A panel of PR pros moderated by Researchscape’s Tony Cheevers took aim at business development in O’Dwyer’s first webinar Apr. 21.

Karen Swim, pres. of Words for Hire, stressed how important it is to have a consistent infrastructure for seeking out new leads. She explained that you can never stop developing relationships. “Business development should never be under pressure and like a fire drill,” Swim said.

PAN Communications' John Vernon has witnessed the evolution of the decision-maker picking an agency. Many more services are being sought, and that means instead of just one person to appeal to, there might be a whole team ready to evaluate an agency and that just gives you a better chance at showing your value, explained Vernon who heads up business development at PAN.

Vanessa Horwell, chief strategy officer from ThinkInkPR, addressed the conflicting urge to jettison clients even when things are tight, especially during the heart of the pandemic in 2020. “We walked away from clients we never would have done that with prior to the pandemic,” Horwell said. She noted that lean staffing on the client side sometimes meant dealing with a PR newbie unfamiliar with PR and expecting unrealistic results.

Webinar participants
(L to R) Tony Cheevers, Karen Swim, Vanessa Horwell & John Vernon. 82 registered for the webinar and 42 attended. A recording of the event is available.

RFP process questioned

“RFP process is the least effective way to find the correct agency,” Swim said. She explained that the questions asked just do not adequately access the value of the agency.

Horwell echoed this sentiment. Sometimes you don’t know how to deal with an RFP but you know you have to go through with it, Horwell lamented. She often wonders how involved the client is with the preparation of their own RFP. “With RFPs, there is just less opportunity to talk to the client,” Horwell said.

For Swim, her focus is on solving problems for the potential client. She doesn’t waste time explaining how PR works.

Vernon noted a recent trend of prospects including a collaborative exercise as part of their RFP process, such as help with an annual report. Moving forward with a strong chemistry then happens more smoothly and both parties are happier, Vernon has observed.

Pandemic Worked in PR’s favor

All panelists acknowledged the demand for PR is high and resulting budgets are bigger because clients are missing key people on their teams to do the work. They also pointed out that clients have gone beyond just looking to PR for earned media, and realize PR is a way to keep business. “PR’s role was validated during the pandemic,” Swim said.

Swim predicted that the impact of the pandemic will be felt for several more years. It’s not just supply chain problems or the great resignation, Swim explained. She said PR pros have to recognize and adjust to the emotional issues that now play a big part in everyone’s personal and professional life.

82 registered for the webinar and 42 attended. A recording of the event is available.

Topics for future O'Dwyer's/Researchscape webinars include the reality behind agency search and RFPs, attracting and retaining employees and evaluating the tech stack within PR firms.