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