A Content Led Approach to Business Development

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What do you get if you cross an entrepreneur, new business hustler with a former trade journalist and self-confessed content geek? In short, Propeller Group’s secret weapon

Jody Osman, Director of Business Growth and Branwell Johnson, Director of Content may seem an unlikely pairing on the surface but their shared drive to create compelling content that drives new business is making an impact.

After integrating and rebranding Propeller's new business arm earlier this year (formerly Upfront, which was run by Osman and acquired by Propeller Group in 2018), the team are launching a new offer to clients. This promises to convert new business leads using a combination of carefully curated content and PR thinking with multi-touchpoint marketing campaigns.

Here we interview Osman and Johnson to understand Propeller’s approach and how agencies can drive new business with content.

Q: Why do you believe the relationship between content and sales so important?

JO: Marketing and Sales have always had a close relationship, but often work in silos. I've always strived to bring the two together as great marketing can really power up your new business efforts. You need to have a reason to interrupt a client’s day and giving them something of value is always going to lead to a better dialogue.

BJ: But, it isn’t just content feeding business development. The Business Development Team have really interesting conversations with our client’s prospects and often their audience are all facing similar challenges which can then inform the content we create. It means we’re able to keep our clients content really relevant and timely which of course leads to better conversations with their prospects. It’s a virtuous circle!

Q. It’s been 18 months since you began working together, what have you learnt from one another in that time?

JO: I've always appreciated the need for great content to feed your new business programme. However, its often been difficult to find content or collateral that will serve both a marketing and business development effectively. It’s been so refreshing working with the team at Propeller because there is incredible talent across the business who are not just able to create compelling content for clients; but understand it needs to do a job too.

BJ: As a former trade journalist it’s been an eye opener having Jody and the Business Development team on board. As a content creator you always hope that people will engage with what you produce and having the business development arm gives us both instant feedback from the target audience but also demonstrable results for our clients. It’s been amazing to see our work gain a new life beyond media coverage with the end audience for whom it was always intended.

Q: Its obviously been an unprecedented year, how has the changing environment affected your clients and the content you produce for them?

BJ: There’s definitely been a shift since the onset of the pandemic. We were seeing a lot of future-gazing and data led content that needed to be pulled in Q2 as the changing news agenda progressed. The PR and content teams really had to adapt and look at messaging that was appropriate for the shifting sentiment within business and the media.

Q: So, what makes a good piece of content now? And how do you ensure it has an impact on business development?

JO: In the last few years, the volume of content competing for brand’s attention has risen exponentially. There’s some great stuff out there, but it’s not good enough for an agency to just have an interesting point of view or some top tips. Brands need insight and guidance on what to do with it. Agencies also need a great understanding of what they’re going to do with that content to make it truly work for their business. Sending out a mass email campaign to a large data list won’t cut it anymore.

BJ: It’s true. I’m of course a believer that good content should inform or entertain (or ideally both!) but what’s the point if no one is going to see it let alone engage with it. Extending and amplifying content beyond traditional PR means that we can see our content actually impacting bottom line.

JO: It’s about getting the right people to see it. PR and marketing serve the purpose of reaching a broad audience, which is extremely important and will always have its place. However, our BD teams can reach out 1:1 and tailor to make sure it's relevant to each person that they’re interacting with, which can be incredibly powerful.

Q: What should agencies consider when embarking on a content led new business approach?

JO: Make sure you are not just producing content for the sake of it. It’s got to be directly relevant to the clients you are looking to win. You also need to stick with it to provide a regular frequency and commitment to sharing content.

We work with our clients to develop a multi-touchpoint journey to drive engagement. On average it can take 10 or more touchpoints, so make sure you keep going with it to stay top of mind – and add value at every step of the way. We often start with sharing articles and case studies with a focus on engagement, before moving to longer form content to start filling the top of the funnel.

Q: On a practical level, how do you go about amplifying this content once it has been created?

BJ: The Propeller offer now includes paid, owned and earned campaigns to make sure the great content we produce for our clients really works for them, drives leads and helps to get the most out of the investment of producing it.

JO: We have a specialist team who work with clients to do this and a great tech stack to enable this. After an initial discovery phase the team will generate awareness via PR, email campaigns, our partner network and paid advertising, often on LinkedIn. The engagement with the content then generates leads which BD teams can then follow up on alongside a bespoke 1:1 outreach programme.

Q: Do you have any actionable top tips for agencies wanting to embark on this approach?

BJ: From a content point of view I always challenge clients to ensure what they produce is aligned to their offer but without it screaming sales. It’s a fine line and one I’ve seen clients walk perilously close to.

I’d also say it’s incredibly important f to spend time thinking about your target audience to ensure that what you create is really going to resonate. The work we do upfront with clients to create buyer personas also informs the content creation, not just the targeting and campaign strategy. For example, a 3,000-word report may engage a CEO requiring a business case to invest in a new piece of tech. But a podcast series or shorter form video could better turn a busy brand manager’s head.

JO: To bring all this together requires a lot of different skills, tools and expertise. Often this won't be found in one team, let alone one person - so don't expect a Business Development person to be able to do it all on their own. I’m often impressed by what clients can achieve with limited resources. For example, one very successful team I spoke to recently did it all on Google Sheets! However, where possible you need to make sure you have the right tools in place so that your new business team can maximise their time doing what you do best - selling!

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