I received an interesting article a while ago from PR expert Paige Arnof-Fenn.
Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls a global marketing consulting firm whose clients include Microsoft, Virgin, Colgate as well as venture-backed startups and nonprofit organizations.
Paige explained how she used a listening tour to grow her PR business when the global financial crisis hit a few years ago.
Let me hand you over to Paige to explain what she did...
Remember in 2008 when the financial markets collapsed and triggered the "worst economy since the Great Depression?" I do, I had 3 six figure engagements that were all just about to kick off and in less than 2 weeks they were all put on hold.
Like most small business owners, I like being busy so I immediately started to look at ways to begin filling my calendar again. I could see that I had several speeches and a few board meetings in various cities around the country I had already committed to so knew I had a least a few places t go, people to see and things to do before year end.
Now that I had some extra time I thought I would spend a few additional days in each city and do what I had been watching all the politicians do leading up to the presidential election. I'd reach out to potential and past clients, local thought leaders and key people in the community and go on a "listening tour" to see how they were surviving the downturn.
I sent out several e-mails and picked up the phone to start inviting folks to breakfast, coffee, lunch, cocktails, whatever the preferred the week I would be in their city since I already had firm dates.
I told them I just wanted to chat, swap stories, catch up, no PowerPoints involved. It was a conversation not a sales call so their guard was down. As I had hoped people were receptive and my dance card started to fill again. At each meeting I asked a bunch of open-ended questions to get the conversation started and before I knew it my pages were filled with what the new reality was like for them today.
Themes started to emerge across categories and geographies. Everyone talked about moving from retainers to more project -based work to conserve cash, smaller budgets overall, trying to make sense of social media which was starting to take off, needing to show a return on investment sooner vs. later.
Before the recession more than half my clients were on retainer and most starter projects were at least 2 times the kinds of budgets they were now able to get approved so it was clear I had to get some new tools in my toolkit quickly to stay relevant. It was a great opportunity to chat with so many people. They appreciated the free lunch or coffee and I promised everyone I would send them a summary of what I learned on my tour.
I think everyone was relieved to know that their concerns were echoed and they were not alone. I also added a personal note to each summary to let them know that when they did have a budget again I would be offering some new smaller workshops and modules on things like how to leverage social media in their category based on the very helpful feedback they and others had shared with me on the tour.
At year end I sent out holiday cards to touch and thank each person again. When the New Year rolled in literally just after the Inauguration my phone started ringing again and e-mails began popping up with requests to chat about new work.
I am very happy to report that I got a lot of new clients from my listening tour!
'The easiest way to meet people is to just look like someone who is willing to listen.' - Robert Brault
So what are some steps you can take to set up your own listening tour?
Make a list of prospects, thought leaders and interesting people you would like to chat with. Invite them to drinks or a meal with no strings attached. Ask some good questions then shut up and listen to what they have to say.