Eighteen years ago I officially hung out the INK inc PR shingle with no employees, no clients and a dark little cave-like office in Kansas City. What I did have was an unwavering faith in a different kind of PR compensation model…provide clients the one thing they desired and needed most, positive media coverage, but without charging them the exorbitant hourly fees for effort only. The very concept was blasphemous to the traditional public relations community…charge a client for press coverage only if you actually delivered it and never fill out a time sheet again? Obviously a risky concept to base a new PR firm upon, particularly one funded solely on savings and a credit card.
The first task was giving the company a name…a challenge easily solved by my daughter and fellow PR pro. “Name it for what you do for your clients, Dad…you get them ink.” Next was getting the word out. Social media wasn’t invented yet, so I printed a brochure, wrote letters to former clients and associates, made phone calls and experimented with AOL’s email. My first client ironically was a large local advertising agency that had its own PR division but whose CEO was fascinated by INK’s model. Could we land publicity for his agency and do so without timesheets? That was the challenge. More on that later. Our second client was a small LA company that refurbished toner cartridges…hardly media sexy nor primetime story material… unhappy with the service and lack of results of a previous firm. He called one day and said he wanted to sign on with INK. In less than four months working with my team of long time independent collaborators, we had landed him full features on NBC, CNBC, CBS, Business Week, Industry Week, Associated Press, and ultimately The Wall Street Journal. INK was on its way. And like many of the hundred or so of INK clients since, this CEO has stayed a personal friend and referenced a ton of other clients over the years. And what about client number one? I still have a bottle of Dom Perignon in my office…a gift from that first ad agency CEO for helping his firm put some positive publicity spin on a potential embarrassment when they were pitching a big Salt Lake City company for their ad account. It seems they had brought along a surprise gift of Kansas City barbeque to serve the prospect’s headquarter employees…but alas, taking such a gift was against their policy. I got the emergency call asking what if anything could be done…they couldn’t take the barbeque back on the plane and didn’t want the trade press to discovery their gaffe. The solution…throw a barbeque lunch for a local Salt Lake City children’s hospital and invite the local news outlets. The result… multiple positive stories in the local media both in Salt Lake City as well as Kansas City and…a bottle of champagne for my office.
Two of the literally hundreds of the memories of building a business one great story after another through some very turbulent times…the tech bubble, two major economic recessions, the terrible events of 9-11 and the wars and elections that followed… and all those client faces over the years and challenges thrown in our path…most with successful conclusions. New hires as well as layoffs, tough meetings with the bank balanced against big revenue months… trips to Africa, China, Cuba and across the street for coffee…and most importantly, building the fantastically talented core staff that have made it all so successful and fun…and never once a time sheet turned in nor an hour billed.