10 Agency New Business Questions for Mark O’Toole from HB Agency in Newton, MA.” HB is an integrated marketing communication agency, working primarily in clean-tech, medical-tech, and high-tech. HB defines integrated marketing as delivering the right story to the right people at the right time with the right media to advance a business goal.
From branding to public relations, event support to content marketing, HB is integrated marketing at its best – a one-stop shop for creativity and experience.
10 Agency New Business Questions for Mark O’Toole
1. Mark O’Toole, how long have you been involved in the new business strategy at HB?
I joined HB Agency a little more than two years ago
The company founders had already had a robust new business program in place, a key appeal for me when deciding to join this firm.
My responsibility within the new business team is focused on generating business for the public relations department, though as an integrated marketing firm prospects often come to us with a challenge more often than they come seeking a specific solution.
When they are seeking a specific solution – for my team, that’s often PR, content or social media strategy – I work with the other members of the new business team to deliver the right information.
2. Was your background in agency new business prior to joining HB?
At my prior firm, we had the senior leadership, of which I was a member, drive the business development process.
Like many smaller firms, we tried various approaches and had various successes.
Before I joined the marketing industry, I spent a dozen years in the cable television news field.
I was part of the sales team, most often in an operational role, creating sales packages and developing programming opportunities that appealed to our clients and prospects.
During those years, I also sold our direct response and infomercial advertising time.
So if you saw a Snuggie or Bowflex infomercial on cable news in Boston in the 90s, that was probably my doing.
3. How is new business structured at your agency, in regards to a solo or team configuration and staff numbers dedicated to new business?
At HB Agency, we have a dedicated new business team that consists of the CEO, the company president, and three more senior leaders at the firm.
We meet weekly in a formal discussion to review leads and build the pipeline.
Once a month, we invite team leaders from various parts of the company for creative brainstorming and goal-setting.
It’s a good way to broaden the number of HB professionals involved with business development without over-committing resources.
Individuals here at any level have financial incentive to bring in leads and new clients as well.
We are transparent with staff, sharing at a high level progress with prospects, new business goals, successes and challenges, and the company’s financial position.
We find that sharing both wins and losses motivates our team, and creates a sense of momentum and a drive to win.
4. In terms of strategy, how have you found success-through a specific niche/specialty or a more horizontal approach based on service specialty, and why?
HB chose a path of specialization.
We focus on complex B2B marketing challenges, and the majority of our clients are in one of three industries: high tech, medical tech or clean tech.
Many marketing firms, if not most, tend to service all industries.
In many ways, I’m a fan of that approach.
It gives your team many different challenges across a spectrum of client markets, some complex, some not, some challenging, others fun and accessible.
However, I’ve found it increasingly hard for prospects to get excited about the “we do it all” approach.
Speaking from our experiences here at HB, this clear definition of our industry focus allows more qualified prospects to come our way, gives us more expertise to share when engaging with these prospects, and makes it easier for client (and teams) to get to the heart of the assignment.
Also, by choosing to specialize in an emerging industry like clean tech for example, we have established an early foothold as a leader in marketing for this sector, another great reason to specialize.
5. Which do you find more successful for your program-inbound, outbound or a blend of both, and why?
We live in the epicenter of inbound marketing in Boston.
HubSpot is here and their annual INBOUND conference happens here.
Also, one of the trade organizations focused on the Massachusetts innovation sector, MITX, hosts an event called FutureM which focuses on the future of marketing – obviously inbound plays a big role in that future.
That said, we know it takes a mix of strategies and tactics to engage with prospects.
We have a robust blog that touches on all types of issues affecting marketers – it is well read and shared.
We also place content outside the walls of HB, on media outlets, on partner sites, and on social media channels like SlideShare, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.
We also use our LinkedIn company page as fully as possible; it’s designed well, has useful content, and even has client endorsements.
Beyond these marketing initiatives, we invest in Google AdWords and paid posts on social media.
At times, we experiment with direct mail to give prospects an experiential feel for the creative work we produce at HB.
Finally, we have a monthly, themed email marketing program that reaches clients and prospects.
