Iliyana's Blog

12 Best Business Practices for PR Agency Success

[fa icon="calendar"] 25-May-2015 08:00:00 / by Iliyana Stareva


I spent a good three years working in PR and digital agencies across Germany and the UK. Now I’m on the other side – as a Channel Consultant at HubSpot my role is to help our partner agencies grow their businesses.

That not only includes teaching them the inbound marketing methodology and how they can use our software for their own marketing, but also offering them strategic advice on how to choose the right market, develop and deliver better services, recognise areas for growth, make the right team decisions, establish expertise and more. So really - business consulting.

Just a few months ago I thought agency life was hard (and it is, don’t get me wrong), but now I’m seeing that running an agency isn’t easy either.

Especially when you have to compete with thousands of other similar firms out there.

From what I’ve experienced so far, the biggest challenge agencies face is developing a unique positioning that allows them to truly stand out and be seen as an expert, with clients chasing them for their knowledge and capabilities, rather than the agencies having to pitch all the time for new business.

This is a topic that I am becoming more and more passionate about, so I’ve been spending a lot of time researching and reading various literature on it.

One of the books that I can recommend here is The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns. It’s a manifesto of 12 best business practices (or proclamations as the author calls them) for agencies that sell ideas and advice.

I’ve curated for you my favourite quotes from each proclamation below. Especially in the PR world I feel like there’s a huge need for PR firms to rethink their models and transform their businesses. These 12 proclamations can also help the PR practice to finally be seen as a profession.

12 Best Business Practices for PR Agency Success

{The First Proclamation} We Will Specialize

"Expertise is the only valid basis for differentiating ourselves from the competition. Not personality. Not process. Not price. It is expertise and expertise alone that will set us apart in a meaningful way and allow us to deal with our clients and prospects from a position of power."

"Power in the client-agency relationship usually rests with the client. His power comes from the alternatives that he sees to hiring us. When the client has few alternatives to our expertise then we can dictate pricing, we can set the terms of the engagement and we can take control in a manner that better ensures that our ideas and advice have the desired impact. When the alternatives to hiring us are many, the client will dictate price. He will set the terms of the engagement. He will determine how many of our ideas and how much of our advice we need to part with, for free, in order to decide if he will choose to work with us."

{The Second Proclamation} We Will Replace Presentations With Conversations

"We will break free of our addiction to the big reveal and the adrenaline rush that comes from putting ourselves in the win-or-lose situation of the presentation. When we pitch, we are in part satisfying our craving for this adrenaline rush, and we understand that until we break ourselves of this addiction we will never be free of the pitch."

"Practitioners do not present. Stars do not audition."

"Presenting is a tool of swaying, while conversing is a tool of weighing. Through the former we try to convince people to hire us. Through the latter we try to determine if both parties would be well served by working together."

{The Third Proclamation} We Will Diagnose Before We Prescribe

"When the client comes to us self-diagnosed, our mindset must be the same as the doctor hearing his patient tell him what type of surgery he wants performed before any discussion of symptoms or diagnoses. Our reaction must be, “You may be correct, but let’s find out for sure.”

"One of the advantages the outside expert brings is perspective. And one of the hallmarks of creativity is the ability to see problems differently, and thus find solutions others cannot see."

{The Fourth Proclamation} We Will Rethink What it Means to Sell

"Selling is about determining a fit between the buyer’s need and the seller’s supply (our very objective) and then facilitating a next step."

"The psychology of buying is the psychology of changing. Selling, therefore, is change management. The very best salespeople are respectful, selective facilitators of change. They help people move forward to solve their problems and capitalize on their opportunities. The rest talk people into things."

{The Fifth Proclamation} We Will Do With Words What We Used to Do With Paper

"We have long been conditioned to think that the written proposal is a necessary step in the buying cycle. It is not. The document that we write is the contract. It serves as public verification of an agreement we have already formed with the client in conversation."

"A client asking for unpaid ideas in a written proposal is like a patient asking for a diagnosis and prescription from a doctor he refuses to visit or pay."

