THE AGENCY BUSINESS: The PR Store looks to make a big splash by thinking small

With straightforward tactics, itemized billing, and the like, the PR Store hopes that specializing in basic PR functions will help distinguish it in the minds of prospective clients.

With straightforward tactics, itemized billing, and the like, the PR Store hopes that specializing in basic PR functions will help distinguish it in the minds of prospective clients.

It's not often that one conducts an interview with a PR agency executive who freely admits his primary business involves executing tactics, while he considers providing marketing strategy a secondary concern. Yet Mike Butler is hardly your typical PR executive. Butler is the father of the PR Store, an idea that first garnered PRWeek's attention in August 2002, when a front-page story helped him unveil his concept for the franchised stores to the rest of the industry. Butler, a former journalist who has worked in PR at the government, corporate, and agency levels, sees his PR Store as a "marketing superstore" for small- and medium-sized businesses that are seeking some nuts-and-bolts marketing at competitive prices. "Our business model is based on doing a high volume of small jobs, but we are capable of doing some large jobs as well," explains Butler. For many of its customers, the PR Store will likely be among their first attempts at marketing. Butler explains that his store is set up to make that early experience as unintimidating as possible. In essence, the PR Store is designed to be the place that the small businessman visits to get his marketing, much like OfficeMax is the place where he picks up his office supplies and Kinko's is the place where he gets his bulk copying. "We are geared toward the small- business owner, but there's obviously a wide definition as to what a small business is. We serve everyone from the entrepreneur, who is just starting out and needs a press release and a logo, to large companies that have a lot of employees and would be considered a typical PR-firm client." Butler says his store is equipped to help clients execute basic marketing functions such as writing press releases, creating logos, writing newsletters and direct-mail literature. Butler also asserts that the store can even execute a media-outreach campaign for clients that are interested in media placement. One of PR Store's most distinguishing characteristics is that it publishes a rate card for each of its services. For instance, on its "media relations" rate card it advertises press releases for $295 each, while 10 press kits will run customers $975. The store accepts credit cards, which Butler says is currently the most popular method of payment. The founder says his straightforward and itemized billing procedure provides advantages to his target customer. "If you go into the typical PR firm, they will first try and assess your needs, and then they'll probably offer you a proposal for the range of services they want to provide you," says Butler. "Then they'll give you an umbrella cost - maybe a retainer -for service. Under this model, you'll never know what you paid per product or service offered. We give our customers a menu of services and leave it up to them to choose what they think they need." Although Butler says his flagship store in Charlotte, NC is profitable, so far he seems to have found only one other true believer in his concept - Russ Andre, a Michigan-based entrepreneur with no prior marketing experience. Thus far, Andre has opened one store in Grand Rapids, MI and has purchased the rights to open three more. Butler says he remains in talks with other potential franchisees in several states. The franchise has been designed so that the creative execution occurs largely in the flagship location in Charlotte, even as customers are making a purchase at another PR Store location. "Once the store is open, you can really just focus on building your customer base," explains Butler. Butler says that his store doesn't eschew the idea of strategic counsel altogether, but he argues that many of his customers have strong ideas about what they want when they walk through his door. Nevertheless, he says that his staff is equipped to offer counsel on an as-needed basis. At the PR Store, the first hour of consultation is free, and beyond that customers are billed on an hourly basis. "We have a lot of people who come to us who are very self-directed. They know what they want and what they need. They just need somebody to execute, and we do that," explains Butler. ----- The PR Store
  • The store's business plan
    is centered on the idea of executing a high-volume of small marketing jobs.
  • Most of the creative work is designed to be executed at PR Store's flagship location in Charlotte, NC, no matter which PR Store the customer walks into.
  • Each product's price is published on a rate card so there's no retainer or hourly billing; the store accepts credit cards.
  • Strategic counsel is offered on an as-needed basis, but not encouraged. The first hour of consultation is free.

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