We found Andy Blum a few months ago, while researching some of the more unusual ways independents land new business. Blum’s example of client acquisition was one of our favorites.
He was living in New York City, had recently launched his first PR agency, and found himself receiving junk faxes from a nearby business. The faxes were clearly intended for a Baltimore destination but the area code was missing.
Blum called the senders to tell them about the error. The company thanked him and assured Blum they would fix the number. Problem solved.
But just before they hung up, Blum tossed in a question: “By the way, do you need any PR consultants?”
Turns out they did, and a working relationship was born.
So, the fax situation wasn’t exactly a crisis — but it does provide a glimpse into what Blum does: he turns situations around. Blum is a public relations executive.
A former journalist, writer and editor, Blum has worked for United Press International (UPI), along with newspapers, magazines and websites. But in his current role as founder of AJB Communications, Blum handles public relations — particularly crisis management — for clients in a wide range of industries.
And throughout this career, which has moved from writing for the Wall Street Journal to managing high profile crises for politicians and CEOs, Blum has garnered some clear ideas about building his brand, networking to build clientele and the human side of crisis management.
Tell us about your services and your clients. What’s your niche?
I specialize in crisis and high-profile PR and media training, two PR disciplines that can span a range of industries and clients. I also direct general PR for clients in the legal industry, marketing and communications, science and academia, professional and financial services, publishing, education, content marketing, and energy and climate change.
My high-profile and crisis PR work has involved politicians, lobbyists, CEOs, the military and families and individuals.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The freedom that running your own consulting business gives you. I also enjoy helping tell clients’ stories in the media and addressing PR crises they are faced with.
A PR crisis can come out of nowhere and can go on for weeks at a time. I enjoy those but I need to be able to bill a client at a premium and also figure out ways to take care of other clients during that time.
What’s the hardest part?
Making sure you keep enough time to service existing clients and at the same time work on business development.
Sometimes you go through slow times in running the business. During those times, I focus more on marketing and developing new clients. I also try to fit in some personal time.
What are some of the methods you use to network and grow client acquisition?
Using my network of contacts and finding new contacts. I also have spoken and written about PR issues and spent time on social media. After I have done brand marketing for myself, either through writing, social media [Blum’s Twitter feed is @ajbcomms] or speaking, I have an online presence for someone to read or remember.
Also on this topic: 4 Clever Strategies to Help You Land New Clients
I have been approached after a panel I was on about some potential new business; also, a piece I wrote on crisis PR served to have a potential crisis PR client want to meet with me.
Tell us about an unusual client experience.
I had a PR agency client who I was doing PR for and one of his clients was a client who lost a child in the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting in Newtown, CT. I worked on that account and when his relationship with the agency ended, I inherited the client.
I placed an op-ed written by the client on the anniversary of Sandy Hook talking about issues of importance to him. The op-ed ended up being syndicated and media coverage of the piece went viral.
This wasn’t a run of the mill crisis where somebody got busted for something or tweeted something controversial. It stemmed from one of the saddest events in modern U.S. history.
I felt bad for this client, and it also made me remember how one of my cousins was shot many years ago — so this project was personal. While I was proud that I did my job in getting the op-ed published and that it went viral, it also made me feel good that I could help someone in very dire straits.
What advice would you give yourself when you were just starting out?
Believe in yourself. Learn from each client and each project and from each interaction with the media. All of this is collective; it adds up over time and makes you better.
Did you have a mentor?
I have had several mentors over the course of my career – some from when I was in journalism and some since I have been in PR. They helped remind me of the basics of the job and the best way to do things right.
I had one client early on in PR who reminded me that you can only push a client so far on a media request but that they have to make the final decision themselves. I compare the nuances of being a PR person versus the more heavy hand of being a reporter aggressively looking for comment from someone or their company.
How do you work with other independent contractors?
I have a network of other PR people I know who work together on projects and refer work leads to each other. I have pitched work with other PR consultants as some projects require more than one person.
I have also had referrals made to me on projects that some other PR consultant couldn’t handle or the budget wasn’t right for them. This all comes from years of knowing other PR people and staying in touch.
How do you keep yourself focused throughout the day—do you have any special rituals or habits?
I try to set aside time for work and time for breaks. The mix is important.
What is the first thing you do at the start of your work day?
I read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, and I check my email and several news sites that I keep up with. I am kind of a news junkie anyway but if I am working on a specific project, I also keep my eye out in the papers and online and also see which reporter’s byline is on a story for future use.
How should a solopreneur write a business plan?
Keep it short, simple and focused.
Is there something in particular that clicks when a client is the “right fit?”
In my case, it helps if the client understands media and PR to some degree and knows what their PR needs and goals are so I can meet those.
What was a crucial step for you in growing your independent business?
Landing an NGO as my first big client, and getting reacquainted with previous clients. The NGO paid very well and it was a six-month project so it kind of kick-started my business. I also went back to some previous clients from a number of years ago and got new work from them.
What self-promotion strategy do you think other solos do not take advantage of?
Since I am in PR, I am always trying to think of PR and marketing ideas and angles. I don’t know if other solos do this that often.
What was the best decision you think you made in your career that other might gain insight from?
I decided to take a buyout in my last journalism job and make the switch to freelance work and then into PR.
What do you think the biggest mistake you’ve made is that other independents might learn from?
Not doing this kind of work sooner.