Expert Panel Reveals the Ins and Outs of PR Business Development

Senior Pros Gain First-Hand Insights Into Attracting, Retaining New Clients


                All photos courtesy of Ron Wyatt /

The September 12 Senior Professionals Group Expert Panel packed the room for a rousing discussion of how PR professionals throughout New Jersey can expand their client base …without losing sight of their firm’s own goals and profitability. Three experts shared valuable lessons in business development learned over many years of building long-term, mutually rewarding partnerships with prospects – and turning them into clients they serve.

The wide-ranging meeting was hosted by Joan Bosisio, PRSA NJ Board Director and Senior Vice President at the Stern Strategy Group in Iselin, NJ. The panel featured:

* David Hernandez, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of lotus823 in Eatontown;

* Brian Lowe, President & CEO of BML Public Relations in Florham Park and PRSA NJ’s 2019 PR Professional of the Year; and

* Ken Jacobs, Principal, Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching and PRSA NJ Board Member

Moderator Jon Goldberg (Reputation Architects) launched the group conversation by inviting the panelists to respond to several questions:

What’s your approach to business development strategy?

Ken urged PR pros to fully understand a potential client’s business priorities, problems, and opportunities before moving ahead with a communications solution, and to have a specific plan about what type of projects the PR advisor wishes to take on.

David agreed, saying that only when a PR firm has insight into a company’s overall business goals can it determine the true value it can add to that prospect:

“We want to understand the overarching goals of the company, short-term and long-term. What’s the 12-month outlook for their product or service? If you do a competitive analysis, what does that situation look like for them? Only then can we engage that prospect in a meaningful conversation – really communicating an interest in being their partner – not a vendor, not just their agency”

Brian added: “Understanding the client’s needs – not just what the client THINKS they want, but what they actually need – is super-important. Where we can bring value as an agency is as an outside counsel.  There are a lot of times when people are so close to [their employer’s business problem], they don’t see it.”


Brian Lowe, President & CEO of BML Public Relations,

makes a point about the importance of understanding

a client’s perspective.


How do you make sure you are in the “right room” when you pitch a new business prospect?


“There’s nothing better than a referred lead. Nothing better.” Start by nurturing your professional network; those who know you and your business best are your best source of referrals and new introductions. Be visible. Attend trade shows and other events. Meet people. Be seen!

Next, identify players of all kinds who are already working with EXACTLY the clients you are looking for. They could be sales reps, other PR agencies, retail marketing consultants – contacts with connections to the companies and brands you are targeting.

To begin building up long-term “symbiotic strategic relationships” with these contacts and prospects, choose partners that are not competing for the same business you’re seeking. Earn the chance to have them as a future reference by sharing leads you are not pursuing, or – if you are strong in digital or social media work – become a resource for a PR partner who lacks that capacity. If you start off “giving” as a generous and helpful partner, your contacts will be far more open to serving as references when the opportunity comes along.

David Hernandez, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of lotus823,

describes the key role of professional networks in obtaining referrals

and building long-term partnerships.



Advertisers – who aren’t competitors of yours – are also people “who can get you in the right room”. One of my first contacts when I was starting my business was being able to accompany an advertiser that was meeting with their client. I promised to share a percentage of any business I received at the session with the advertiser.

When I walked into the room that day, one of the company executives turned out to be a contact of mine from high school! He was able to vouch for me; it made all the difference….


Can the pursuit of new business prospects impact service to current clients?

 David, Brian and Ken all advised PR pros to “treat your own agency as a client.”

That’s the only way to assure that you’re making business development for your agency the priority it must be to achieve its growth goals.

Ken added:

“Resist the temptation to tell clients ‘we’ll do anything for you’. Instead, seek to attract and pursue prospects that will help achieve your fiscal objectives and agency vision.

Project confidence and energy. Own what you do well. Say ‘We’ve helped clients like you before. We have a lot of experience in your industry space, and helping clients manage the situation you’re facing. This feels like it could be a good partnership; why don’t we explore that?’


John Lonsdorf (R&J Strategic Communications) and Rachel Litner (lotus823)

listen as Ken Jacobs, Principal, Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching,

urges PR professionals to pursue projects that meet both their own

business goals as well as those of their clients.