"Doctors charge for MRIs. Accountants charge for audits. Lawyers charge for discovery. And we charge for our diagnostic work as well, whether it is a brand audit or discovery session that we conduct ourselves, or outside research that we commission."

{The Sixth Proclamation} We Will Be Selective

"Instead of seeking clients, we will selectively and respectfully pursue perfect fits – those targeted organizations that we can best help. We will say no early and often, and as such, weed out those that would be better served by others and those that cannot afford us. By saying no we will give power and credibility to our yes."

"Selectivity begins with positioning – the very focus of our enterprise."

"The narrower our claim of expertise, the more integrity we earn. By staking a narrow claim we build the credibility for the client to assume we have capabilities beyond our claim, whereas a broad claim generates the opposite reaction."

{The Seventh Proclamation} We Will Build Expertise Rapidly

"The skills we must possess or acquire in order to succeed in a differentiated creative enterprise are: consulting first, writing second, artistry third. The problem-seeing and problem-solving skills of the advisor, along with the ability to lead others through the engagement, trump everything else. Writing follows, for writing both proves and deepens our expertise. The artistry, increasingly, is the commodity. It is inexpensively acquired from those that neither have, nor attempt to cultivate, the first two skills. We must take control and we must write."

"If we want to build deep expertise we must take pains to document how we work, to define how we will work in the future and to continuously refine and improve our approach."

{The Eighth Proclamation} We Will Not Solve Problems Before We Are Paid

"Our thinking is our highest value product; we will not part with it without appropriate compensation. If we demonstrate that we do not value our thinking, our clients and prospects will not. Our paying clients can rest assured that our best minds remain focused on solving their problems and not the problems of those who have yet to hire us."

"How can we diagnose and prescribe for free one minute, and later ask for hundreds or thousands of dollars for similar thinking?"

{The Ninth Proclamation} We Will Address Issues of Money Early

"We will resist putting ourselves in a position where we have overinvested in the buying cycle only to find the client cannot afford to pay us what we are worth."

"The client has a budget, or at the very least, budget limitations, and we should have our own parameters that define our minimum client size. With each party having such criteria, it becomes easy to determine as early as practical if there is a financial fit. But for many of us, it is not easy: money conversations are a source of stress."

"One of the functions of business development is to keep bad clients or other poor fits out."

"Walking away from those that cannot pay us what we are worth lowers our average cost of sale and preserves both our positioning and any future business opportunities with the client."

{The Eleventh Proclamation} We Will Charge More

"As our expertise deepens and our impact on our clients’ businesses grows, we will increase our pricing to reflect that impact."

"It is our thinking, however, that separates us from our competition and forms the basis of our ability to premium price."

"Price premiums give us the profit to reinvest in our people, our enterprise and ourselves."

"When our clients buy our thinking, however, they need to understand they are not buying it in units of time. It is not until we cease to sell these strategic services by the hour that we can truly charge more."

{The Twelfth Proclamation} We Will Hold Our Heads High

"We will see ourselves as professional practitioners who bring real solutions to our clients’ business problems. We will seek respect above money, for only when we are respected as experts will we be paid the money we seek. This money will allow us to reinvest in ourselves, become even better at what we do and deliver to our families and ourselves the abundance we deserve."             


The agencies who follow these 12 proclamations are “reclaiming the high ground in the client relationship, beating back the pitch and winning new business without first having to part with their thinking for free… They have gone from order-taker suppliers to expert advisors and have forged a more satisfying and lucrative way of getting and doing business.” 

Which are the agencies that are winning without pitching?


Ready to transform but don't know how? Get Inbound PR to help you! 

Inbound PR book Iliyana Stareva



Topics: Public Relations, Inbound PR, Agencies

Iliyana Stareva

Written by Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva is the author of Inbound PR - the book that is transforming the PR industry. She's also a keynote speaker and a consultant in inbound and digital for fast-growing companies and agencies. Currently, Iliyana is Chief of Staff to the EMEA President at ServiceNow. Before that, she held global and EMEA-wide positions at Cisco and HubSpot. She is also certified by the PMI as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®. In her free time, you can find Iliyana writing for her blog, dancing salsa or travelling the world.

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