Robert Ullman

To boost brand recognition, Christine M. Jurs researched hiring a public relations firm. “My interest was to get into local publications,” says Jurs, who is vice president and senior designer at The Advance Design Studio, in Gilberts, Ill.

Jurs chose to work with Empower Public Relations, in Chicago, to generate trend stories for area media on topics such as top home-buyer trends and interior design trends for 2010, easy tips to boost curb appeal, and tax credits on green improvements.

“They send [the stories] out to very long lists, including national sources,” Jurs says, noting that the PR company has relationships with publishers, magazines, newspapers, and radio and television stations. “My original interest was local, but anything they generate goes into our archive as credibility pieces,” Jurs says.

According to Michelle Mekky, president of Empower Public Relations, her firm brings media exposure to businesses in “a more organic way” than traditional advertising. “We reach out with story angles and put forth the owners of those businesses as experts,” she says.

Empower Public Relations averages one hit or media placement per client per week. “We get the word out, which builds credibility,” Mekky says. “People trust [these media], so hopefully it will lead to the phones ringing.”

Promotional Appearance

Mekky and her staff make the general public aware of trends in the specific industries that the PR firm’s clients are involved in. “The clients who work best with us are ones who are interested in that process and who are willing to speak on those trends,” Mekky says.

The PR firm educated Christine Jurs and her husband, Todd, about types of stories that interest media outlets and the public and then worked with them to come up with topics.

During the winter, a local news station asked Todd to provide advice about ice dams and winter-proofing for a home-section spot on a midday show. Staff from the PR firm attended the taping and helped Todd create a script. Empower Public Relations also has a studio where it helps clients learn to be comfortable in front of a TV camera.

Christine posted a clip of that interview on the company’s website, and “site activity on Google went through the roof,” she says. She posts the trend lists on the company’s blog.

The remodeler doesn’t expect prospects to call based on media exposure. “It’s more about building our brand,” she says. “Someone recognizes us because they’ve seen us in a newspaper, on TV, or have seen our trucks. It’s more about that than getting the phone to ring.”

Investing Time and Money

Hiring the PR firm was a good investment, but, because of her busy schedule, Christine is taking a break from working with them. When the PR firm sends out the trends list, it receives requests for additional information and project photos illustrating the trends. Those requests for supplemental information come in so thick and fast that Christine says she can’t keep up.

Mekky advises clients to have a stock of photographs and materials ready before they promote their company. “The more before-and after-photos, case studies, and testimonials you have, the quicker we can go out there to the public,” she says. “Keep track of what you are most proud of, so you can spread the message and promote your business.”

In an unusual setup for the PR industry, Mekky’s company allows monthly contracts. She says that, in this tough economy, clients can’t commit to a traditional six-month or one-year contract. If the Jurs decide to work with Mekky again, they can simply sign a new contract. “To retain a company full-time for an entire year is expensive, and we can’t keep up with them,” Christine says. “I really like working with [Empower] and, going forward, I will bring them in from time to time.”

—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.