Following the panelists’ initial presentations, many of the PR pros in the audience joined the discussion with business development questions and comments of their own:

 Is the practice of “cold calling” prospects dead? – Somesh Chablani, FIS Global


Digital outreach is the key to B2B success. You must be able to show clients what you can do with a digital presence. Cold-calling targets at random will get you sidetracked from focusing on more promising, long-term prospects. Short-term outreach efforts just don’t pay off.

It’s far better to position yourself as a Subject Matter Expert with long-term connections; that’s when potential prospects starting noticing YOU.

Amy Stern, 3E Public Relations:

I agree. You cannot wait another minute to engage in digital outreach. You must have digital content to get people to come to your agency…. and to generate referrals.

Our staff has brought more discipline to our business development and outreach efforts, with weekly meetings and setting real deadlines. We track new leads, and know which staff are speaking where. We found that the more blog articles and updates we posted online, the more our web traffic went up. The result is more leads and more success….



Beth Kitzinger of Chaloner (center) joins in as audience members

share their business development questions with the panel.

Once you get into the “right room” and get a seat at the table, what do you do to close the sale? — Jon Goldberg, Reputation Architects


Research the prospect BEFORE you get in that room. That way you can show them upfront that you understand their business problems, not just their PR problems.

Rachel Litner, lotus823:

Ask what challenges the prospect is facing. You must keep addressing their “pain points.” Identify “missed opportunities.”

Jon Goldberg:

The first time I meet a prospect, I don’t start by talking about what I do; I try to talk about what interests THEM. I’m not selling; my message is: “I know your business. I understand your business. I can help you with your business challenges.”

Tony Cheever, Researchscape International:

“The most important of selling is listening.”


Share that “it feels like this could be a great partnership. What questions can I answer that will allow us to move forward?”

Comments on Valuing the Work PR Pros Provide


Define who you are, and if you have been a key component of a client’s success, emphasize the value of the strong results you’ve delivered. Be mindful of the scope of what you are asked to do.

Lanella Williams (Hooper Williams Communications) addresses the challenge of communicating the value of a PR firm’s services.



Earlier in my career, I worked with a firm that had a clear vision and plan for what kind of work we would do. That’s when I learned “What you say NO to in business development is as important as what you say YES to.”

As a result, we knew when to walk away from an RFP, and instead use that time to pursue a dream prospect.

Jon Goldberg, Reputation Architects:

“I find that being able to say No is empowering and helps us in the long run. We have to remind ourselves – we’re in this to make money. We are not non-profits; we are not in it for the religious experience. We have to be profitable in order to serve [our clients].”

Lanella Williams, Hooper Williams Communications:

“It’s hard to tell a client “I can’t do it” [regarding an underfunded project proposal]. You’re also going after other clients, but it’s hard ….it’s hard to walk away….”


“…..and you can’t make it up in volume!”

Listening in on the audience Q & A session are (left to right)

Jennifer Young (State Farm), Beth Kitzinger (Chaloner),

Anita Guerrero (Spencer Savings Bank) and Jeff Graubard (The Other Agency)


Summing Up: Where Business Development Meets Marketing

Ken Jacobs:

“Our first inclination is to go to marketing…. but wait! First ask: To whom are we marketing?

That’s figuring out your ideal prospects – who will become your ideal clients.

That’s business development!

Business development is that one-on-one / ‘I want to create a relationship with you” process — identifying prospects, turning them into ‘I’m interested’ — and turning them into clients.

Determine who your prospects are, and the groups in which they’re members.

Join those groups, get active, eventually get on the board. Your goal is that one day you’re at one of their events — you look out there and you’re the only PR/corporate reputation person in the room, speaking to a room full of prospects.

It’s sharing your wisdom. It’s bringing value to them. And you can do that in the front of a room….and you can do that in your digital marketing. That’s marketing.

When they line up at the end to give you their card and say ‘let’s talk’ – then you’ve converted from marketing to business development.


The final Senior Pros “Shoot-the-Breeze” session of 2019 will be held

8:00 am – 10:00 am on Thursday, November 7.  Our host will be SCG (Success Communications Group), 26 Eastmans Road, Parsippany, NJ.

Watch for details via the PRSA NJ website ( and emails.




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