An independent communications consultant’s work is never done when it comes to new business activity and generating new leads. And one of the main roots of business development is relationship building, which is formed through familiarity, reputation, credibility and thought leadership.
It can be highly effective to find new and creative ways for cultivating relationships – particularly over the long-term – with the key decision-makers in our target markets. One of our Solo PR PRO Premium members, Kevin Anselmo of Experiential Communications, has done just that by conducting a comprehensive research study of a segment within his target audience: higher education.
Kevin’s background and client base is primarily in the business education space. He was looking to expand on this and reach schools focused on public policy and international relations. His innovative approach (outlined below) has provided real value to his target market, while simultaneously demonstrating thought leadership and new business leads and providing a treasure trove of information that will be useful to him – for both new business and execution – for years to come.
Using a Survey for New Business – A Case Study
This summer, Kevin launched a 10-question survey – “The State of Public Relations and Communications at Public Affairs Schools” – with the aim of providing these schools with a way to compare their communications efforts with those of their peers. In total, 15 out of the top 30 public affairs graduate schools ranked by US News and World Report participated in the survey.
The research findings provided unique insights into how public policy and public affairs schools are approaching content marketing, media relations, communications strategy and native advertising. The full results of Kevin’s study can be found in more detail here.
Solo PR Pro caught up with Kevin to discuss his research process – and its outcomes – in greater depth, and how he can use that information for the benefit of his business.
Solo PR Pro: How long did it take to implement your survey, and what was your approach?
Kevin Anselmo: In total, the process itself took three to four months to complete. This was due in large part to the amount of preparatory work I did at the outset, particularly with respect to contacting each individual school directly.
I selected the schools based on the rankings provided in US News and World Report. From there, my next step was to phone all the schools I was surveying, and introduce myself first. It was important to establish my credibility, and making that direct contact at the beginning was key. I outlined the purpose of the survey and was upfront about my intentions and the value that it could provide them. I also assured them their answers would remain anonymous. I then emailed them the link to complete the survey online.
SPP: What were your main reasons for conducting this study? What did you hope to gain?
KA: I have an idea to host an event with public policy schools that would bring together communications directors and media for learning and networking. I believe, though, that before you ask for value, you have to give value. And I recognized that I needed to build relationships with this particular group beforehand so that if and when I conduct this event, I’d be considered a trusted source. This survey process has enabled me to assess whether this kind of event is viable and indirectly to make this group aware of my services.
At the same time, I wanted to know how public policy schools operate, their communications challenges and the difference between them and the business schools I had been accustomed to working with in the past. The survey allowed me to do this.
Equally important, I wanted to provide the schools with useful information. So essentially the survey serves as a benchmark against which they can compare themselves to others in their space.
SPP: What do you believe contributed to such a high participation rate (i.e., 15 out of the 30 top schools) in the survey?
KA: I believe that was predominantly due to the fact that I phoned everyone individually, and personally introduced myself. For example, I called one school and told the Communications Director what I was doing, and she even asked me how much it would cost to participate. She immediately saw the value in what I was doing. As a result, she spent over 20 minutes talking with me and provided me with some incredible insights into the work of public policy schools. I really feel you’re offering value with research like this.
SPP: What were some of the most surprising findings?
KA: The two aspects that really stood out for me were: 1) many of these schools don’t have the budget for supporting extensive communications efforts and 2) some of these schools have relatively small communications departments. And there were some that didn’t even have a formal Communications Director in place at all. This was quite a contrast to my experience with business schools.
SPP: Were there any findings that provided insights into possible opportunities for your own communications business? If so, what were they?
KA: A portion of my questions were focused on what will bring the most value to these schools. Other questions were geared more toward areas that would help me glean insights for business opportunities (e.g., media training and communications strategy).
The Communications Director from Indiana University took a keen interest in what I’m doing with the study and data. So I invited him to be a guest on my podcast to discuss the findings. I intend to share this podcast episode with the schools that participated in the study, as a means of further continuing the conversation. Given this, I would say that I’d consider the survey respondents to be indirect business leads for my consulting practice.
SPP: What do you plan to do with the survey findings?
KA: I sent individual, personalized emails to everyone who did (and didn’t) respond to the survey to inform them about the findings. I’ve also used social media channels, such as Slideshare where I’ve posted a detailed report of the findings.
Through this process, I have been able to develop a relationship with the accrediting body, and will in all likelihood be doing webinar for their affiliated schools and explore other ideas for collaboration.
I’m also doing an in-depth report on podcasting in higher education, which will be done at the end of the year, and I’ll be sending this report to the survey participants as another means to keep the dialogue going with them.
SPP: You mentioned that you intend to host media events specifically designed for schools focused on public affairs, public policy and international affairs. What will those events entail, and when will you do those?
KA: I have lots of ideas on what this will look like, but really at this stage I want to listen to the audience to see if there is legitimate interest in the concept I have in mind. In principle, PR directors want to meet journalists and build relationships, so this event will enable them to do so in a more personal, face-to-face setting. I also have in mind to incorporate my Media Training for Academics curriculum (e.g., train the trainer material that equips PR directors in higher education to train their faculties and deans) into these events as a live workshop. However, I want to wait to get more feedback from people in terms of what they want to see included and then further customize the event based on that information.
SPP: What do you hope to achieve from these media events? What are some of your anticipated outcomes for both the schools and also for your own consulting business?
KA: In terms of the media events, this is where I hope to see actual ROI at some point. I believe if I do these media events right – with a clear value proposition for all parties involved – then I will reap the benefits business-wise. I’m also hoping to gain some good consulting work out of this.
The schools will also derive benefit from the opportunities their PR directors will have to learn and network with top tier media at the events.
SPP: What advice would you give other consultants who may want to consider doing a similar type of survey project with their own target client sectors?
KA: I would advise them to think long-term, and not become preoccupied with finding a way to monetize something out of this quickly. Try to find the right balance between getting the information and insights you need for your business while also providing real value to your audience.
If I could do it all over again, I would have thought about partnerships first, such as accrediting bodies in my case. So for anyone else who may want to embark on something similar, I would recommend thinking about people you could partner with to help you get the right responses and also build trust and credibility from the get-go. If you want to do this well, you also need to be prepared to spend a lot of time and effort. Therefore, I would suggest thinking about adding other resources into the equation such as hiring some outside help like an intern or assistant.
Through doing these kinds of surveys, you learn about the industry. For instance, I learned that no two public policy schools are alike, and that some are focused solely on public affairs, international relations or public policy – and others combine them. Before I did this survey, I didn’t know about that information.
It’s also about showcasing your expertise to your target markets and developing trust. And it’s about finding the right players to build those relationships with them over time.
I always try to balance my client work, business development and thought leadership. And I consider this survey process to have been both a business development and thought leadership endeavour, with the potential for income-generating activities.
Kevin Anselmo is the Founder and Principal of Experiential Communications, a consultancy focused on education. He helps brands within academia – whether individual or corporate – communicate with stakeholders. He also teaches communications and public relations workshops to different individuals and groups.
Previously, Kevin was Director of Public Relations for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and prior to that managed the media relations for IMD Business School in Switzerland. In addition, he was an adjunct communications professor at Nyack College in New York. Currently based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Kevin lived and worked in Switzerland for eight years and in Germany for two years. He has led public relations initiatives in various countries around the world.
Kevin hosts the For Immediate Release on Higher Education podcast. The show is focused on best practice marketing / communications for individuals within higher education (professors, PR professionals, marketers and administrators) and is part of the For Immediate Release podcast network. He also blogs about higher education communications.