OP-ED: To plan new business, the right information is everything

As the saying goes, "That which does not kill you makes you stronger." This phrase is particularly relevant when discussing the current state of our industry.

As the saying goes, "That which does not kill you makes you stronger." This phrase is particularly relevant when discussing the current state of our industry.

PR and ad agencies that have survived the past couple of years are emerging notably changed and smarter about how they approach and build their clients' businesses, and how they build their own. Gone are the days when firms could send out mass direct-mail pieces in hopes of hitting a bull's-eye, or waiting for a phone call. Enter the new era of relationship building, targeted marketing, and personalized approaches - the customized method of new-business development. Or so everyone thinks. To see exactly how the economy has affected new-business practices, Deep Blue Insight Group conducted a study of top US PR and ad agencies. While many large firms still exude an undeniable arrogance about their "tried and true" formula for bringing in new business, almost all agencies admitted they need some help in new-business planning. And they are looking to new partners to help them. In today's fast-moving market, old-fashioned printed resources such as the Redbooks are becoming obsolete as newer, more comprehensive sources such as The List are able to deliver more depth, with more accuracy - all at your online fingertips. Beyond mailing lists, agencies need customized information to help them look smarter and find an angle to get on the radar screen with a potential client. They need real information to help fuel their new-business process. They need deeper, richer information than others pitching for the business. It's no longer enough to simply say, "Call the 4 A's and get them to send us some information." Many different strategies exist for new-business development. Firms may try to find vertical markets and specialize or develop and market a proprietary process. They may target customers of "wounded agencies" or develop relationships with consultants and other industry influentials. Finally, firms may just wait for the phone to ring, though most who opt for this approach found the only phone calls came from bill collectors. While almost all agencies feel they have a "customized and proprietary approach" to new- business planning, nearly every one simply uses a combination of the strategies outlined above. While it may not be rocket science, the firms with the most rocket fuel often win. And the fuel in this case is information. The firms that win pitches regularly often rely on partners to help them gain strategic information. And, many of these partners have evolved a long way from mailing lists. From consulting firms to the new-business coaches to new-business information resources, these partners offer the kind of inside information that truly gives you an edge. Be warned though: Not all information is good information; and more is not always better. When choosing a partner, here are questions you must ask: Do they fully understand your business? The advertising and PR industries are, to say the least, unique. Your business development partner should have experience in your industry. It's even better if that's all they do. How timely is the information? In other words, how often is your list cleaned? A good list provider should update its information at least three times a year. How is the information obtained? If they're just getting it off another source, they aren't providing you with real value. They need to personally call and verify that the information is accurate, and see what other valuable "nuggets" they can dig up. Are you limited to standard profiles or can you drill deeper on a certain target if desired? An information partner should offer enhanced services that provide even more when you need it. What level of support is provided? Are they just about selling data, or can they offer solid guidance on how to best use the information they provide? Is the information you're getting truly what you need? This sounds elementary, but there is a big difference between "John Smith, VP," and "John Smith, VP. He will say he is not the one who makes decisions, but he really is. John likes to talk about case studies, and he tends to ..." The best information partners give their clients actionable insight that is tough to get elsewhere. Keep in mind: all firms need help in strengthening their new- business efforts. Finding the right information partner may be the crucial piece to kick your new-business planning into high gear.
  • Stephanie Husk is president of Deep Blue Insight Group, a market research and brand-planning firm based in Atlanta.

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