Leave it to a public relations firm to teach other businesses how to stretch their own PR dollars. Three years ago Floathe Johnson Associates, a firm in Kirkland, Wash., began sending news releases on its own progress directly to prospective clients. Today the releases are the top generator of new business leads for the firm, whose annual sales are $25 million.

About once a month an announcement of a new account, award won, or new hire goes out to 100 members of the press, 150 clients, and 500-plus prospects. One to five prospects call to learn more. Under such circumstances, it can be tempting to turn a news release into a sales pitch. Resist the urge, senior vice-president Chuck Pettis says, or the release will alienate the press and won't impress prospects.

"People say they read about us in the paper," Pettis says. "Nine times out of 10 I bet they are remembering the press release."