I had the pleasure of starting my job in October, with the task of expanding Austin-based Bloom Communications’ brand and service reach to Portland, OR. Despite being out of the work force for eight years (three boys!), I was ever-confident in my skills and abilities. After all, I had kept up with the changing trends in social media (I’m ALL about Facebook and Instagram) – and read PR 2.0: Putting the Public Back in Public Relations (you, know…published in 2008).
I serendipitously stumbled upon the opportunity as I was determining whether to start my own consulting business (I didn’t realize how CrAzY that was at the time) or work for an agency. The name BLOOM kept coming to me as I visualized helping organizations grow. I Googled “Bloom” to see if any other organizations of the same name existed – and that’s the short of how I landed in the lap of Bloom Communications. The values of the company echoed my own – and the slogan, “Grow Your Organization. Change the World” was inspiring – and different from other companies for which I’ve worked. I sent an email to the company owner, Brianna McKinney, asking if she would consider hiring remotely – or if, I could help grow the brand in Portland. I fell in love with her over the phone. And the rest is history.
In truth, I really did feel like I could pick up from where I left off in my PR career. Things hadn’t changed that much and I had experience working for companies both internally and externally…
However, I wasn’t prepared for the business development side of the business. For the record, I did have a few prospective clients for whom I had previously done consulting work – and I was hopeful they’d want to continue our partnership. And seriously? How difficult could bringing in NEW clients really be?!?
I should preface this by saying I had the full support of the agency behind me. It’s not like I was left to my own devices. Introductions were made, meetings were set up for me, encouraging conversations happened regularly. I just set forth with very unrealistic expectations in how quickly a brand could be built in a market filled with such amazing talent already.
Do you know people actually IGNORE emails and phone messages? Not just a few people, but lots and LOTS of people. Without even a courteous, “No, thank you” response. Boo! I’m nice! And provide a valuable service. Why are you ignoring me?
I found myself at a crossroads where I felt defeated and annoyed. It wasn’t a great place to be. I was losing confidence in my skillset – and my overall charm to be honest <insert unicorn emoji>. In truth, I felt like I had oversold and under-delivered. Relaying my frustration over coffee with a friend (and now mentor), she looked at me and said, “LEIGH! You have to change your approach. Be authentic. Do what’s comfortable. And realize this may not be for you.” And realize this may not be for you.”
Wha, What? Well. OF COURSE, this was for me. This was my DREAM JOB , after all. Challenged and a bit intrigued, I went home and decided to start being more planful and strategic in my approach – and yes, more authentic. Here’s what I found to be most helpful.
Ask for introductions
I have become extremely skilled at stalking prospective clients on LinkedIn (yes, that may be you). I use the “In Common With” feature to determine who among my contacts is also connected to prospective clients and ask for introductions. My connections have been very supportive and more than willing to help. Having a warm lead quickly breaks down barriers and makes people more approachable – and more open to meetings <insert rainbow emoji>.
My “sales pitch” totally changed to a “I genuinely want to make connections,” soliloquy. And that was the truth. I learned that establishing business in Portland was going to take time and be a very organic process. Once I was able to communicate that and simply ask to make an acquaintance, it changed the way people responded to my requests. No one wants to be sold something. But the opportunity to network is mutually beneficial.
Be creative in gaining A prospective client’s attention
We sat down as a team and strategically defined WHO our prospective clients are and HOW to get their attention. Marketing Bloom really came down to determining what we valued as a team – and who we wanted to work with. Ensuring our values aligned with those of our prospective clients enabled us to be more targeted and creative in our approach. It’s amazing how far a personalized card will go when prospective organizational values are similarly aligned with your own.
Be confident in the service offerings you provide (helping versus selling)
Never before have I worked for a marketing/PR firm that bases communications recommendations on market research – meaning, we help clients learn about their customers/donors/volunteers and cater marketing/PR efforts to meet them where they are. It’s been amazing to see how many businesses and nonprofit organizations simply don’t know who they’re targeting and why. We provide a helpful service that positively impacts the bottom line. #BOOM.
Stick to what you know (niche clients, areas of expertise)
When I came onboard, Brianna asked me to think about my DREAM clients. The first thought that came to mind…WINE! I. WANT. TO. WORK. WITH. WINERIES. I love wine. And people who pour wine. And people who drink wine. But turns out, there are very specific niche marketing firms that work with wineries in Oregon. Sadly, it took some time to figure that out and eventually, Brianna said, “You may want to consider just letting this go.” And she was right! I’m not saying I’ll never service a winery, ever. I’m just saying, Bloom is exceptional at servicing nonprofits and the healthcare industry- that’s our niche. And that’s what I’m sticking to.
Just say “Yes!”
I had a prospective client agree to meet with me with the preface that all marketing/PR was handled internally – BUT he would be happy to share information on the organization and give me a tour of the facility. “YES! Of course. I’d LOVE that.” We had a great meeting. I liked him. He liked Bloom. He had a national-scale PR opportunity fall into his lap in between our initial email and first time meet-and-greet. Fast-forward to two meetings later. He has budget and is determining how best to partner with us. Never underestimate the value of face time or the opportunity to get in front of key decision-makers – even if they say there’s no decision to be made. Just. Say. Yes.
And while I am being completely honest about the challenges I’ve faced in growing Bloom’s brand in Portland, I would be remiss if I didn’t note how many AMAZING people I’ve met, new experiences I’ve gained, and how getting out of my own comfort zone helped me grow – not only as a PR professional, but as a person. I no longer expect immediate gratification from my business development efforts. My goal is to form real, authentic connections, and I’ve seen my efforts come to fruition in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. I’m honored to be the bridge between Bloom and the Portland area clients, and witness not only my personal growth but the growth of the businesses we now support.
If Bloom Communications can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out!