Tweeting Your Way to New Prospects

Tackling New Business Development in a Social Media World

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Phil Johnson Phil Johnson
I remember the first direct-marketing piece PJA produced more than 15 years ago. It was a single-fold card on coated stock, black type on a red background, with a quote from Mark Twain:

"Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work."

We sent out 500 cards to a list of local companies and received two notable responses. The first was from a guy who was extremely complimentary and interested in working together. He had ideas for a project but wanted a guarantee that he could get the copywriter who wrote the line about the "thunder" and "lightning." After I explained the author of "Huckleberry Finn" didn't work for me, and that he was dead anyway, the conversation came to a halt. So much for the lightning.

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The second call came from a communications manager at what was then Hewlett Packard Medical Products. She asked if we would ever consider working on a newsletter. I told her we would, and that I also would consider cutting her lawn. That was the start of a relationship that lasted two mergers and close to 10 years.

For better or worse, the story above describes how we approached new business in the old days. It worked, kind of. We waited for the work to slow down before kicking into high gear to promote ourselves. It was an intermittent and isolated activity. Over time, we made two changes to the process: First, we hired a kick-ass director of new business. I've concluded this role is as essential as a creative director for the health of an agency.

The second change was to make social media the foundation of our marketing strategy. Early on, I didn't see how profoundly this shift would change the agency. Now our social media activities involve almost everyone who works here and touch almost every aspect of agency life. At times I can no longer tell where marketing ends and the rest of the business begins. It's just part of what we do. What's striking is how transparent the agency has become to clients, prospects, competitors and all of you. The divide between our public image and the inner life of the agency has begun to disappear. There are more risks, but it's a lot easier for people to get to know us.

A couple of us ignited the flames, but the fire spread quickly through the office. Greg, our VP of business development, made the earliest commitment to social media. He connected with people relevant to our key markets via LinkedIn. More important, he encouraged all the senior managers, including me, to build our personal network and use it to promote our blogs and speaking engagements. Then, for a while, LinkedIn took the backseat when we fell prey to Twitter hysteria. But we're rediscovering its value, and it has led to at least one new client.

Greg also was the first voice behind the PJA Twitter feed. He quickly got a number of other people in the office to post regularly, and now the stream reflects the collective personality of the agency. The account has almost 2,000 followers, most of whom are part of the marketing community we want to talk to. A large percentage of staffers registered their individual handles on Twitter, exponentially increasing the pool of content we can access and distribute. Greg and I found prospects through Twitter conversations, and while they haven't necessarily led to engagements, it sure beats leaving strangers awkward voicemail messages when you want to set up a meeting.

Mike O'Toole, our president, initially showed little patience for Twittering. But as he generates more content for MarketingProfs' Daily Fix blog and webinar series hosted by The Skeptical CMO, he has started to use Twitter to link all these channels together.

This in-house focus on social media has carried over to client engagements. As we've made interesting discoveries for ourselves, Matt, our interactive director, has shared this knowledge with our clients. Today, we have at least six active social media programs under development.

Another group at PJA started to use our Facebook page as a platform to discuss PJA culture and share information about the agency, the people, and everything in between. Once we had these channels in place--Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr--Aaron, our creative director, jumped in and made sure all the pieces shared the look and feel of PJA.

Right now, it's working. I like the transparency. People know who we are. Through all of these channels, people can get a 360-degree view of the agency. It's honest and you can't bullshit. Why exaggerate when the truth is a couple of clicks away? Today, when we walk into a capability meeting, the people we're talking to already have had a lot of exposure to our thinking and our personality.

I still worry that we're going to commit one of those social snafus that makes us the Domino's of the agency world. But I always conclude that we made plenty of stupid mistakes before the age of social media, so why should we stop now just because everyone's watching?

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You can follow Phil Johnson on Twitter: @philjohnson.

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