How can agencies drive new business during COVID? Despite obstacles, it’s out there.

by | Sep 21, 2020 | Covid-19, Public Relations

2020 has been a year many of us would like to forget. COVID has upended most industries, many businesses have suffered fatal damage, and for the survivors, it remains a long road to recovery. Communications agencies are likewise paying the price, starving for elusive new business that has proven even harder to find than during the 2008 financial meltdown and its fallout.

New research from marketing services business development firm RSW/US reveals that a full two-thirds (67 percent) of agencies say it is “harder” or “much harder” to obtain new business than before the COVID crisis, and 56 percent report decreased new business opportunities compared to 2019.

How can agencies drive new business during COVID? Despite obstacles, it’s out there.

The good news, according to the firm’s newly released 2020 Agency New Business Survey Report, is that more than half (56 percent) of agencies expect opportunities to rebound as we head into next year. But those chances for renewed success may depend on how aggressive your agency’s new business plan is.

“No shock that COVID is the root cause for most of the challenges facing agencies today. It is interesting that fewer agencies (relative to years past) felt like it was harder to obtain new business because of the difficulty they’re having breaking through or because they feel there are fewer opportunities out there,” according to the report. “Could be that the ‘COVID’ response in some respects also captures the limits in opportunities and difficulty in breaking through, thus reducing emphasis on the two areas that tend to rate on top.”

How can agencies drive new business during COVID? Despite obstacles, it’s out there.

Smaller agencies have work to do from a new business standpoint

Only 16 percent report creating new case studies on a monthly basis (versus 53 percent of larger agencies) and 78 percent of agencies said their website was either “somewhat” or “not at all” fully optimized to help them win new business—and this is actually true of both large and small agencies.

“If your site doesn’t tell the prospect who you are, what you do, and why you’re different and better, doesn’t showcase your work in a way that wows the prospect, [and] makes it hard for that prospect to find what’s most meaningful and relevant to them, you might lose out on an opportunity,” the study offers.

How can agencies drive new business during COVID? Despite obstacles, it’s out there.

Only 38 percent of smaller agencies reported the loss of trade shows “somewhat” or “significantly” impacting their prospecting efforts, while a larger proportion (58 percent) of larger agencies reported the same impact. While 38 percent is still a concerning number, small to mid-sized agencies have the advantage of being able to pivot in a nimbler fashion and move more quickly to change new business strategy, the study says.

The research reveals that, despite the obstacles, the business is out there

“If you’re operating the right way, with the right messaging, you can find the opportunities…you just have to be prepared to work a little bit harder to keep the win counts, and the amount that you win, up,” the study says—and offers a deep dive into the most strategic ways to do so in the current landscape.

How can agencies drive new business during COVID? Despite obstacles, it’s out there.

According to the research, nearly half (47 percent) of smaller agencies report they are satisfied with the success of their new business plan/program, and 80 percent of larger agencies are happy with their programs. Despite this optimism, 58 percent of larger agencies (vs. 38 percent of smaller agencies) say the loss of trade shows have “somewhat” or “significantly” impacted their prospecting efforts. Furthermore, 78 percent of agencies, both large and small, said their agency’s website was either “somewhat” or “not at all” fully optimized to help them win new business.

Only 42 percent of agencies have hired a full-time new business director over the past few years. And 43 percent of agencies report their last new business hire was mostly unsuccessful. In fact, 61 percent of agencies state that their internal new business director didn’t last longer than two years—but that’s an improvement over 2019, when that number hit 70 percent.

How can agencies drive new business during COVID? Despite obstacles, it’s out there.

Fifty-eight percent of larger agencies reported they are in a competitive pitch 1x/month or more often, compared to only 23 percent of smaller firms. While this percentage has always been smaller for small to mid-sized firms historically, it’s never been more stark that in 2020, with less formal pitching during the pandemic. Smaller firms traditionally look to find opportunities, rather than engage in the hamster wheel of competitive pitching, and so have an advantage in traditionally operating that way.

“There’s never a perfect time to start building a new business program. Don’t let yourself be blindsided by another recession or another pandemic,” the study adds. “Start now by outlining how you can best build new clients into your portfolio.”

Download the full report here.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter