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How to win new business in today’s virtual world

The disadvantage of everyone working from home is that you never see potential clients face to face anymore (or is that an advantage?). We asked PR leaders who have succeeded in winning new business during the pandemic for the secrets of their success.

First, find that new business!  

Reach out
Alexandra May, account director at PR agency Hopscotch Europe: “My top tips for getting in new business – especially in the current business climate – is to be extra proactive in reaching out to your own network. This is more important now than ever, as it is easy to lose contact with people who you were used to seeing face to face regularly in the past. “

Go on LinkedIn
Alexandra May: “Being active on LinkedIn – sharing content to your own platform as well as engaging with your network’s content – is a great way to increase your visibility and create a starting point for conversations around new business. Simply calling close contacts, without an agenda, just to see how they are doing can give you some good intel and ideas that can be mutually beneficial for both parties.”

Tips for the virtual pitch

Be fully prepared
Chris Hughes, associate director and head or PR at marketing agency Boutique/: “I certainly don’t feel virtual pitches are a barrier. The key is not to treat them any differently to ones that are face-to-face. By the time you get to pitch stage, you should have already had quite a bit of communication with the client, so there is every reason to feel relaxed and clear on the brief, objectives and KPIs.

“Ultimately, the key to any pitch is having a clear process in place and building in enough time to prepare, qualify the brief and road test both your strategy and creative PR ideas. Delivery of it virtually shouldn’t have any bearing on its success.”

Have a chemistry meeting
Judith O’Leary, MD of Represent PR: “An initial Zoom meeting with the main point of contact is extremely helpful for having that first friendly chat and virtual chemistry meeting. It saves time travelling to a meeting for both parties and makes follow-up easier once we have a sense of who they are and what they’re looking for. 

“We’d typically then receive a written brief and respond by creating a discussion document or deck for a Zoom pitch meeting with the potential new client and key members of their team. Again, this is a huge time saver for all involved; those pitching and those involved in the selection process.”

Get the technology right
Judith O’Leary: “For it to be successful, you need to ensure that your video conferencing technology is on point and that your internet speed is optimal so you can be seen and heard well.”

Be super enthusiastic
Darryl Sparey, MD and co-founder of comms consultancy Hard Numbers: “Dial up the energy a LOT, so you can convey your enthusiasm for the prospect as effectively as if you were in the room.”

Keep it casual
James Whittall, founder and MD of agency Influx Digital “It is key to keep the calls casual, allowing time to get to know the client, understand the inner workings of their business and what it is they want to achieve. Let the conversation flow naturally and give everyone the chance to introduce themselves. 

“The first few minutes are so important, and if you use that time properly you should be able to build a good rapport without needing to be face to face.”

Have a clean background
Louise Ahuja, director at agency Louisebcomms: “My tip for virtual pitching is keep the background as clear as possible so the clients aren't distracted, but don't be afraid of showing some of your personality in the pitch. In one recent case it involved dealing with a hungry small child wanting a biscuit and we went on to win the project."

Dress for the part
Hayley Smith owner of agency Boxed Out PR: “Dress up! We have become accustomed to dressing down, and first impressions still count, so make an effort and show you mean business regardless of where you are.”

Go with the flow
Hayley Smith: “On Zoom, anything can happen. On my last pitch, my upstairs neighbours were drilling relentlessly. The potential client was really understanding, and it created common ground, as he started sharing his Zoom nightmares.”

Start with a bang and end with one too
Caroline Gruen, associate partner, at agency Milk & Honey PR: “Clients don’t just buy a product. They buy the people. Skipping the conversations whilst coffee is poured at the start of the meeting, gives a lot less time for breaking the ice.

"This makes the opening and close more important than ever. Get clients to sit up and take notice from the start and leave with a memorable conclusion.”

Pros and cons of virtual pitches
Emma Grace, chief creative and strategy director at agency PrettyGreen, lists the good and the bad about not being in the room with your potential clients.

1. An intimacy that you otherwise wouldn’t have (I have had chats about nice pictures on walls and even had a client’s four year old burp live mid pitch)
2. Less nerves. I think people have been presenting better – sometimes an audience can be intimidating for a nervous presenter - so it can be helpful to simply turn their scary faces off 😁

1. Distraction. I can see you are looking at your emails
2. First impressions. Zero ability to impress with great boardroom snacks/massive atrium 
3. Comprehension. Are you really listening to what I am saying, or are you just reading the screen? I know I find it hard to do both
4. Discussion. It’s not as natural to pause a Zoom pitch for a chat or a discussion – as it would be in real life, so people simply don’t bother (this could mean that ideas are shut down before they have even had time to breathe or ideas are being misunderstood)
5. Body language. Is this idea even landing? Do I need to detail more? I can’t tell because the box of your face is too teeny tiny

Working life has gone online for many PROs, but this does not mean it is necessarily harder, and that is just as true for winning new business.

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