What is the future for the Public Relations Agency industry? The debate started across on Forbes, continued on FIR and we add our own suggestions from an interview taken for the source material for our book, “The Creative Agency of the Future“, being written now.

What is the future for the PR industry? We asked Tom Martin of Converse Digital who has spent the last 10 years directly responsible for Converse Digital’s biz dev.

Questions: What are you doing differently in the past 2 years in….

Business development

This is the thing I’m doing most – using knowledge as a lead generation tool. This was the underlying motivation for introducing our new website. We redesigned it on our 2 year anniversary of the company so it’s a year old.

Our theory is that there are 2 ways to win business with the RFP process (trad) or the outbound cold calling and mailing program (trad) or you can get away from the traditional mind-set that you need to keep all your thinking behind your 4 walls and only allow clients to have it when they start paying and give away a crap tonne of stuff for free.

Use that to build a reputation as a thought leader about a vertical, industry or category and allow the self-educating buyer who does Google searches for “agencies who can solve a problem” let them stumble across you. If you have a funnel optimized website and digital presence with a good contact form then you’ll get an inbound email saying can you help me.

That’s exclusively how I’ve been marketing for the past three years.

I just picked up a media company/agency as a new client. They are hiring us to go in and help them evaluate what should a media company be in 21st century. They found us because their CEO read a blog post of ours’ 2 years ago – followed through, looked at presentations and then called us. Grand total investment of non-billable time less than 5 hours.

I use Pippity to do popups on our site. It doesn’t pop up on a mobile which I really like.

I am open to working with agencies – but it diluted our positioning too much. I decided to niche harder against client categories and now we’ll start to open that back up a bit again but behind the publishing of The Invisible Sale – a biz dev book written for client side and agency marketers. The book will publish in October 2013.

We are a small and largely virtual firm – I deal with keeping leads coming through the door.

We use Mailchimp for email, WordPress website with widgets – combine with Mailchimp to automate marketing for lead generation. We look at Hubspot because it is the next phase of back-end dossier of a person – it’s here now but more manual.

Human resources

I run some full time and some contract (10/99 – US Tax form to pay independent contractors with) geographically around the country – that’s easy from an accounting standpoint. It opens me up and I like using stay at home moms who don’t want to go back to the corporate world. And they work 9-3. It’s a really talented and motivated pool of women.

Client management

It’s moving to virtualized relationship tools – Facebook private messages, email contact. To the point that I have to give myself a note to call or schedule a lunch with a client – do something to keep the relationship facet alive. Some of our clients who are local are happy to Skype even if they live in the same city.

Campaign organisation (job bags / project management)

We use virtual cloud-based systems – Box.net – it’s a folder system but you can add notes to digital assets there. We don’t do many campaigns – most of what we sell is pure strategy. Our deliverable it a point of view not a print advert.

 

Real estate

More virtualised, we allow people to work from home – we don’t have to have an expensive rent cheque.

IT infrastructure

More of our stuff is in a cloud-based environment so it can be gotten to from anywhere.

Internal communications

We try to make an effort to go physically talk to people.

Contracts

On some project work, clients are more comfortable working with simplistic letters of agreement rather than complex contracts.

Where do you go for information about how to improve the way you run your business?

Websites with a vertical layout – it’s very, very clear as to what we do and it moves our thinking up to the front page in the form of the most recent blog posts. There’s a lot of emphasis on newsletter and blog sign up which helps subscriptions. The whole site is designed (not to be pretty or to make us look cool) it’s a tool. The base is a WP theme customised.