The art of selling yourself: tips for PR freelancers and small agencies

If you work in PR, the chances are you sell in stories and ideas without flinching. But many PR pros who work as freelancers or in agencies still get cold feet when it comes to picking up the phone and selling themselves to win business.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are a great way of getting new clients but don’t always lead to a steady stream of work.

If you can master the art of cold calling and other business development techniques, it could bring a welcome boost to your income.

 From nought to seven figures

gemma - smarta pr re-blog

Gemma McGrattan set up Synergy Creative creative design and communications agency in Bristol, in September 2006 with two colleagues after 14 years of marketing big brands like Lloyds TSBFirst GroupRolls-Royce and Fujitsu.

Armed with enthusiasm and self-belief but an empty client list on day one, Synergy has grown into a seven-figure business with big brands such as Caterpillar, Ladbrokes and Hill’s Pet Nutrition on its books.

I can still remember the cold call that Gemma made to me nearly six years ago when I worked in-house as a PR & communications manager for a large social housing provider. From the moment I took the call I had a good feeling in my bones about Synergy, which led to years of collaboration.

So, here are Gemma’s tried and tested tips to approaching new business.

Tried and tested tips:

1. Start with what you know. Think about the brands or industries you’ve worked with before as that gives you a starting point and something to say. Also, go for what you enjoy. Target the sectors and companies you really want to work with, as your natural enthusiasm will shine through.

2. Mix it up. Just as you’d use different tactics in a PR campaign, try a mixture of things to get yourself noticed. We did all sorts from cold calling and knocking on doors to mailers and networking. We also asked friends if they knew of companies who might need support with their branding, design or communications.

marmite3. Cold calling’s like Marmite. Yep, you either love it or hate it. But we’ve won plenty of business through cold calling so learn to tolerate it, if not love it. To get past a protective switchboard, have your reason for calling prepared. If you’ve done your homework, you could ring up about a news story you’ve read or a new service the company has launched and develop a talking point around it rather than simply calling to flog your wares. For every few people who give you short shrift, there will always be someone who’s interested in what you have to say. And the buzz from a successful conversation will drive you on to the next call.

4. It’s not about you. Don’t start any conversation with a long ramble about what you do as it’s an instant turn-off. People are busy. Instead, look for ways to engage people and create interest for them. It could be that you have a report, tips or other information that might be relevant to their business. Maybe you have an idea for a campaign or tactic that you’re prepared to give away for free. Show that you’re interested in their business, that you understand it and, better still, can help make a difference.

5. Content, content, content. Be prepared to put in some effort to create some interesting content before you make your calls. Last year we did some research with global internal communications managers to reveal what actually works when it comes to bringing alive a company’s vision and values in a creative way in employees’ everyday work. We did it ourselves rather than through a research company to keep costs down and produced a concise report with useful insights. We promoted it through social media, which generated more than 100 requests for copies, and it was also a great talking point when we wanted to get a conversation going. Other things like newsletters with useful advice and tips rather than shameless plugs can also do the trick.

6. Set targets and reward yourself. We always set targets for calling a certain number of companies per day otherwise it’s easy to keep putting it off. Decide your target, let someone know your goal so you can ‘report in’ at the day’s end and have a treat in mind, if you hit your target. Something as simple as a curry or a glass of wine, or the anticipation of settling down to your favourite TV soap, can be a real incentive.

7. Delegate if you have to. If the idea of cold calling still leaves you feeling…err…cold, you can always hire someone to do it for you. We’ve used experts in the past (and still do) and we’ve got some great clients that way. It can leave you free to focus on other things but make sure you pick someone who understands your business and will represent you well. You’ll need to invest some time in bringing them up to speed on your business and clients and ensure their enthusiasm is a good match with yours. Test them out on trusted colleagues before you let them loose on your prospects. Payment is usually by the hour rather than on results so budget £25-30 per hour, or more for hiring large agencies.

Get in touch

For a copy of Synergy’s Vision & Values: How to make them come alive in your company or a chat about creative design and communications, call Gemma McGrattan on 0117 962 1534, email or tweet

For help with PR generally, make contact with Marta Clayton, our Wired Wessex member who wrote this blog and kindly allowed us to reblog it.

Marta runs Smarta PR:

Smarta PR

and can also be found via Facebook:

More from Wired Wessex next week:



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