Gini Dietrich

The Agency Strategic and Business Development Plan

By: Gini Dietrich | August 6, 2020 | 

The Agency Strategic and Business Development PlanCommunicators don’t tend to be the most strategic bunch of people.

We tend to jump right to tactics and forget about the research and plan phase of what we do.

While it’s certainly not as exciting as tactics, it should drive everything that we do.

And, just like a communications plan for your client or the organization where you work, your agency must also have a roadmap for where you are going.

Can you imagine being in a new city and having to find your way to a meeting without GPS, your phone, or a good old-fashioned map?

That’s what it’s like when we try to run our agencies without a plan.

We’re trying to drive somewhere near without having any idea where we’re going.

On Tuesday, I published a replay of an episode of the Agency Leadership podcast that I co-host with Chip Griffin.

In it, we talked about the importance of continuing to do business developmentespecially right now.

Rumor has it, the U.S. economy is going to be far worse by October, which means now is the time to get your pipeline full.

If you have no idea where to start—this will help!

Following are 13 things every agency should include in their plan that will drive all marketing, business development, and growth.

An Agency Business Plan

  • Objective: If you want to grow your agency, the objective will always be to increase client acquisition. This is where you’ll state which kinds of clients by size, industry, and marketing needs. You also should say how much the increase should be and make it realistic enough that you can actually achieve it (i.e. don’t say you want to be a $10MM firm next year if you’re only $1MM now). 
  • Strategy: This is to build and enhance your reputation as a specialist to attract more clients in your target market. The specialist could be in the type of work you do—crisis management, reputation management, media relations, content marketing—or it could be the industries in which you specialize.
  • Plan: Develop deep and narrow expertise in industry XX or in specialty XX with focused positioning that include targeted staffing, research, special resources or capabilities, relevant work experience, and other activities.
  • Executive Summary: This should be a one-page recap of everything in your plan and should sit on your desk so you can review it daily.
  • Key Challenges: A description of the services you want to market, and a bulleted recap of your goals, as they relate to any of the challenges you might see. For instance, maybe a competitor has more experience in an industry or your communications firm doesn’t yet have the history a prospect would want. List them all out.
  • Situation Analysis: Identification of key industry status metrics, including your overall goals and focus, your culture, your perceived strengths and weaknesses, and your market share position.
  • Customer Analysis: The type and number of clients you are striving for, including the values of the targeted sector(s) and an overview of the decision process those prospects use to hire communications firms.
  • Competitor Analysis: Analysis of your marketing position, along with the market positions of your closest competitors, including any weaknesses that could curtail your efforts to compete effectively.
  • Implementation Summary: Analysis of how you will use the above information to achieve your goals. This should be as specific as possible to allow for accountability.
  • Positioning Statements: Language you will use in your marketing materials to differentiate you from competitors, highlighting your key service mission and qualitative skillsets.
  • Cost Strategy: An overview of your pricing structure, relative to that of your competitors and averages for size of firm, industry, and region. The more you can claim deep expertise, the more you can charge. Crisis communications experts do well here because they get paid based on their expertise. Don’t worry. This is an internal document. You don’t have to post it externally anywhere (though I would argue you should post pricing). 
  • Promotion Strategy: A recap of the specific methods and initiatives you will use to get your marketing language and related content in front of potential clients. It should include a detailed delineation of who on your team will implement specific elements of the plan, and a timeline.
  • Changing Market Analysis: Forecast anticipated changes in the fiscal landscape of our target industries in the next three to five years. How will these changes affect you? For instance, no one could have predicted the Polar Vortex would bring business to a screeching halt or how bad the recession would be. These are the outside forces Laura Petrolino says you have to prepare for, even if you can’t predict the specific instances.
  • Measurement: If your objectives are measurable, you have the metrics in here. So make sure you follow the SMART structure when creating your sections: Are they specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound?

Get the Plan Done to Prep for Biz Dev

It’s not an easy assignment.

If you don’t already have many of these things written down and in stone, it may take you several weeks of brainstorming and testing to get it right.

From here, you can start to get really smart about business development and how you grow.

Every agency needs a business development plan, but many of us (cough, cough) have grown our organizations without thinking strategically about how to do that.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

People refer business to you.

You get leads from networking events and speaking engagements.

Maybe you blog and get new clients because they like the way you think.

You might even do inbound marketing, which is amazing.

But do you have a written business development plan?

