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Enterprise Kutch & Co. takes ‘friendly’ approach to public relations role



Kutch & Co.


Founded:

1991


Employees:

Three


Gross revenues for 2000:

$262,000


Headquarters:

3990 Old Town Ave.


Director:

Bonnie Kutch


Business:

Public relations

Bonnie Kutch cultivates her public relations firm, Kutch & Co., with basic principles she has developed over a 20-plus-year career , she takes clients only if she believes in their business plan, supports the way they conduct business and would have them as a friend.

Kutch focuses on public relations for the commercial real estate, construction and design industries. She incorporated her three-employee business June 1 and is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year.

With 18 clients and gross revenues of $262,000 in 2000, Kutch is searching for another employee to add to her staff. Yet, she is controlling her growth so she can continue hand-picking her clients and giving them the attention they need to become the savvy, professional and charitable businesses she knows they can be.

“A lot of small-business owners are fairly naive about what a PR person does. Bonnie came with very good recommendations,” said Kutch & Co. client Jeff Cavignac, president of Cavignac & Associates, a San Diego insurance firm.

“She has been able to get us in front of our clients in a very professional way, mainly through articles in professional publications. She helps with ads, but frankly the exposure we get and recognition as professionals in our industry (in publications) is better exposure than a mere ad,” he said.


Philosophies

Kutch operates out of an office in Old Town that she decorated with the help of one of her first clients. The colors and atmosphere reflect her welcoming demeanor as much as her perfectionism.

“My mentor told me, ‘You’re going to drive people crazy with your perfectionism, but don’t ever lose it,'” Kutch recalled, and added she doesn’t hesitate to encourage it in her own employees because it’s what clients need from them.

On a recent morning, Kutch’s pristine desk held only her shaggy shih tzu, Mika, who was sprawled on its top. While giving Mika a good scratch, she outlined the philosophy behind her business.

“I think what I’m most proud of is that when I was starting out, I decided I would only work with people I like and would have as a friend,” Kutch said. She also considers whether she believes in the client’s core values and whether she can be proud of the way they do business.

“I worked with a difficult client in my old job. He was very controlling and picky and I just thought, ‘Life’s too short,'” she said.

Because her firm is small, Kutch has the luxury of scrutinizing prospective clients. Larger firms have so many “mouths to feed” that they have to take all the business they can get, she said.

“We pick and choose who we work with,” she said. However, most new clients are referred by current clients, so with that filter already in place it is usually unnecessary to turn away prospects.


Clients Have Responsibilities

Kutch encourages her clients to spend time thinking about their corporate goals and image, and she helps ensure the two mesh and are executed in the day-to-day business operations.

“She can give us her critical observations when maybe we’re going off in the wrong direction and thinking sideways,” said Tom Johnson, CEO of the general contracting firm Johnson & Jennings. “She’s a real safe person to play with and isn’t afraid to be in the mix. She keeps us honest, which is really nice.”

“You can’t ask us to put something out that isn’t true,” Kutch said. “It has to be really your personality and your real culture.”

Clients once told Kutch they wanted to be portrayed as a fun, hip company, but all she ever saw in their offices was stress and angst, she said. And she wasn’t afraid to point out the dichotomy.

Kutch tells clients they must assist in her top priority as a public relations officer: Pleasing the media.

Kutch and her staff think that, more important than working for Kutch & Co. and its clients, is the fact that they work for the media. When a reporter needs information from one of her clients, they drop everything to fulfill that request as quickly as possible and expect clients to do the same, Kutch said.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for the news media,” she said. And if a particular client isn’t available for a reporter’s story, she’ll find someone in the same industry who is , whether she works for them or not, she said.

Kutch also strongly encourages her clients to get involved in their community by contributing manpower, not just financial resources, to local charities.

“It’s not just good business, but it is something you ought to be doing,” she said. Kutch herself is active in the San Diego Humane Society.

While Kutch expects a lot, she also offers a lot, pulling from her career, which has lasted “forever,” in different divisions of public relations.

“I think that my jagged path going from creative to PR, back to creative, then back to PR is a real asset,” Kutch said.

Advertising and public relations departments are pitted against each other in many large firms, Kutch said, but she and her staff appreciate the importance of each department because of her experience working on both sides of the fence.

“I know how it all ties together,” she said.

And that is something she conveys to her clients, too.

“She has a whole plethora of experience in … different campaigns. We’ve done some advertising in periodicals, mailers, news articles, a whole variety. She’s just been very wonderful in terms of explaining the value of each,” said client Scott Cairns, vice president of Smith Consulting Architects.

Kutch began her career in Honolulu as a graphic designer and creative director in a small satellite office of a large advertising firm. When she came to San Diego in the early 1980s armed with her portfolio of advertisements, she learned the hard way how difficult it is to break into the advertising business here.

“There were only three or four agencies that made the time to meet with me,” Kutch recalled. She ended up in a public relations position where the principals thought she would excel in , not its graphics department where she thought she wanted to be.

However, Kutch discovered an affinity for public relations through the position and she continued on that track in stints with other large San Diego public relations agencies before taking a much-needed hiatus to relax and work as a freelancer in the early 1990s.

“Kutch & Co. started as much on a fluke as anything,” when an old friend called and asked Kutch to take over the public relations for her company, she recalled.

“She became my first account,” Kutch said. But it wasn’t her only account for long. As that first client spread Kutch’s name, she soon picked up several more clients, including Johnson & Jennings, whom Kutch has represented for the last 10 years.

“Over the years, we’ve gotten very comfortable with her as far as being a part of the fabric of our business and our management decisions, especially related (to) how to market our company and present ourselves,” Johnson said.


Exciting Focus

Kutch began her solo career in PR with a focus on clients in real estate and its related industries because she already knew the players and had expertise in the arena from previous jobs.

Less of a necessity now, she and her staff stay focused on the industry because their clients excite them, Kutch said.

“They’re the risk-takers, the entrepreneurs. We’re excited about what they’re doing,” she said.

Yet another criterion in her decision to take on a new client is how much the business varies from those she already represents. Not only does this strategy keep her business diversified, it serves her clients’ businesses as well.

For example, Kutch recently took on Carlsbad-based Schubach Aviation. It is not a real estate-focused operation, but it is one that her existing clients may be interested in knowing about, and that was a factor in her decision to take the business, she said.

Right now, Kutch & Co. wants to add a developer, property manager and civil engineer to round out the group of real estate clients. That’s not to say Kutch doesn’t consider industries outside her focus. In fact, she wants to branch out into health, fitness, nutrition and pharmaceuticals because she is personally interested in those areas.

“I can feel really good about putting out something that’s close to my heart,” Kutch said.


Staying ‘Relatively’ Small

Kutch & Co.’s slogan is “Keeping our clients in the limelight,” and staying with the Hollywood theme, Kutch developed fun titles for her three-person staff.

While she is the firm’s “director,” the “screenwriter,” Sarah Daoust, acts as a junior account executive, and Denise Brown is the firm’s “production supervisor” who acts as an account coordinator. Kutch is recruiting an “executive producer,” who will act as a senior account representative.

“I never want to be big,” she said. “I’ve worked in the large agencies and I know what happens when you become big … when I myself am not aware of what’s going on.

“We do maintain a very comfortable family-like atmosphere here,” she continued. “It is so rewarding for me getting to work so closely with my employees and see them grow. I get to see the light turn on. I appreciate so much working with bright young people that really want to invest in their career.”

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