Getting prepared for the big presentation

Online monitoring proves to be a resourceful tool for PR agencies in new business pitches, finds Tanya Lewis

For many PR firms, online monitoring is a way to help manage client mentions in the media and get ahead of any potential crises. But it can also be a valuable research tool to help agencies prepare for a new business pitch.

Online monitoring recently helped Burson-Marsteller win new business from Canaccord Capital, an independent brokerage company. Erin Byrne, Burson's chief digital strategist, explains that Canaccord experienced vulnerability due to the credit market collapsing and wanted a relief plan for clients.

"Online monitoring allows us to know stakeholder point of view at any given point, which allows us to create messaging and programs," Byrne says. "Without that information, it becomes impossible to have an educated recommendation when you go into a new business meeting. Once we won the [Canaccord] assignment, education that happened during the pitch process got us... up to speed."

Companies that provide online monitoring services have also noticed that more agencies are using the tool to prepare for a pitch. Blake Cahill, VP of marketing at Visible Technologies, which counts Burson as a client, notes that monitoring can help identify topics, influencers, and sentiment that impact potential clients. It's also a good way to demonstrate company or brand positioning compared with existing or potential competitors, he adds, as well as helping to differentiate agencies.

"Monitoring delivers the visibility and perspective you need to understand the customer," adds Chris Johnson, president and CEO of dna13. "In developing a pitch, agencies should monitor the prospective company brand, products, executives, competitor's brand and products, as well as the market in general. Depth of research will... provide great understanding of the customers [and] also educate the agency on the market, enabling them to pitch with more authority."

Cahill recommends that agencies start by finding general brand and image conversations, volume, and sentiment for both prospective clients and their competitors.

"There's conversation that informs strategy that didn't exist in the past," Cahill says. "Responsibility continues to expand in terms of what agencies need to pay attention to. This channel is so impactful for messaging and ability to execute. For a PR firm to provide actionable intelligence is a critical differentiator."

Johnson advises agencies to keep search terms simple at the outset and to eliminate ads from search returns.

"Begin with monitoring the company name, management, board of directors, and financial reports," he explains. "If this industry is new to you, as soon as possible start with generic keyword search terms containing the name of the industry. Don't begin too specific, [as] emerging issues will not appear on your radar. If you have the luxury of monitoring multiple search terms, save each search string individually, so that if further customization is required, it can be done without affecting results of other strings. Review results and adjust the search term criteria immediately to make search terms as effective as possible."

Burson also uses online monitoring to get a feel for a prospective client's culture. Byrne says looking into what employees say about the company can provide a good idea. She also notes it's critical to try and uncover if a potential client is willing to engage in the type of programs an agency might suggest.

"Look at [its] Web presence, social media chatter about them, and programs [it's] involved in," Byrne says. "We absolutely look for clues about a company's culture and willingness to participate in progressive marketing and communications activities. It's critical to bring evidence into a client meeting. The more informed we are, the more we can help clients get where they want to be."

Monitor stakeholder point of view, sentiment

Compare potential clients with their competitors

Provide the courtesy of advanced notice

Forget to start with generic search terms

Stop at basic data; refine and drill down

Negelect to fully search for a company's cultural clues

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