By Karen E. Klein Q: I'm a publicist and have been advertising in the local business weekly, placing an ad in the classified section of Publishers Weekly, and giving out business pens to promote my services. When I worked for the now-defunct Ice Capades, I placed clients on radio and TV in the nation's top markets. But Milwaukee (beer, bowling, and Harley Davidson cycles) is not the best market for publicists. I must live here, however, so I can take care of my elderly mother. How do I market myself and secure clients around the country? My charge to a client is nowhere near what is being paid in major cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. -- J.O., Milwaukee
A: Don't let your location limit you. In this age of instant messaging and other forms of electronic communication, there's no reason you can't run a successful publicity business from Anyplace, U.S.A. -- just so long as you're prepared to do some traveling from time to time. Given your past, you must have significant relationships in the world of publicity and promotions. What has become of those relationships? They are your most valuable asset, so drag out your old Rolodex and start leveraging your contacts.
"Publicity is a personal business and you'll have to get out and start networking," says Tom Kinnear, executive director of the Zell/Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and Eugene Applebaum professor of entrepreneurial studies at the University of Michigan. "There are some very successful sports agents who live far away from the action, but function very well for those they work for," he notes, adding: "There's no reason you can't do the same."
REBUILD THAT NETWORK. Join a new enterprise forum in your area, become active in a Kiwanis or Rotary club and get involved in the Chamber of Commerce. Look into organizations designed for professional publicists and public relations professionals and attend their conferences and trade shows, if you can get out of town for a few days.
These days, the publicity business isn't limited to ice skaters, rock stars, and movie icons, Kinnear points out. Lawyers, academics, corporate presidents, even relatively small businesses are looking for good press as a way to market their products or services. If you can show them that you have the contacts and savvy to get them some hype, they'll be interested in listening to your sales pitch and some of them will eventually hire you.
"Somehow, it sounds like you've allowed yourself to withdraw into a shell. A publicist doesn't just put an ad in the paper and expect clients to come to his door," Kinnear says. "Get out there and make something happen -- just like you would for your old clients."
Have a question about your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at email@example.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 45th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally. Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who specializes in covering covered entrepreneurship and small-business issues.