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Off the Beaten Path: Finding Public Relations Success in Smaller Cities

Arizona is probably best known for three things: the Grand Canyon, sports, and retirement communities. Arizona doesn’t exactly top lists when it comes to notable businesses and the media moguls. Jeremy Pepper is a public relations professional who cut his teeth in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco during the dot-com boom, working for both new economy and old economy companies. But with a boom comes a bust, and like many young workers, Pepper found himself scrapping by on unemployment after the last company he worked for was acquired. In Arizona, Pepper has found few public relations opportunities to his liking, so he’s decided to go solo and launch his own firm. Pepper’s first task is to sell himself to prospective clients, something that also involves selling his location. His experience should prove helpful to any public relations professionals working outside one of the major media hubs.

“I chose Arizona because it’s inexpensive, but the state seems not to be thought of as having much to do with big business. The economy is based mostly on tourism and the big companies tend to use outside agencies. But what I do is explain to prospective clients that being in Arizona helps me keep a low overhead and that means lower costs for them.”

Pepper says that he’s also had to convince people that being on the West Coast won’t hurt his client’s chances of getting placement from East Coast media outlets.

“The time difference doesn’t matter, but I have to sell them on it. If I need to be in the office at 6 in the morning, no problem. I realize that if I get in at 9, it’s noon in the East. So if I need to be early, I get in early. PR is not a 9-to-5 job anyway.”

The main task for Pepper now is building a client base. To go about this, Pepper has leveraged existing public relations contacts and has used the web in an inventive way.

“I look at employment listings and look for companies who are trying to hire in-house public relations people. I basically ask them, ‘Would it be cheaper for you to hire an outside firm?’ An in-house public relations person will probably cost them at least $60,000 per year plus benefits.”

Pepper’s tactics have paid off as he’s currently attempting to seal deals with two potential clients. In one case, Pepper has drawn on his past employment to help sell his services. Another selling point for Pepper has been his past success in getting public relations clients placement.

“Sometimes you need to get specific about where you’ve gotten placement, that’s fine. I have the tools and the Rolodex. I name names when they ask what journalists I have good relationships with.”

When he pitches potential clients, Pepper draws on his past and his own public relations theories. He says that one big hurdle has been educating people about the difference between public relations, marketing, and advertising. He breaks it down simply.

“When people flip through a magazine they look for the articles. They only see the ads if the ads really reach out and grab them. But the articles are what’s important and I don’t think most people realize how many stories in newspapers and magazines, and on television and radio are generated by public relations. Reporters are always looking for good stories, that’s where PR people come in.”

While Pepper admits getting placement is hard, he combats that by helping the reporter do his work.

“You’ve got to go the extra mile and do the extra work. I provide reporters with every statistic I can find for stories. I once created a chart for a reporter to emphasize some statistics and she used the chart in an article. I helped her do her job and she helped me do mine.”

The most important thing, says Pepper, is finding public relations clients whose businesses you can help grow and who can you help you grow your business.

“I’m being very picky. I need to watch out for the reputation of my clients and my company. I’m not just going after anyone or taking any client on. If it was just about the money, I’d be doing public relations for porn companies.”

Going solo in a bad economic environment may not make sense to some people, but Pepper says now is the best time to do it.

“It came down to a decision; go about trying to find freelance work or striking out my own. I think now is the best time to start a business. You learn how to be scrappy and make every dollar count. It pays off in the end.”

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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