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The Great Internet Publicist Experiment: Part One

Winter follows summer. Summer follows spring. And so, as Rafiki the wise baboon once spoke, goes the Circle of Life. On internet discussion lists, no cycle of topics is complete without the resurrection of that Eternal Topic:

Are publicists really worth the money they charge to publicize your web site?

If you go by the number of advertising agencies, design houses and public relations firms, you'd swear that internet publicity has got to be a phenomenal growth business. Almost everyone, everywhere is hawking their ability to get your site listed, noticed, clicked and profitable when you sign on their dotted line.

Of course, just because people have something to sell doesn't mean what they're selling is worth it. Which is why I decided to jump in the driver's seat last year and test-drive a publicist myself. We wanted to raise Frankel & Anderson's profile with both online and nonline people. But believing that a specialist with special connections and valued relationships could do much better than we could (who were not publicists, but marketers), we hired one.

Now, before we get too far into this, let me explain that publicists generally fall into two categories: solo practitioners who work in their underwear in front of personal computers and big firms with nattily-dressed manikins who work in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. If you go with the former, you can expect to pay at least $1500 a month. With the latter, it starts at about five long ones -- minimum.

Wanna guess which one we tried?

Okay, so we signed with El Cheapo, but for us, it was the only way to go. After all, you can't hire a publicist for just a week or two. If you're serious about getting yourself or your site in front of people, you've got to commit at least six months to the effort, because that's how long it takes. A month for the publicist to learn your business. A month for smiling and dialing their favorite editors. A month to get the piece written. A month for the bribes to be properly placed. A month for production lead time. You get the idea.

We weren't prepared to cough up thirty grand, so we opted for the more affordable lone eagle.

The publicity person was great. Intelligent. Experienced. Incredibly diligent. Unfortunately, everything else was a complete disaster: It lasted ten months, produced one speaking engagement and no clients. The speaking engagement, incidentally, was NOT to a group of prospective agency clients, but a tribe of well-meaning folks "in search of their inner child".


After that, I decided to stop paying someone to be involved for Frankel & Anderson and started devoting more of my time to promoting myself as its figurehead. I cranked up my contribution to online lists. Began writing and publishing articles like this one. Those articles led to a co-hosting spot on a nationally syndicated radio show and the discussion of a book deal. It also landed three very nice accounts for us through our web site.

Total cost: my time.

My own feeling is that most net business people can't really afford the fees that a good publicity campaign costs. And finding someone who really understands what you do and how you do it is rare. Which leaves you with the question often queried by clients: why NOT do your own publicity?

The answer is that if there's any part of the marketing equation that you might want to tackle, publicity is probably the one you'd want to try first. Don't expect to get great press from the major publications, but do expect to get decent results from the people with whom you should be targeting most: your fellow netheads.

The fact is that NO publicity agent is going to participate in newsgroups or discussion lists for you. Nor should they. After all, YOU'RE the expert. The stuff that shows off your smarts doesn't require the preparation of press releases and three martini lunches. All you really have to do is show up and join the conversation. Who's better qualified for that than you?

And that's the great thing about the net: no flash, just content. No shiny suits or air-brushed models; just better stuff from smarter people.

Of course, newsgroups and discussion lists don't get Dan Rather on the phone. But they DO get you noticed by the people you want to do business with -- and there are far more of them than you might think. Don't forget that the average discussion list is actively used by only 10% of its subscribers. The other 90% are reading their posts silently, some making notes at their desks in Fortune 500 companies. You'd be amazed at how many notes I get from list members who never wrote a single post to the list.

Which is a VERY broad hint for an announcement I expect to make to you, right here on Clickz, very soon.

If you really need them, if you can afford them, great publicists are out there. They'll get you great press and fantastic results. And next week, I'm going to tell you about one.

Rob Frankel

In addition to co-hosting the nationally-syndicated radio show LOG ON USA, Rob Frankel is a regular contributor to Ziff Davis' Internet Business, a speaker, consultant and president of Frankel & Anderson, America's first award-winning, 100% digital advertising and marketing agency, providing Advertising, Marketing & Killer Creative to clients throughout the world. You can reach Rob directly at or toll-free (throughout North America) at 1-888-ROBFRANKEL, and see/hear samples of Killer Creative at

Copyright 1998, FRANKEL & ANDERSON * Advertising, Marketing & Killer Creative * * Toll-Free in USA & Canada: 1-888-ROBFRANKEL * Telephone: 818-990-8623 * FAX: 413-778-0909 *

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