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Why PR Agencies Struggle with Lead Generation – 10 Tips for Outbound Calling

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Over the years, we have been fortunate enough to work with lots of PR and other marketing agencies that have actively used telemarketing to generate leads. We’ve been able to make new business appointments for them with the likes of:

AVIVA; Crossrail; Chevrolet UK Ltd; GlaxoSmithKline; Hiscox plc; Interflora; AXA Wealth; RBS; First Direct; Toyota GB Plc; Nuclear Industry Association (NIA); National Association of Estate Agents; The Body Shop International plc; Estée Lauder Cosmetics Ltd.; Bayer plc; Nestle Purina Petcare (UK) Ltd; QVC; Oil & Gas UK; Ladbrokes plc; Madame Tussauds Ltd; Airmiles Travel Group; Henkel Ltd; Aegon UK; The Environment Agency; Learning & Skills Council; Hitachi (Europe) Ltd; Kodak Ltd; Legal & General Group plc

Having managed several PR and other agencies during my corporate career at Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc, and Porsche Cars GB, I believe that the principles of how to generate new business opportunities for PR agencies are the same as for generating good PR. It’s essentially about identifying the target audience, tailoring a message to suit, and engaging with them about that proposition.

Of course, I’m not foolish enough to suggest that I’ve solved the puzzle with the last ‘stating the obvious’ comment above. Over time, and especially in a recession, budgets have become tighter and client demands higher. It is harder to reach decision-makers especially in big companies with no-name policies, opt-outs, and gatekeepers. The number and type of channels and ways to reach the target audience have multiplied and fragmented. This has swelled the level of resources required to engage with prospects.

Social media on the other hand makes it easier to identify and target clusters of potential clients and provide value to those through the provision of information and knowledge. With LinkedIn and so on, we can tailor communication to sectors and interest groups to suit.

However, whatever the channel, key success factors relate to tightly defining the audience and communicating a compelling message.

Most of the agencies with whom we have worked want to target large blue-chip companies. Typically, these prospective clients have one or more incumbent agencies that may be contracted for a year and beyond. Perhaps long contracts are less prevalent than in the past not least since retainers have dwindled. However, it is pretty certain that the bigger target clients will have in-house PR staff plus one or more agencies on their roster.

With the above in mind, it makes it harder than ever before to find a reason for a potential client to see you outside of a particular need and before the time for a pitch or tender. But the problem is that agencies would like to engage with prospective clients ahead of that need. The reality is that, like most of us, PR decision-makers are time-poor. Assuming that the agency is set up to do their own outbound marketing (cobblers’ shoes perhaps?), PR and social media activity can support early engagement. However, it’s not always easy to find the time in between client work and you still can’t be sure that the activity will be successful in driving contacts to you. That’s where a blend of inbound and outbound marketing like telemarketing comes in. So, if you’re considering an outbound campaign, what’s the recipe for success? Below are our top 10 tips for PR agencies to make your outbound calls for new business more effective:

Tip Number 1 – Set Realistic objectives and Targets

Based on your credentials, client base, skills, and status in the market, what kind of new business can you expect and what kind of organization can you realistically target? Whilst you can try, you have to wonder whether targeting Diageo is wise if your only experience is in Pharmaceuticals. Likewise, if you have no large multi-national clients, what’s the reason why such an organization would award you such a contract?

Tip Number 2 – Take Action

There is no time like the present. Every agency needs to ensure that the sales funnel is full. You don’t know what’s around the corner. So don’t wait for the perfect time when you have the perfect collateral or an updated website or case study. Whilst these things are very relevant, important, and add value to the call process, if it delays you, just get on with it! Very frustratingly, we have made calls where we find a contract has just been awarded and we are too late. If we’d made a call perhaps a month earlier, maybe we could have got onto the pitch list. So don’t wait. Take action!

Tip Number 3 – Define your Market

What size and type of company, sector or location are you targeting? What issues can you help resolve in the marketplace? Where do you excel? What case do studies lend credibility to your offering?  If you specialise, that may be an easy task assuming that the sector is large enough. However, if you’re a generalist agency, defining the sector to go after may require more thought including an assessment of the marketplace in terms of political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legislative context. Use these aspects to consider where the opportunities may reside.

Tip Number 4 – Research and Use a Good List

No list is perfect and research is key. Choose a good list broker or owner or use directories, LinkedIn, and other sources. Make sure you have tightly defined the audience including job role (Comms, PR, and Marketing?). The tighter the list, the quicker the results and the less wastage in terms of time and money.

Tip Number 5 – Define a Clear and Compelling Proposition

This should be meat and drink to PR agencies. However, you need to consider why the prospect would listen when they already have an agent. Find something where you can add value and demonstrate genuine understanding. Ideally, find a gap with their current agency that you can fill even if it’s for a project to start with. Answer the questions ‘why would they see you?’ and ‘why should they see you now?’

Tip Number 6 – Brief your Callers well

Don’t leave it to chance. The more they understand about the value you add and the challenges that your agency resolves for the prospect, the more likely they will succeed in delivering more appointments at the right time. Pull together a written brief if possible and include likely roadblocks that the telemarketer may face during the calls. 

Tip Number 7 – Select and Train the Right People

You people are your brand and they represent your agency. The prospect will judge your agency on the basis of the phone call. So make sure that the person is well-spoken, competent, knowledgeable (remember they don’t have to know everything but just enough to book an appointment), and confident. They need to know how to overcome gatekeepers and handle likely objections, especially concerning the incumbent agency. People buy people and long may it continue.

Tip Number 8 – Record & Measure Performance

Make sure you have a system to track and measure conversations, call-backs, and all of the key performance indicators. That way, you won’t waste time and money. Good systems and processes are essential for telemarketing success. Two-way feedback with the caller is vital to ensure they deliver what you need.

Tip Number 9 – Be Patient

Rome wasn’t built in a day. We did some analysis for one of our PR clients a while back. We identified that a typical appointment can take up to 12 calls over several months before an appointment is confirmed. If that appointment is Glaxo Smithkline or Virgin, surely that time investment is worthwhile and the ROI would be significant.

Tip Number 10 – Follow-Up

As mentioned above, lead generation takes time. There’s nothing more dispiriting than missing the boat by a few weeks or months. That’s why regular follow-up is crucial as well as keeping the prospect abreast of what’s going on in the agency by periodic emails and by other means. We had a client teleconference the other day. Our client said, “Wow, we were really lucky with that appointment with (the telecoms operator) Three. We called just at the right time”. We have a great relationship with our client and our telemarketers responded with ‘Yes that’s right. And we’ve been lucky the past 6 months and the last 20 or so calls that I’ve put into them over that time to get the appointment”. Need I say more?

Telemarketing lead generation should not be left to chance. It is a process and PR agencies can generate excellent new business appointments if they follow our tips for success.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed reading these telemarketing tips. If you’d like more information, take a look at our other blog articles or visit our knowledge bank at

GSA is a London-based telemarketing agency with an office in Manchester. We offer telemarketing services and telemarketing training to ensure that you can hone your telemarketing techniques and deliver better results.

If you’d like to know more or book a new business development strategy workshop and find out how GSA Business Development can help Generate Growth for your Business, by contacting us now on 0845 658 8192 or send us an email.


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