Underestimating the Power of In-house PR
by Carolyn Moncel

Do small-business owners always have to rely on large PR 
agencies to get attention from the press? An entrepreneur 
recently asked me this question during a networking event 
for women business owners. Of course my answer was, "No," 
but not for the reasons one might expect.

Ultimately, I do believe the time comes when a company needs 
professional guidance from a PR agency -- be it a large or 
small one -- to secure media coverage. But I also believe that 
a really media savvy small-business owner, or a two-person
marketing team can do a fantastic job in promoting an 
organization. Here's how I know it can work.

A few years ago during the dot.com boom, I worked for a small 
online publishing company. We had a terrific technical team and 
staff, two great products, but no one knew the company existed. 
As a start-up, it was crucial for the company to gain awareness 
through media exposure because advertising was too expensive.

Since our marketing department only consisted of two people -- 
the marketing director and myself, there was a bit of concern 
within the organization as to whether we had enough in-house 
resources available to successfully get the company much-needed 
ink. So the company's executive team hatched an interesting plan. 
They offered our in-house marketing team the chance to bid on 
the company's PR project as if we were an outside agency.

My experience had always been in public relations, rather than 
product marketing. My boss' experience had always been the 
opposite. We seized the opportunity to combine our knowledge, 
skills and research.

Our tiny two-person team matched PR wits squarely against four 
established pros - including one former White House aide. Guess 
what? Our ideas prevailed, and the company decided to ditch the
notion of hiring a big PR firm in favor of keeping the in-house 

Before long we were generating some memorable press for our 
company. Over a two-year period we placed stories on our company 
in more than 100 media outlets - from MSNBC and Forbes to the 
Wall Street Journal and Wired News online. We did it by studying 
what the big PR agencies did well, and also by using our 
department's "smallness" to our advantage. Here's how you can do 
it, too.

Research your company

Forget that you own or work within the organization. Really 
invest the time in understanding your company's structure, 
the executives and their backgrounds, the products and
technology, the industry in which your company belongs, 
competitors and experts, and most of all the target audience 
-- the people who stand to benefit most from your product or 
service. If you know all of this information, then you'll be 
in a better position to brainstorm ideas on how to get the 
media's attention. Doing this also helps in flushing out your 
overall marketing plan -- of which PR is only a part.

Research the reporters who cover your company's industry and 
study the types of stories that they like to write

Learn their deadlines and how they prefer to be contacted. 
Introduce yourself by phone and make it a point to speak 
with them regularly -- not just to talk about your company, 
but also about the industry in general. Use those conversations 
to offer up source materials that will help reporters write 
terrific stories. If you are able to do this successfully, you 
will become a trusted source that reporters return to 
repeatedly, and you will significantly increase your chances of 
gaining coverage for your company.

Always return media phone calls immediately

Keep yourself and your organization at the ready to receive 
phone calls from the press. Make sure that reporters know how 
to reach you in a 24-hour cycle. This means they should have 
your office, cell, home, and pager numbers, as well as a contact 
e-mail address. If you still happen to miss the call, return it 
ASAP. Always prepare yourself or members from your organization 
to conduct interviews from anywhere, at any time.

Conduct proper follow up after the interview

This is not a call to find out when a story will be published, 
but rather a call to make sure that the reporters have 
everything they need in order to write a favorable story on 
your organization.

Whenever our company executives were interviewed by reporters, 
one team member would always accompany them to the interview to 
take careful notes. Alternately, the other team member would
remain in the office on standby. If, during the interview, the 
reporter indicated a need for specific information, an urgent 
message would be relayed back to the office so that the team 
member had time to gather the information. Without fail, we 
always had the requested information waiting in the reporter's 
e-mail inbox before they arrived back to the office. This may 
seem like a small task, but getting it right could really decide
whether or not a reporter selects your story, or moves on to a 
new one.

The important point to remember here is this. Never underestimate 
the power and dedication of your in-house staff. Before you make 
the investment in retaining a PR agency, look at your internal 
talent first. What you find just might surprise you, and their 
drive to succeed will become contagious throughout your entire
organization. And when the time comes to hire a PR firm, you 
will have a ready-made collaborative team in place to work with 
your outside agency. Your in-house team knows your company better 
than anyone and that's where you, as a small-business owner, have 
an advantage over the "big boys" at the large PR agencies in 
getting the media's attention.

Carolyn Davenport-Moncel is president and founder of Mondave 
Communications, a global marketing and communications firm based 
in Chicago and Paris, and a subsidiary of MotionTemps, LLC. 
Contact her at carolyn@motiontemps.com or by phone in the United 
States at 877.815.0167 or 011.331.4997.9059 in France.