6 July 1990
575 words

PR pays business writers $250/day,
but some see ethical problems

(Note: This story was written in 1990, but the only significant change is the rates. In 2000, typical rates were $5-600 a day, and top rates $1,000, rather than $200-250 and $600 respectively.)

NEW YORK--With top public relations people getting fabled $600-a-day rates, PR has been a popular topic at the National Writers Union Business Writers luncheons.

Dorf & Stanton starts freelancers at only $200 to $250 a day, said president Alex Stanton apologetically at the 26 June 1990 luncheon. (A medical writer responded that she gets $50 to $60 an hour.) Project rates can pay more, he noted.

After you've written a story, think of spinning off a PR project, Stanton advised. For example: (1) One journalist, after writing a story for an airline in-flight magazine about a new consumer electronics product, suggested a further promotional campaign, including a video, for Stanton's client. (2) Stanton hired a former Business Week writer, who had interviewed a senior executive for Business Week, to interview the executive again for an internal business publication. (3) Stanton hired a former trade journal writer to develop a whole range of materials for a client who was moving into that industry.

(There are ethical problems in writing journalism and then taking PR money from subjects--the topic of a 21 June NWU Magazine Writers meeting. For example, a TV reviewer said "the review process would be corrupt" if he accepted money to reprint a favorable review in an ad. But several writers said it was OK to take money for reprint rights or subsequent PR, since it didn't affect their judgment in the original story--and they came to the Business Writers luncheon looking for work. They disliked placing PR stories, though, since it compromises their relationships with editors. Stanton offered to lift that burden: "If the idea is good, and the writing is good, then placement is a no-brainer," he said.)

Start with small agencies

The PR industry is growing 15% a year. Annette Sara Cunningham, EVP and Creative Director, Dunwoodie Communications, Inc., told where to get work: In the smaller ($1-2 million annual billing) agencies. In hot areas like international marketing (Dunwoodie represents the Irish Export Board). In financial institutions writing press releases and direct mail (ask the marketing director for work.) In accounting firms, direct mail firms, law firms, hospitals and philanthropic foundations, if you have expertise there, she said. Speech writing pays well (a large bank paid one writer $3,500 for a 28-page speech).

Business journalists are valuable in PR because of their expertise in particular industries, said Stanton. "If you came with knowledge of a market segment that was valuable to a client, you could get in," he said.

Winning letters

Stanton gets 20 dull letters a week from freelancers. But here's what gets the job: "I know that you represent Sharp Electronics. I just saw an article in this magazine on [a product category], and it did not mention them. I'd like to put together a program to go after in-flight magazines." Or: "Nobody's covering the English-language business publications in Europe for your client."

You can find an agency's clients and other vital information from O'Dwyer's directory, O'Dwyer's newsletter, Advertising Age, Contacts, the Advertising Red Book, and the agency's own brochure. "Do your homework," advised Cunningham.

Cunningham asked her colleagues at Dunwoodie how freelancers could best approach them. One suggested a one-page letter with "eye-opening credits," and one or two samples. For example: An annual report for Dayton Hudson, or a round-up story in the Atlanta Constitution on the business of designer licensing (assuming the agency has a client in those industries).

Keep calling

Be aggressive. A partner at Dunwoodie said he keeps resumes of people who market themselves "most aggressively," with interesting pitches, brochures, samples, and followup calls. Cunningham asked, "Are you really sure you want to say 'followup calls'?" He said, "I'm sure."

--Norman Bauman