If you work in PR, you know there’s been a sea change. The old “push” tactics our industry once relied on no longer work well in the digital age. Today’s media people increasingly reject top-down, interruptive messages trying to sell a story. What they do crave is relevant content that draws them in, engages them, and helps them write the stories they want to write. You know you need to provide that. What you don’t know is where to begin.
The first order of business is to shift your mindset.
Here’s the problem: Most PR firms are still outbound organizations trying to survive in an inbound world. Other fields have figured out that the way people buy has changed. PR pros need to figure it out, too. This is the mental shift that will change everything and make you relevant again.
Think about your own buying process. When you’re making a purchase, you do your own research. You compare vendors and prices online. You seek advice from friends and peers on social media. You certainly don’t seek out salespeople or ads.
In response, many marketers have switched to an inbound approach. Rather than pushing messages on customers, they entice them with multichannel techniques that earn their attention and trust via relevant content. They create and foster meaningful dialogues. And it works: People come to these marketers on their own.
It’s time PR embraced this philosophy too, and many firms already have. They’ve figured out how to turn media influencers from strangers to visitors by providing fresh, engaging content that takes them through four stages: Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight. In the process, they’ve figured out how to solve PR’s biggest weakness: measurement.
If you’re ready to make this paradigm shift, I suggest you start with these seven crucial steps:
1. Get crystal clear on your vision and positioning.
The firms that succeed at inbound PR are the ones that undergo a complete transformation of their business model. It often means choosing to go “digital” and ditching your outbound tactics (that don’t work anyway). Then and only then can you get 100 percent focused on your positioning, both externally and internally. That means figuring out what you do best — your niche — and then specializing in that area alone.
Your positioning is crucial. It helps existing and potential clients know what you do and what you stand for, and it ensures that employees know your values and can align their work with your mission.”
2. Become your own best client.
Before you offer services to your clients — content creation, PR, social media, and so on — you must first deliver them to your own business. Why? Because you must prove to yourself that inbound PR works. First of all, you need to learn the methodology inside and out; second, you don’t want to experiment on your clients; third, you want to be perceived as credible and trustworthy, and the way to do that is to practice what you preach.
Becoming your own best client has the added benefit of positioning you as a thought leader in your field. In the digital era, that happens with content. A previous agency client at HubSpot has hundreds of videos on YouTube. They do webinars, blogs, live video, Snapchat, and more. They generate 100 percent of their new business through their own marketing and PR and they’ve managed to triple their revenue in a year.
3. Hire the right people (at the right time).
If you want to build a scalable agency, you need people not just with the right skills (because skills can be taught) but with the desire to learn and grow. Your timing is also crucial, because once you make the decision to become an inbound agency, the clients will come, and you must be ready to service them all. So be sure to plan in advance, and begin your recruiting process as soon as you decide to transform your business.
You need enough great people to make your clients happy and drive results. As an agency owner, you shouldn’t have to get bogged down in project management or service delivery, nor should employees be working 24/7 to handle the workload!
4. Build a strong, clearly defined agency culture.
This should be based on your core values — so first make those so abundantly clear that employees can recite them. These will guide everything they do and the way they deliver work. They will also guide how you teach and train your people. Having defined your values will also determine your hiring standards; you’ll be able to better decide if the person you’re evaluating will be the right fit for your team
5. Learn to say “no.”
A key step when becoming an inbound PR firm is the ability to say “no” to the wrong clients. You don’t want to be working with companies that don’t have the budget or the willingness to grow, or those that don’t trust your expertise and want things done their way. These clients are not worth your time or effort. The agencies that choose to say no early on are the ones set for success. Remember too, that being able to say no applies to your team. You may also need to make the hard decision and let the wrong employees go.
6. Offer top-notch ongoing client service.
It’s not enough to create a great service plan to get clients through the door. You’ve also got to deliver those services and drive real results throughout the campaign. Inbound PR is all about showing ROI, so having very, very clearly defined processes on servicing clients throughout the agreed engagement is crucial. It also entails spending more time with your clients. Build and document your processes for onboarding, retaining, and renewing and learn to be efficient at them.
7. Relentlessly learn and share the knowledge.
The drive to learn inbound PR and to share it with your team, your clients, and your advocates is what will ultimately position you as an expert in your area. You shouldn’t be afraid of competition — in fact, it should motivate you even further.
Inbound PR can be a wake-up call that will transform your agency. It is a mindset change that will allow PR to reinvent itself and earn a seat at the table as a truly value-driving disciple. Don’t wait another moment to embrace it and see what it can do for you.
Iliyana Stareva is the author of “Inbound PR: The PR Agency’s Manual to Transforming Your Business With Inbound“. She is Global Partner Program Manager at HubSpot, focusing on aligning HubSpot’s expanding global teams to better service the agency partners and smoothly roll out changes to the program. She spends her free time dancing salsa or writing about inbound PR, inbound marketing, and agency business, expertise gathered from years of agency experience and agency business consulting across Germany, the UK, and Ireland.