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How to build your Nifty 50 list to drive agency growth

A step-by-step guide to identify your outreach targets

For those of us in the agency world who don’t relish the idea of making cold calls and doing outreach, it can be helpful to break down tasks into manageable chunks. I know that I benefit from having a clear and simple process to guide my business development efforts.

That’s why I encourage clients to create a Nifty 50 list to keep their networking and outreach activities focused.

I often work with agency leaders who talk about how they have lists of hundreds or thousands of potential prospects. They talk about how large the opportunity is and how many people would benefit from their services.

And that may well be true.

But hundreds or thousands of names represents a daunting mountain that is more likely to discourage you than get you moving.

With everything that you need to do to keep your business running, it’s hard to carve out time to go after hundreds or thousands of people.

But you can zero in on fifty with much more success.

Inevitably, clients buy in to the idea of the Nifty 50 list but then look for guidance on how to create it.

Let’s break that list of fifty targets down into its individual components. You’ll see that it is more than simply a sales target list.

Start big, then narrow down

For each section of the list that we’ll discuss below, you should start with more than the target number of names. This allows you to think broadly about who might be a good fit for the category, and then winnow it down to your best prospects.

If you just try to get to your first 5 or 10 names in each group, you will overlook some names that would make for even better fits. At the same time, if you grow your lists over the recommended numbers, you will have too many targets and your efforts will be quickly diluted.

Focus on new and renewed relationships

As you craft your Nifty 50 list, make sure you are looking to create new connections or rejuvenate ones that have lapsed.

People you already talk to regularly probably shouldn’t be on this list. They know who you are, and you already are taking steps (intentionally or otherwise) to nourish the relationship.

The Nifty 50 list is about growth of your network and ultimately your business. We all need to get beyond the comfort zone of our existing connections and explore new areas.

Potential referrers (5)

We all have people in our networks that have the potential to send business our way. Part of your networking time on the Nifty 50 process should involve cultivating new referral partners. These may be other agencies with different specialties than your own, it could be service providers that address the same market as you do, or they may be active connectors that are regularly introducing people to each other.

Think about who has referred business to you in the past, but perhaps you have lost touch with. Or agencies with whom you have worked together on client projects in the past. You might also tap into your network of vendor and service provider relationships to see who might be talking to likely ideal clients for your firm.

Influencers (5)

The term “influencer” has gotten somewhat of a bad name, but whatever you call them, there are people in every industry who help to put agencies on the radar of potential buyers.

Depending on your ideal client profile, this might include journalists, association leaders, event organizers, or local chambers of commerce and related groups.

Including influencers on your Nifty 50 list allows you to raise your agency’s profile, position yourself as an expert and thought leader, and get access to opportunities to meet your prospects in the places they already gather, both online and in-person.

Past colleagues (5)

Most of us don’t start out owning an agency, so we have past career experiences and co-workers — many of whom we may have lost touched with as they years pass by. We also have connections we developed during those years with vendors, clients, experts, and others.

Don’t let your rich collection of experiences go to waste. Think about who you may not have spoken with for a number of years that you’d like to get back in touch with.

A particularly valuable vein to pursue may be individuals who worked for you — or even interned for you — who may now have significant roles in the types of organizations that represent good prospects for your firm.

Past clients (5)

Your Nifty 50 list shouldn’t be dominated by the clients you have had in the past, but you should certainly set aside time to focus on some of the ones that are more likely to return in the near term.

You should regularly review your roster of previous clients to think about how their businesses may have evolved in the intervening time — and how your agency might serve them today.

Zero in on the ones who represent a good fit and who would benefit from learning more about what you are doing today. Whether they were clients 3 months, 3 years, or 3 decades ago, they may be ripe to return.

Competitors and other agencies (5)

Too many agency leaders don’t want to engage with potentially competitive firms. That’s a big mistake, especially in disruptive times like those we are experiencing as this article is being written.

You can learn a lot from talking with other agencies like your own. You may even end up generating referrals since we all have slightly different specialties and our ideal clients will vary at least to some degree.

It serves little purpose to view agency business development as a zero sum game where other agencies represent the enemy. There is a reason that your agency is different from others and your job is to help find the clients that best match your expertise, passion, and personality.

You never know when you may need the help of another agency leader — even one that regularly bids against you — so it’s a good idea to get to know them now.

Likely ideal clients (25)

You may be surprised that we have gotten this far without talking about a traditional sales target list. There’s a reason for that.

The Nifty 50 list isn’t designed to be an old-fashioned cold outreach strategy. It is about cultivating the relationships you need to grow as a business by having meaningful conversations with a wide range of people.

But you can’t have an effective business development program without working to create conversations with potential ideal clients.

If you have not done so already, you should craft a very clear definition of your ideal client profile. Be as specific as possible and then build out a list of organizations and individuals that you want to work with.

Now pick the 25 best from that list. It’s a relatively small number because you want to make sure that you have done your homework and can be fairly sure — at least as sure as possible from external research — that they could be a good fit.

That means doing a little digging to make sure they haven’t recently announced an AOR with the same expertise as you provide. It means checking out recent news and LinkedIn profiles to see what potential inroads might exist.

When you consider the care you need to take in selecting these 25, you’ll see that it isn’t just about throwing names at the wall to see what sticks, but is much more methodical than that.

A bit of serendipity (5 more!)

If you want some bonus points, come up with a list of five more names of people that you’d like to get to know better. Even if there isn’t a clear idea of how they might help you.

Perhaps you have always dreamed about meeting a particular author, changemaker, or celebrity. There’s no reason you can’t apply the Nifty 50 methodology to making these connections, too.

Sure, these names may be more of a longshot. And they may or may not ever help you professionally (or even personally) but it can be good to include folks like this in your outreach to see what serendipity might develop that could open new doors or otherwise enrich your life experience.

Regularly maintain your Nifty 50 list

Building your Nifty 50 list isn’t a one-time exercise. It requires regular care and feeding the form of updates.

Names will come and go from your list as you gather more information, build more relationships, and circumstances change.

Some of your targets will turn out to be misfires. That’s OK. It’s part of the information gathering that will help you grow your network to grow your business.

You will probably develop some valuable competitive intelligence over the course of your activities, and you will certainly expand your knowledge. You will probably even get more comfortable with some of the outreach process.

Each month you should do some casual Nifty 50 list maintenance by dropping off those names that aren’t worth continuing to pursue at this time. Then each quarter you should do a more thorough evaluation and replace any open slots so that you always start each quarter with 50 names.

Remember that the goal is at least one meaningful conversation (and lots of smaller touches) with each person on your list.

Some names will carry over from one quarter to the next. A single meaningful conversation may not be enough to move the ball forward — or even to determine it’s not a worthwhile pursuit.

Now get started

There’s no time like the present to begin building your Nifty 50 list and putting it work to grow your agency.

Give your list some thought, but don’t overthink it. There is more value in getting started and being consistent than there is in achieving the perfect target list.

Set aside time in the next few days to begin crafting your list and then get going! You will be amazed at what you can do by just staying focused and managing your outreach in manageable chunks.

Chip Griffin

Chip Griffin

Chip is the Founder & CEO of Agency Leadership Advisors and a longtime agency owner and executive. He helps PR and marketing agency leaders build better businesses.