CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: My partner and I have a small PR firm handling start-ups. As you

know, things are very tight in this market. I am always looking for new

business, so when a potential client calls, I try and do everything I

can to win the account. The problem is, one of my prospects keeps

calling to ask me advice on how they should handle a launch or an event

or whatever.



But when I try and lock them into a formal relationship, they won't even

answer my calls.



I am beginning to feel like they are just using me to get ideas, but

that they will never actually hire us to execute them. I can't afford to

make them angry, but I really can't afford to hand out free advice all

the time. What should I do?



Mr. A, San Francisco



A: Yours is a common dilemma in these penurious times. As my dear mother

would tell me every Saturday night, boys won't buy the cow if they're

getting the milk for free. But that advice doesn't help you any more

than it helped me.



So I called on my good friend David Landis, CEO of Landis Communications

in San Francisco, for help. David says that volunteering guidance is an

important part of the business. "Giving advice is the best form of

marketing for any PR professional," he offers.



But David employs a shrewd psychological device to discourage idea

theft.



"If someone calls me up and asks if I have some ideas, I say,'Sure, just

give me some time so I can put the ideas down on paper.'" When he

supplies a few thoughtful nuggets to the would-be client, he adds a

credit line on the bottom of the page, saying the information is

proprietary, and can only be used with written approval.



Granted, this won't discourage every brainstorm burglar. "Can they still

steal the ideas? Sure." David says. "But it makes 90% of the people

either back off, or come back and say, 'We like the idea and want to

hire you.'"



Q: I graduated from college last year and started working for a public

affairs agency. When I started this job, I didn't know what I was

doing.



I asked my boss a lot of questions and slowly got to know the

business.



Right away she had me doing some media calls, and I was pretty bad at it

when I started.



But as I have learned about PR and the clients, I have come to realize

that a lot of the stories she has me pitching are really awful. The

journalists I talk to get annoyed and don't want to talk to me anymore.

How can I convince her these story ideas stink without hurting my

career?



Mr. C, Washington



A: Ahhh, the student exceeds the master. Who said that? Yoda? I can't

recall, but I can certainly help you solve this problem.



Whenever you call reporters to pitch a story, ask them what kind of

stories they are interested in pursuing. Once you have a better idea

what pitches will be successful, take a look at your clients and come up

with some ideas on your own.



Armed with this knowledge, accept the task graciously the next time your

boss hands you another "low-level government employee buys a new hat"

story. But don't forget to tell her that you also had some story ideas

based on what the journalist told you in a prior conversation. Suggest

to her that you try pitching both stories at the same time. Then, if

your ideas prove successful, your boss will probably let you work with

the client more closely.



- Do you have a problem that no one else has been able to solve? Try

Pandora. E-mail her at pandora@prweek.com.



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