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April 10, 2007
Sorry, Big Doesn't Get the Job Done

The CEO of a fast-growing Web company recently asked me why he should hire RLM PR, an 18-person firm, instead of a so-called name firm. Having been in a self-owned service business for 17 years, I was confused by this query. What's a name? Never one to say "no" to a challenge, I am herewith answering him in public.

If you are running a service business and your clients are successful, no one questions how big a name you have. We actually work against the ginormous model. Many of our Account Types worked at larger factory firms, and they excel at sending glossy reports with little to no substance (though those fonts are gorgeous).

We wrangle that habit out of people.

People know a smaller firm isn't a "yes" bunch. There are true, monolithic corporations who might get miffed a service biz doesn't send them a Guess What You Rock memo every day. To those we say "see you." Most non-name companies don't have the manpower for that nonsense.

If a service business chooses to work with innovative, solid (read: busy) clients, they quickly discover how paying customers would rather the pros are working diligently—in our case calling, faxing, e-mailing, carrier-pigeoning the media—than writing truckloads of memoranda.

If small firms are, as they are, composed of highly respected pros, particularly in a space as crowded as ours, then those hardworking men and women are going to be attracted to work there. I can't understand, then, why we should compare ourselves to better-known anythings.

In fact, one of the world's largest PR firms asked us to work in partnership with them solely because they liked our wacky, doable ideas and recognized the limits of their own. When I asked why they really 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. Large firms do gobs of hourly billings, have flashy production values, charge two to three times the small- to mid-size fees, and are hard to get via phone. We spend cash on hiring the best PR pros available and on phone bills and research costs to place stories for clients. In short, we deliver results for a substantially lower cost than name-brand cretins, I mean competitors.

If your firm has truly skilled folks, and you take an aggressive approach to doing what you do every gosh darn day, then who cares what size you are as a service business? The larger firms, unlike us, bill clients by the hour and often take 6 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).

The non-names are strategic partners possessing CEOs who actually do homework and study your business model to find holes and give you real ideas for the future of your concern. If a budding brand wants a real strategic partner, we say go with the hungry guys, or non-names. Though to be honest, "unknown" is subjective, since to be accused of that, someone has to call you an "unknown"!

Finally, I hope this proves there is no real reason to itemize differentiation. These points should suffice in my opportunistic demonstration that a name is a moniker with a better press agent.

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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