We measure it all to the best of our ability, and adjust when needed.
6. Which channel do you find most successful in winning new business: social, direct mail, phone, email/email campaigns or referrals? Feel free to pick more than one, and why?
Referrals are always best, aren’t they?
We’ve been in business for 14 years, and referrals are the lifeblood of our firm, as I suppose they are for most creative agencies with some longevity.
But we cannot control the pace of referrals – it would be wonderful if we could!
The other channels listed above supplement our referrals.
Of those, Google AdWords is typically our most successful channel for delivering a quantity of leads, though quality can vary.
7. Mark O’Toole, which social media platform is most effective for you in terms of new business, and why?
LinkedIn is our most powerful social platform.
We keep our company page fresh, sharing content regularly and using engaging graphics.
Our staff is active on the platform too, sharing information, keeping their profiles current and participating in groups.
SlideShare is emerging as a new channel to drive leads.
We published a successful slide show last year that has generated more than a million views as well many inquiries to the firm.
8. If you could point to one main indicator of success, what would it be?
We commit to a formal business development program and sales methodology.
For us, that methodology is based on one specific system.
That approach may not work for every firm – a friend at another company told me he blends the best (in his opinion) of a variety of sales methodologies to define his company’s sales strategy.
Almost all staff receives sales training.
We are dedicated to quickly qualifying prospects or empowering them to disqualify HB if we are not the right fit.
Each member of the new business team holds each other accountable – it’s part of what we call The HB Way.
9. Why do you think it’s so difficult for agencies to run successful new business programs on their own?
At the core of the new business challenge for marketing firms is that everyone from the CEO on down is typically a marketer first, new business professional second.
And new business requires a different way of thinking.
Sure, we can build great programs for lead generation, but turning those leads into meaningful conversations once they come into a firm can be challenging.
10. If you could give one piece of advice to a mid-to-small size agency looking to kick a new business effort into gear, what would it be?
Never think you’re in a good place with prospecting.
An old boss once told me, after several quarters of quality leads and big wins, that we should pull back on our new business efforts because the leads will just keep coming.
You know how that story ends.
We do Mark O’Toole, and thanks again for the interview.
What’s first interesting about HB’s approach is, per Mark, the CEO, the company president and three more senior leaders at the firm all comprise the core of the new business team.
Impressive but can often be a double-edged sword for agencies in terms of all “the cooks in the kitchen.”
But HB has a structure in place to make it work and offer financial incentives to bring in leads and new clients for individuals at any level-not a common agency practice.
And Mark and the team also understand it takes a mix of strategies and tactics to engage with prospects-absolutely key to a successful new business program.
Ultimately-the common thread that contributes to HB’s success: staff involvement at all levels.
For HB it means almost all staff receive sales training, each member of the new business team holds each other accountable and staff is active on platforms like LinkedIn.
Undoubtedly tough to scale and maintain, but it’s a process every agency could adapt and make their own.
Strive to do the same for your agency.
Mark O’Toole’s goal is to keep HB ahead of trends, and to set a few trends of its own, to the benefit of clients, using all the tools available to today’s traditional and digital communicator. In fact, we’re all in PR, according to Mark. And, despite all the change and disruption, PR is still about helping clients meet business goals.
Mark applies the same energy to his non-profit affiliations. He is chairman of the iconic Freedom Trail Foundation, immerses in the entrepreneurial community as a MITX Up growth hacker/coach, and ties it all together as a connector for OpenHub to drive business into the Boston region.
In his free time, Mark O’Toole competes with his kids on Xbox. He still plays basketball (even though his wife thought he’d be done 20 years ago). Mark applies the same strategic determination that he brings to clients to his two-time league champ fantasy baseball team.
Mark O’Toole grew up destined for PR. He became a regular reader of the Globe, Herald and New York Times at age 11. He went to one of the country’s best communications schools, Emerson College. He worked in TV for a dozen years. He has 11,000 songs on his iPod. He spends (too much?) time on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And he knows that we are all communicators. Because PR, and all that it can do, is the future of marketing. Find Mark on Twitter at @markrotoole.