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Bigger Is Not Always Better With PR Firms

Though the reality is that most public relations agencies are relatively small, the perception is most companies would rather have their spinning done by mega-companies with an often global reach, rather than a small, lesser-known firm.

But smaller agencies are beginning to dispel the common myth that bigger is better by steadily capturing a larger piece of the market, offering companies personalized service and senior expertise at a more cost-effective price than larger firms can offer.

Trendy, upscale Downtown hotel W San Diego has been working with San Diego-based J Public Relations, a two-person specialty boutique agency, for nearly two years now.

The draw of a boutique firm, which generally means a small, fashionable specialty shop, is personalized service and local knowledge, said Rob Stirling, the director of sales and marketing at the W San Diego.

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“It allows us the opportunity to develop an intimate relationship with the people who are working on the account,” Stirling said. “We aren’t just one of 50 accounts. It allows our relationship to be very good, very intimate and very personal.”

W San Diego, which opened in 2003 and is part of hotel conglomerate Starwood Hotels, worked with several large public relations agencies, including a well-known Los Angeles-based firm, but felt a smaller agency was a better fit.

“They (J Public Relations) are very tied into the local people,” Stirling said. “If you get a lot of local buzz, it can generate into national opportunities.”

J Public Relations counts eight clients, most of which have turned to the agency because they were seeking hands-on service, said Jamie Sigler, a partner in J Public Relations.

“The thing we continue to hear from our clients is they like the fact that they are dealing with both principals on a daily basis,” Sigler said of herself and her business partner, Kim Julin Guyader. “With us, it’s what you see is what you get. J Public Relations doesn’t have a million clients, doesn’t have fancy offices, but what we have over larger firms is that who you are hiring is the principals.”

At larger firms, the work often is directed down the ladder to interns or less experienced account executives, causing the client’s message and goals to become jumbled, she said.

“I spend (weekly) about 20 hours on the phone building and maintaining my relationships directly,” she said. “Every single day we are directly speaking with our clients. We are extremely active.”

Valerie Chereskin, the president of Chereskin Communications, a San Diego-based independent PR consulting firm, said large companies are utilizing smaller firms to offset some of the services not provided by a corporation’s in-house communications executives.

Chereskin, a sole practitioner, specializes in high-tech companies, including Massachusetts-based Cognex Corp., a public company that develops, manufactures and markets machine vision systems.

“With Cognex, they have an in-house person (that does one aspect of public relations),” she said. “I can focus on the business media (aspect) and be more cost-effective. It’s more effective in terms of use of money.”

John Brice is both the Brice and Associates in Brice & Associates, yet the one-man shop has handled some big accounts during the last 19 years.

Brice’s client list included a 17-year relationship with Carlsbad-based Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill, as well as Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Domino’s Pizza. Brice currently works with Downtown’s 1,625-room Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego and Los Angeles-based public insurance company Mercury General Corp.


Local Flavor

Most of Brice’s clients have turned to him to work on the local aspect of the company’s public relations campaign.

Brice, who opened his practice in 1986, said small agencies may offer more personalized service, but whether an agency can deliver results is often the deciding factor to whether the contract is renewed.

“Clients want results from their PR agency , a big or small agency. Size is generally irrelevant if the agency succeeds for the client,” Brice said. “Clients are going to pay ‘X’ amount of dollars and they don’t care if it comes from a big agency or a small agency.”

Brice added that smaller agencies may be more attractive to companies because of the lower costs involved.

“Like doctors, lawyers, accountants and electricians, one good PR practitioner can get the job done well and generally do so at a more cost-effective price,” he said. “A small agency can convene substantial marketing expertise as needed and not have to pass along any overhead to the client. Large staffs are often heavy on very recent college graduates and interns as well as the associated overhead: salaries, benefits, office space and electronics.”

As small agencies garner more attention from national clients, others still prefer to work with nationally established public relations houses, said Brian Brokowski, the senior vice president of the local division of St. Louis-based Fleishman-Hillard, an international public relations firm with 16 staffers in San Diego.

“It all depends on the piece of business that the client is involved in and their type of product. We see a range of larger firms that are in the mix and occasionally we see small firms,” said Brokowski, whose office handles accounts for the Hotel del Coronado, SBC, the San Diego Padres and Bumble Bee Seafoods. “But in San Diego we are a local firm with a strong local office. We have the reach and capabilities through our international and national network that small firms don’t.”

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