Peter VanRysdam / Digital Marketing / August 15th, 2007

Giving Public Relations a Chance…

Back in April of 2000, we had an article written about our company in the Gainesville Sun, our local paper here.  It was on the front of the business section on a Saturday.  Nice article, complete with a big picture of us.  When we came in one Monday morning (and by morning, I mean 11am or so as normal), the answering machine was full!  Yes, we had an answering machine then.  No voicemail.  After we cleaned that out, the phone didn’t stop ringing all day.  We actually still have clients to this day from that article.

Ever since then I’ve been a big believer in PR.  Referrals are the best lead source, and a news article is basically a referral from a stranger, but a stranger you hold in high regard.  I mean, you bought the magazine or newspaper, so you are saying right there you value the opinion of the authors.  So, while I’ve been a PR advocate since 2000, I haven’t been a PR firm customer until recently.  You see, PR is valuable.  And the PR firms apparently know that.

So I read an article in Inc. Magazine a few months back about a new type of PR billing; you just pay for the results…no retainer.  Sounded like a great idea.  For example, if this month they get you on a local radio station, you pay $500.  If you get in a magazine with 100,000 to 250,000 in circulation, you pay $1,500.  When you consider the leads you are sure to get from that kind of exposure, it’s a no brainer.  Sound too good to be true?  Read on, Nostradamus. 

So I went with one of the firms listed in the article.  I won’t name names here…I listen to Don Vito Corleone.  Anyhow, it wasn’t a retainer.  However they still asked for $3000 a month.  The thinking there is it let’s them know how much effort to put in per month.  Anything unused would rollover to the next month.  Sounds like a retainer to me.  Whatever…I gave it a shot.

Well, it was a nightmare.  The first company understood about as much about computers as a lab rat.  And I was relying on these people to pitch stories about interactive development projects.  Oh, but did I mention I had to come up with those story ideas?  Weak…very weak.  After about a month, no articles, and me “dumbing down” our info for them three different times, I decided to move on.  That was the nice part; no contracts.

I chalked that one up to a bad company, and decided to give the format a second try.  Much more responsive company this time around, with better technical knowledge for sure.  We got a little bit of press, but nothing worth the cost.  There was this one sentence here, and a small write-up in the Ann Arbor News about our new office there.  We got one call from that, at least making it worth the money.  Though still not worth the time I’d put in to it.

Long story short, the second company decided to stop offering that service.  They were nice enough to wait until I called them wondering where the h**l they’d been to tell me and offer me a refund.  Classy.

OK, so now I’m jaded.  Not on PR, but on pay per performance PR.  To me it was a classic bait and switch.  You come in thinking you’re getting normal PR service where you don’t pay for all of the down time.  However you still pay a fixed monthly fee, and end up moving to a retainer anyway if you want to get the services you expected.

So I found a great PR company.  An old-fashioned company, dreaded retainer and all.  They are called Steve Simon PR, or SSPR.  The difference in clear already, all of one week in to the deal.  We’ve had three conference calls to discuss ideas, including one with their founder.  I haven’t had to do their job at all.  In fact, they already came to me with some great story ideas.  

So the lessons I learned here are things I thought I already knew; you get what you pay for, and if it looks to good to be true, well you know.  I’ll keep you abreast of their progress, and will post links to the countless articles I expect to get.  Just imagine how full the answering machine would be after a feature story on CNN! 🙂