The CEO of a fast-growing software company recently smacked me with a question: Why should he hire RLM PR, a 13-person firm, instead of a so-called name firm that came to him and promised him the moon and stars and the cover of the Wall Street Journal--and slickly so. Having been CEO of a choose-to-be-small service business for 19 years, I was confused by this query. What's a name? And, never one to say "no" to a challenge, nor take anything to the next level, I am answering him in a public forum.
If you are running a service business and your clients are successful, no one questions how big a name you have. We purposely work against the ginormous model. Many of our Account Executives worked at the sausage factory PR firms, and they came to us excelling at glossy reports with little to no substance (though those fonts are gorgeous).
We wrangle that habit out of people by the end of week one.
People find out quickly that a smaller firm doesn't say "yes" to make a client happy. We also have dirty hands. We don't send Guess What You Rock memos every day. Most name-free companies don't have the manpower or the patience for that nonsense.
Soon after a service business like ours is hired by a solid, innovative, and driven client, the company discovers that the once-beloved habit of sharing fine meals with their PR firm is a waste of good talent. They realize they'd rather the folks at our place work their heart outs--in our case calling, Skype-ing, tweeting, SMSing, emailing, carrier-pigeoning, mailing, and stopping over to see the media and other influential types--instead of composing truckloads of memorandums they're not going to read anyway.
Little guys like us also have the luxury of time to drum up well thought-out counsel that often consists of, you got it, arguments. A client with an itch to Do Something Really Big will be told that no matter how much fun the gimmick seems, if it will not make a dent in sales why bother? Our ideas are large and in charge--but they always make the client money.
Small firms are composed of highly respected pros, particularly in a space as crowded as ours, who work hard and don't look to be hand-held (though they all want iPads to hold). They are media junkies who either know it or will discover it all, because their passion for being in PR (and learning every day) is obvious. So it is absurd for me to compare ourselves to better known anythings.
Comically, one of the largest PR firms once asked us to partner with them solely because they liked our out-of-the-bun concepts for getting noticed above the noise and recognized they had none. (Their CMO asked me what outside consultant we paid to come up with our ideas. I'm still shaking my head.) When I asked why they called, the manager said: "We don't have any horses here." I think he meant people who do real work: maybe he liked ponies.
An independent agency can make its own rules. We are lucky. No committees! A young person working here can wake up one day and say "Let's..." and by noon it's in process. Large firms do gobs of hourly billings; spend full days on budgeting; do most everything via commitease; worry about their own business model a lot more than any client's; bring slick/flashy production values to the smallest presentations; charge two to three times the small- to mid-size fees of firms like mine; and are near impossible to get on the phone when you feel the need. We spend cash hiring the best PR pros on this and other planets; and on budding technology and research tools so that we are in the know 24 hours a day. Oh, and we spend a small fortune on coffee. But we don't have fancy anything. In short, we deliver substantiated results for a lower cost than name-brand cretins, I mean competitors.
If your service firm has the right number of super-skilled folks, and you take an aggressive approach to doing what you do every darn day, then who really cares what size? The larger firms, unlike us, bill clients by the hour and often take months to formulate plans and market a message before any real work takes place. We can't afford to do that (and are bored too easily). We have to look good quickly.
The non-names like us are strategic partners whose CEOs (ahem) study your business to find holes that need filling; everyone on the team comes up with smart, doable ideas for the future. Your goals to be tattooed on our foreheads. If a budding brand wants a real strategic partner, call the hungry men and women, reach out to the ones who are not famous and talked about. Though to be honest, "unknown" is a misnomer, since to be accused of that someone has to know you!
Size is to be a topic in the bedroom to be parked outside the conference room. The above points should suffice (they made me feel better) as an opportunistic demonstration that a name is merely a "moniker" with a mighty good press agent.
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I am doing a lot of thinking out loud on Twitter... @laermer
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