee Grove explains how to get noticed by

Remember the pre-dot-com days, when new business was actually something even the hottest PR firms actively sought out? As many client-side PR pros are learning, the shoe is now on the other foot in Silicon Valley and other places where startups and VC cash is flush but prized marketing talent is scarce. Now it takes much more than waving a fistful of dollars to gain the attention of agencies. PRWeek spoke to several heavily-courted PR firms about what prospective clients can do to get that foot in the door and land the agency they want.

Remember the pre-dot-com days, when new business was actually something even the hottest PR firms actively sought out? As many client-side PR pros are learning, the shoe is now on the other foot in Silicon Valley and other places where startups and VC cash is flush but prized marketing talent is scarce. Now it takes much more than waving a fistful of dollars to gain the attention of agencies. PRWeek spoke to several heavily-courted PR firms about what prospective clients can do to get that foot in the door and land the agency they want.

Remember the pre-dot-com days, when new business was actually

something even the hottest PR firms actively sought out? As many

client-side PR pros are learning, the shoe is now on the other foot in

Silicon Valley and other places where startups and VC cash is flush but

prized marketing talent is scarce. Now it takes much more than waving a

fistful of dollars to gain the attention of agencies. PRWeek spoke to

several heavily-courted PR firms about what prospective clients can do

to get that foot in the door and land the agency they want.





1. Get an early start



You’ll need some time to do the research and touch base with the correct

agencies once you have identified them. Also, ’it is important that you

get the positioning right out of the gate,’ says Connie Connors of New

York tech boutique Connors Communications.





2. Figure out what you need first



Before you can make a short- list of agencies, you’ll need to decide

exactly what your PR needs are; know your desired outcome and target

audience.



’Do some research,’ says Harry Pforzheimer, Edelman/ Mountain View EVP

and GM, who claims to get about 10 new business calls a day. ’Do you

need a global PR firm? Do you just want product publicity? Regional

media coverage?’





3. Maximize those connections



Nothing opens a door faster than a connection. In fact, ’a substantial

reference from a current or past client, VC, reporter, law firm or bank’

is one of only two things guaranteed to lead to a meeting with

FitzGerald Communications’ John Berard, says the head of the firm’s busy

San Francisco operation. Susan Butenhoff of San Francisco’s Access

Communications, who receives dozens of new business calls a week,

recommends that companies look up agencies’ existing client lists to

sleuth out any possible connections there.





4. Seek out an agency that is - or wants to be - in your space



Once again, this is where doing your homework (checking out the agency

Web site, calling previous clients) pays off, because no matter how busy

an agency is, it’s likely to make time for a meeting with you if your

company represents a coveted industry sector that it is interested in

specializing in. For example, Berard says his firm seeks out enterprise

technology firms, especially those where the technology itself is the

point of difference.





5. Meet over the phone at first



Volunteer to do a first meeting over the phone with just the key

players.



The conference call option may not be ideal, but it does show respect

for everyone’s time crunch and helps get the ball rolling without having

to wait to get everyone’s schedules in line.





6. Make a case for your company’s prospects of success



You should be ready out of the gate to answer a series of questions

regarding your company’s business model, leadership, funding and

competition. Butenhoff recommends that you draft a one-page outline of

your points of difference in the market. ’Lots of startups are trying to

create or define a whole new category, which is immensely expensive and

difficult to do,’ adds Text 100/San Francisco GM Ryan Donovan.



Describe the strengths and past successes of your management team. You

should also be ready to answer the question: ’How many real employees

and real customers do you have?’ Sabrina Horn of The Horn Group in San

Francisco, who gets 20 to 30 calls a week, advises companies to come to

the first meeting with a list of references, especially if you can

provide any early connections with Wall Street or IT analysts.





7. Show them the money - and/or stock options



While a ’money’s no object’ attitude is no longer sufficient to land an

agency, clients do need to be able to pony up the minimum going retainer

rate. This varies according to region and industry; in Silicon Valley/

San Francisco most companies need at least dollars 20,000 to dollars

30,000 a month to play ball, or at least a generous allotment of

equity.





8. Identify your time frame



Before making any calls, it’s probably useful to map out ahead of time

your ’key milestones’ for announcements such as an IPO or

partnerships.



’Make sure the agency has enough time to achieve these,’ says Access’

Butenhoff. ’Nobody wants to jump through hoops anymore.’





9. Demonstrate your PR commitment



Bringing a CEO to the first meeting helps in this area, says Horn,

because it shows that upper-level management is committed to and

realistic about PR. A clear understanding of PR’s limitations is also

key, says Bonnie Quintanilla, SVP of Manning Selvage & Lee Global

Technology in Westlake Village, CA. ’Lots of people who have come up

through other disciplines like advertising or marketing look at

companies like Netscape and Yahoo! and think it’s easy to achieve the

same thing. We can’t work with people like that,’ she says, ’We want

somebody seeking strategic counsel, not just tactical execution.’

Finally, for many agencies, it’s important to show that this will be a

long-term relationship.





10. Even if you are turned down, pick the agency’s brain



Despite being busy, most agencies are extremely reluctant to jeopardize

what could be future client relationships. And nobody necessarily

believes that the boom will last forever. For that reason, you can often

get advice from the agency. ’I do lots of free consulting these days

with companies whose business we cannot take on,’ Berard explains. ’Just

the other day, I spent at least a half an hour on the phone with a woman

- after telling her why we couldn’t take her business - helping her make

a short list of other firms to call.’ Even if you are turned down, stay

in touch with the agency. Things change.





WHAT MAKES A PROSPECT ATTRACTIVE?



1. Good fit with the agency’s goals, focus and core competency



2. Solid business model and management team in place



3. Secure funding



4. Prior experience with PR at management level



5. CEO committed to PR and accessible to the PR team



6. Desire to partner with the agency, not just hire a vendor



7. Reasonable expectations and realistic time frame



8. Realistic budget



9. Clear points of difference from competitors



10. A good story to tell journalists - with a real product and real

customers.



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