Getting Not-So-Free Ink

Nov 06, 2006

There’s an interesting article in the latest issue of Inc Magazine on PR firms that get paid only when they get results for their clients— results being a press mention in the local paper, a feature story in The Wall Street Journal, or their name cited in a professional journal. Each of these kinds of press carries with it a different price tag. For example, The Wall Street Journal story would cost $8,900. It’s a pretty cool idea. Instead of paying $2,000, $4,000, or $6,000 a month, with no guarantee of results, you only pay for what you get. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of A/E/P and environmental firms with PR firms on retainer. And I must admit that I wasn’t very impressed with the solid majority of them. Most of these people were charlatans who stroked their clients’ egos and did not understand what people in this business do whatsoever. I saw a lot of money paid out for very little, if any, results. In any case, the pay-for-results formula seems to make sense. You still may not think it’s cheap— though, compared with paid advertising, it’s an absolute bargain. Plus, my contention is people pay more attention to a story than they do an ad, so PR has to be much more effective. You don’t have to pay anyone if you want to go it alone. At ZweigWhite, we have never paid for any PR and we have generated a whole lot of press, including a number of stories in The Wall Street Journal. Our simple formula is one we have employed for years and one that we’ve gotten many A/E and environmental firms to use as well. Here are some key elements of a do-it-yourself PR program: Build a good list. You should have anywhere from 100-500 names in a wide variety of publications, web sites, TV, and radio stations. Make sure this is an e-mail list so you don’t have to actually print and post your press releases. This will save money and speed up the distribution time. Use the list weekly. The more you use it to send out press releases, the better your chances of getting some ink or air coverage. It’s all about probabilities— size of the list and frequency of use impact probability of success. Keep your press releases short. Everyone— including writers and editors— seems to have a short attention span these days. That’s why you can’t have press releases that are more than a page or two of double-spaced type. Have an attention-grabbing headline. “Man bites dog” is the old cliché about how to write a headline that people will pay attention to. The point is it has to be something different from what one expects. Cite unique statistics, promotions, new offices, new employees, and also periodically quote your key people expressing an opinion relevant to their areas of expertise. Do some original research on one of the markets you serve and then spoon-feed the results to the media a little bit at a time. Have your experts express an opinion, hopefully one that’s out of sync with conventional wisdom, in a few brief quotes. These kinds of releases are much more likely to get picked up than those that simply talk about a project. Always include a description of the firm and contact person with phone and e-mail address for those who want more information. This should be something that is stuck at the end of every release and changes little. Pay-for-placement or do-it-yourself PR— either of these options is better than paying for no results or doing nothing! Think about it. Originally published 11/06/2006

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.