Publicity -- information about you or your company featured in stories circulated through communication channels like newspaper, radio, and/or television -- is one of the most effective forms of marketing. When you are highlighted in one of these unbiased vehicles, you receive a third-party testimonial from a highly believable source.

While you don't "pay" for it outright like you do advertising, it can pay to invest in a professional public relations specialist. To find this superstar, check the Public Relations Society of America Web site ( for members in your area. Or call a local editor of the Home or Real Estate sections of your newspaper to ask which public relations practitioner they like working with. Small agencies or individual practitioners are typically the most effective for small businesses with limited funds.

Cary Griffin, president of the public relations firm Griffin amp; Company (, Washington, D.C., says that before beginning your interviews, think about what you'd like to accomplish in the next year. Do you want to be featured once or twice in the Home section of the major area newspaper? Do you want to be a regular resource for editors writing stories on our industry? Would you like a spread in a glossy magazine? Or would you like company announcements like new employees or awards regularly featured in the Business section? The more specific the goals, the better you can judge the result.

In the interview, ask for samples or clippings of information that the specialist had placed for other clients. Discuss ideas for getting in front of the best editors and creating a sense of excitement. Plan on investing up front to create the materials to provide these editors, like the company background, bios of the owners, and top quality photography.

Typically, you'll pay the PR specialist an hourly wage based on a focused roadmap to help you reach your goals. Don't expect to see results overnight, but an investment in a thoughtful publicity campaign can give you a huge bang for your buck.

--Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Advantage, Fulton, Md. (301) 490-5620,