Tom Brandon knew it was time. Like the founders of many a young, promising venture, the CEO of Work Recovery, a $5-million publicly traded Tucson company, had an appealing product. Word-of-mouth publicity had gone a long way.

But outside of select hospitals, few people knew about Work Recovery or its $100,000 product, the Ergos Work Simulator, a machine that tests a person's physical capacity to work.

Still, Brandon was wary of public-relations firms. After interviewing numerous agencies that demanded up-front fees and fat retainers, he picked Primetime Publicity & Media Consulting, a Mill Valley, Calif., PR firm that charges only for the stories it places. "Primetime was willing to be held accountable and to be paid as it performed," says Brandon.

Results-only PR isn't new. Primetime was founded 10 years ago, and there are a handful of other PR firms that use a rate card. (Roughly speaking, a print feature will cost anywhere from a third to half the price of a color ad in the same publication. A 60-second feature on CNN will run about $9,000.) It's also not for everyone. Traditional PR firms that charge monthly retainers also offer more services than Primetime. With less than $5 million in sales, and a home-office crew of six, Primetime is smaller than many of its clients. Therefore, the company depends on CEOs to tell it what they want to say and where.

With a lot of input from Brandon, Primetime forged a strategy that last spring got Work Recovery airtime on several local TV shows and onto the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, the Boston Globe, and other widely read publications.

The plan accounted for Brandon's goals of reaching a mass audience of potential customers and shareholders. Primetime's approach:

* Make the reporter's job easier. Work Recovery press releases presented several strong story angles, from the newsy to the more personal. (Both Brandon and his father had suffered debilitating injuries.) "You don't pitch the same story to every publication," says Primetime's media director Bob Cullinan.

* Follow through. Once a reporter showed interest, "we made it as easy as possible for the person to do the story," says Cullinan. That included lining up 70 centers around the United States where journalists could try the Ergos for themselves.

* Know when to back off. "With the Wall Street Journal, we just kept calling different reporters until we found a sympathetic ear," says Cullinan. "We gave the writer all the information and then called back just enough to work out the gray areas."

As a result of 10-plus "media hits," Work Recovery increased its shareholder base threefold, Brandon notes. And each time the company appeared in print or on TV, inquiries shot up. "This broke us out of the regional mold into the national arena." As for the folks at Primetime? They got paid.

-- Susan Greco