I've recently noticed two key trends in communications. Firstly, more agencies seem to be either hiring a specific person responsible for business development or relying more heavily on 'pitch' teams, and secondly, I've seen more companies asking for reassurance in new business meetings, that the team that they see is the one they will be working with. I think it's only logical to assume these trends are connected, and I worry that we're creating a trust dichotomy that is harming the perception of PR amongst businesses.
The team who pitches should be the team that works on the account
It's easy to see why a company might choose to use a pitch team of its brightest and finest. Some people are more natural when it comes to presenting, and one team that works seamlessly together is more likely to impress. The problem is, communications is as much about good relationships as anything else, and building a promise based on a team where the majority will never work on the account, doesn't really get a relationship off to the best start.
It's also easy to see why lots of agencies choose to wheel out the CEO or senior board members for every pitch. No one has more experience or clout than the managing director of a multi-national firm, but when you are pitching for a new account you are selling a vision, and if that vision includes the CEO, companies will quite rightly expect him or her to be involved. If, as is likely, your CEO is only peripherally involved, companies end up feeling like they have been misled.
With both of these approaches, you are also doing your account teams a disservice. Practise makes perfect, and junior members will only refine their pitching skills through exposure. It is far better to have the team who will be working on an account doing the research and helping develop the creative that will eventually form the backbone of the project. This helps keep staff engaged as well as having the added benefit that if you do win the account, the team will be up to speed on the project and ready to go.
If you're worried that the account team might not have the experience your pitch team does, it is far better to put the proposal together early, and have plenty of practice sessions and coaching. Have your more experienced pitchers there to give tips and help refine the presentation. This way you are upskilling your entire organisation, whilst also building trust and continuity with new clients.
Identifying new business opportunities needs to be everyone's responsibility
More companies also seem to be hiring a dedicated business development person or team. While it makes sense to have someone who is responsible for overseeing the new business process, to ensure that resource is being used effectively and things are moving forward, often these people or teams become responsible for identifying new sectors and clients to engage with.
In many ways this is the worst possible outcome. Throughout any organisation there are people with different skills and contacts, all of whom have the potential to build new relationships and create opportunities. You need to embed business development throughout your company, so every single person has roles, responsibilities and new business targets. These targets need not necessarily be converted opportunities, for junior members this will be daunting and potentially unrealistic. Instead, targets can include things such as attending a specific number of networking events, or adding people to the sales database. By making sure that new business sits within everyone's objectives, you create a culture where all your employees are actively seeking new opportunities and leveraging networks.
The 'entrepreneurial spirit' is something businesses today often aspire to. I've worked for a number of organisations, big and small, and I've found that one of the best ways to encourage entrepreneurial culture is by creating an environment where thinking commercially about ways to grow and develop a company is inherent at every level of an organisation.
Don't let business development get lost in the mix
Communications businesses are often extremely busy, and it is easy for new business to get pushed down the agenda while client work takes priority. This is completely understandable as providing excellent client service is at the heart of what we do, however, it's important not to lose momentum with potential opportunities.
Where new business targets have been implemented this often alleviates some of the problem as business development is seen as a priority by all employees. It's also important to look at how you manage your resourcing. We always make sure that everyone has regular hours allocated for new business, which sit outside of live opportunities. This means that everyone has allocated hours where they can either research potential new leads, attend relevant events, or build relationships.
Training is paramount
For lots of people the new business process can be quite daunting, especially when it comes to learning how to build relationships or turn the business card you got at an event into a prospect. Junior team members, or those who have come from an organisation where new business was taken care of by dedicated teams, will feel particularly unsure of themselves. Make sure you have internal processes and training to help people get comfortable with the process, and that more senior team members are approachable and ready to help.
New business is what allows any organisation to grow, it's what allows you to work with the best companies on the most interesting projects. The more people you can get involved in the process, the more successful you will be. Building strong relationships is the cornerstone of excellent communications and through training and embedding business development throughout your organisation, you can develop a smart and engaged group of employees who will impress potential new clients, without the need for a dedicated pitch team. Only then can we rebuild trust in the new business process and develop business relationships that will last for a long time.