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PR Agency Growth: How One PR Campaign Transformed a PR Startup Into a Fast-Growing New Agency of the Year

By Talia Sinkinson, Editor, Media Relations, Bulldog Reporter

All PR firms want to grow, but few have a methodology for doing it. This interview with Kim Miller, president of PR startup Ink Link Marketing, presents a case study, best practices and invaluable insights that give PR professionals inspiration for building a portfolio and leveraging their successes—for new business acquisition and increases in existing client billings. Ink Link has grown its portfolio significantly after just one year, starting with one client and expanding to nearly half a dozen. The company forecasts doubling its revenue in year-over-year billings.

No matter how big or small your team, you’ll want to read the strategies that brought Ink Link into the big leagues and earned them the title of “Best New Agency of the Year” at the Bulldog Stars of PR Awards.

BR: What was the definitive PR campaign that contributed to Ink Link Marketing’s growth?

Kim Miller: Ink Link took one of the nation’s largest steak-buffet restaurant companies from hiding from the media to basking in it. Buffets, Inc. was in the midst of its second bankruptcy filing when Ink Link was selected to represent them.

Before Ink Link began representing Buffets, there was barely any media to be found for the company. News of bankruptcy and store closures were all the headlines read, but Ink Link introduced new programs and helped generate feel-good news centered around community involvement—from supporting the military and bringing families together at the dinner table with themed ‘Family Nights’ to partnering with kid-friendly organizations like Scholastic Media and creating music promotions with popular country music artists like Montgomery Gentry, Charlie Daniels and Billy Ray Cyrus. We brought the focus back to the food and the special times the brand provides and guests have come to love and expect.

As part of this turnaround to engage Buffets with its communities and generate additional positive news, Ink Link assisted Buffets in aligning with a reputable national charity, the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA). The ASYMCA was designated as the beneficiary of three system-wide music promotions. The organization was so grateful and pleased with the results of these campaigns and the efforts provided by both Buffets and Ink Link that both were named Partners of the Year 2012. Buffets has also continued this partnership with the ASYMCA, recently joining its board of directors.

In addition to the increased media and community exposure generated from the PR and marketing efforts, Buffets also attributes a major company-wide success, in part, to initiatives from Ink Link Marketing. Buffets reported that its third quarter ending in April 2013 produced the most positive results that the company has experienced in seven years. Ink Link has proven that it can support its clients with more than just headlines, but efforts that can generate meaningful sales and transaction growth.

How can PR pros learn from the wild success of the Buffets PR campaign?

  • Consider and link all of the touch-points.
  • Add PR and promotions to the marketing mix.
  • Built out the calendar with the voice of the guest front and center.
  • Leverage the pulsing of promos and consumer interest stories.
  • Make the values come to life in the media.

What gaps do you see in the way PR agencies approach media relations?

Media relations need to work in tandem with the entire 360-degree marketing approach. Similar to good advertising, effective media relations are based on relevant, targeted messages, so we work to customize outreach.

With the fractured media landscape, we are also finding that bloggers and online media outlets are playing a greater role in how media is disseminated. Less than a decade ago, PR professionals would target a few key trade or consumer reporters to break a story. Today, consumer input plays a far greater role in what gets coverage. Simply put, the web is becoming increasingly more important in generating coverage. 

What are the best ways to prove PR’s ROI—to clients, management and the C-suite?

Beyond the standard clip report, we try to dig in to what motivates our client’s guests to visit a restaurant or what incented them to make a particular buying decision. As a result, we conduct online and in person intercepts to better understand what messages broke through the clutter. Increasingly, we are seeing that it’s a mixture of advertising and traditional and non-traditional media relations working in tandem to deliver the message. 

How does Ink Link generate interest for—and acquire—new business?

Our clients and our past clients are our best brand ambassadors. We are proud that all of our corporate clients are still our clients. However, key executives who have worked with us and who have moved on have had positive experiences with us and have then employed our services. As with any business, word of mouth is our best advertising.

Furthermore, we collaborate well with other agencies. These agency partners have also been a great source of business generation for us.

What makes a small agency better?

I believe that what makes smaller better is also what scares off some larger clients. The principals and senior team are closer to the clients. Nothing goes out that we have not blessed and often worked on directly.  The challenge, of course, is keeping that type of personal service as we grow. 

What pieces of advice would you give to PR professionals looking for the success your agency has achieved?

  • Use your client’s products! PR professionals who don’t understand their clients because they are not intimate with the products often shock me. Immersing oneself in the client’s business is key. In fact, we demand that the frontline account team actually work in our client’s businesses. We get as close to the consumer contact touch-points as possible. We want to see what the customer sees and we want to understand the challenges our client’s employees face. Getting the real picture is the best way we can add value to our client’s marketing mix. 
  • Keep up with your client’s industry. I would appeal to PR professionals to spend time reading the industry publications important to clients. I learn about trends, competitive intrusion and much more by reading these journals.  And don’t stop at industry publications. Read pop culture magazines, follow bloggers and get out from behind the desk. The only way to influence the consumer dialogue is to become one!

Winner’s Profile

Ink Link Marketing LLC is a full-service PR and promotions agency that specializes in the restaurant and food service industry. Founded by seasoned marketing and public relations professional, Kimberly Miller, Ink Link is based in South Florida and has satellite offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. For more information about Ink Link Marketing, visit online at www.InkLinkMarketing.com.

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