I’m going to guess less than 10 percent of you do.

Create a Prospect List

A few years ago I read both “The Ultimate PR Agency New Business Handbook” and “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business.”

Both helped solidify my thinking on our business development efforts.

The first is a Bulldog Reporter book, but because they’ve recently gone out of business (sad face) and you no longer can buy yourself a copy,

I’ve included some highlights below.

The second is available on Amazon and I highly recommend you read it.

Here are four things you should do to create your prospect list before you build your business development plan.

  1. Build a wide-ranging list. You need at least 200 prospects on your list. Include anyone and everyone you’d like to work with, even if they’re not in your verticals. The idea is to write down companies you’d like to work with, as well as those where you someone inside your organization knows someone inside theirs.
  2. Create ideal client profile. This should include: company type, industry sector, competitive landscape, size (number of employees), assets and revenue, attitudes, and culture. This will help you later on, when your first $1MM client comes knocking and you have to decide if they’re a good fit for your agency. It helps you stay away from the alluring “work with clients for the money” conundrum.
  3. Segment targets. Do this by putting your targets into 10 ideal profile types. You may have an ideal profile type that is a certain size in a certain industry and a second type that only hires a specific expertise (crisis communications or content marketing, for instance). Then divide those lists into A, B, and C prospects. The A-list prospects are within your verticals or in your expertise sweet spot AND you know someone at the organization. The B-list prospects are within your verticals or in your expertise sweet spot. The C-list prospects fit neither of those categories, but you’d still love to work with them…they’re a dream client for your roster (like Cervelo or Trek would be for me).
  4. Build database. Bulldog Reporter recommends using Winmo to quickly get contact information. This is not buying lists; rather it’s an easy way to get email address and phone number. Do NOT add them to your mailing list and start sending them content. You can email them individually, with customized and personalized notes.

Now you’re ready to begin marketing to your lists and staying top-of-mind.

Execute the Agency Business Development Plan

There are lots of things you can do to stay top-of-mind with your prospects as you execute on your business development plan.

The gold standard is email marketing IF you offer something of value and aren’t only talking about yourself.

Those things could include:

  • Blog posts that help your prospects and showcase your ability to help them solve their problems.
  • Your own research, which could be gigantic like Edelman does with their Trust Barometer or like what Andy Crestodina does with his blogger survey.
  • Develop studies, tools, or resources. For instance, if you work with authors, you could create a toolbox to help them promote and market a book.
  • Case studies told from your client’s perspective (not the boring old award entry-type case study).

And remember, you can only add them to your mailing list if they’ve opted in.

If they haven’t, you could send an email that goes something like this:

Dear Bob,

This is Lizzie. Lizzie is my 2017 Trek Madone, who happens to be the second I’ve bought in the series. She is what I earned when I accomplished the racing goals my coach and I set.

I love Lizzie and I thought you’d like to see her in action. She “helped” me write an article for our blog, Spin Sucks, about the rules of the road for drivers and cyclists. Just like Trek sets out every day to protect cyclists on the road, it’s near and dear to our hearts, as well.

I’d love the opportunity to chat with you about your PR efforts—and perhaps even catch a ride together. I’ll give you a call later this week. Alternatively, let me know if a day/time that works for you.

Talk soon!


See the difference between sending this and just putting “Bob” on our email list?

This is personalized and comes directly from me. If he doesn’t respond, he’ll never hear from me again.

Were he on our list, he’d feel like he were being spammed with our content. And, no matter how great it is, he didn’t ask for it.

Don’t do that.

Send personalized and customized emails to each individual.

Other Business Development Tactics to Consider

But email marketing isn’t the only thing to consider.

Also think about:

  • Participating in LinkedIn conversations, private Facebook group, and Twitter chats.
  • Participating in conversations already happening online in your vertical markets (#PR or #healthcare).
  • Attending, contributing to, or speaking at industry events.
  • Creating your own events.
  • Creating a goal to meet one new prospect per week through the social networks, speaking, and/or networking.
  • Pursuing associate or sponsorship memberships in trade organizations.
  • Building information roundtables with the influencers in the verticals where you specialize.
  • Providing pro-bono services in industries you care about.
  • Volunteering with groups that need communications help.

Even if you do only two of these things next year, you’ll be further ahead one year from now than you are today.

Now it’s your turn.

This is far from a complete list for business development, so you tell me…

What else would you include in your agency’s strategic and business development plans?

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.