A North Carolina entrepreneur sets his sights on creating the H&R Block of public relations.
Public relations can drive business owners nuts. If they decide to spend money on PR at all, they often feel (and get) sidelined in favor of bigger clients. That's what Mike Butler noticed when he headed a traditional public relations agency. "We knew a small-business owner didn't get very much attention and his budget wasn't very big, but his needs were just as real," Butler says. He's launched PR Store, a storefront marketing and PR firm for small businesses, in hopes of solving the problem.
With franchises in strip malls in Charlotte, N.C., Detroit, and Grand Rapids, Mich., and with plans to expand nationwide, PR Store targets walk-in clients, who describe their price range and goals to a marketing consultant. The consultant then recommends a long-term marketing strategy, as well as immediate actions. Press releases and revamped logos are popular.
While a Kinko's, say, can create marketing paraphernalia, Butler says PR Store is also able to provide a detailed analysis of small-business clients' needs. More important to businesspeople on budgets, it will keep clients' information on file for years, meaning clients can buy pens one year, an annual report the next, and a press kit the next, all with the same look. The store takes care of printing the material, too.
A back office of graphic designers, copywriters, and PR specialists handles all of the work, whether it's writing articles for trade magazines ($350) or creating a crisis-management plan (no one's requested that yet, but Butler used to handle PR for some southern nuclear power plants, so he has the chops).
At prices ranging from $650 for a logo design to $5,500 for an annual report brochure (including printing), the service is not cheap. But, says Pat Porter, a PR Store client who runs franchise operations for Just Fresh Franchise System, a salad and sandwich chain based in Huntersville, N.C., cost isn't the draw. "The benefit is not so much in the cost," he says. "It's the fact that you make one phone call, and the project's done. It's a huge amount of time savings."
It's an idea whose time has come, says Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries marketing strategists in Atlanta. "A lot of small businesses can't go to the big guys because their accounts just aren't large enough, but there's no doubt that small businesses, in order to grow and become big businesses, need PR," she says. "It's like H&R Block with taxes. Most people don't need a big firm or a fancy accountant -- just a little bit of help."