How Stoned Ad Landed Big Results

    GRAND RAPIDS — In just five years, Lambert Edwards & Associates Inc. has grown to twice its original size and doubled its first-year revenue.

    Two years ago, the public- and investor-relations firm grew by 20 percent. Last year, Lambert Edwards nearly matched that number with a 17-percent growth figure. And the advancement was evenly divided between public and investor relations.

    But perhaps the most revealing factor related to the uncommon development the firm has experienced is that the 15 new clients that Lambert Edwards added in 2004 were referrals from established customers.

    The company is now preparing to move into a new suite at 171 Monroe Ave. NW, one that will give the firm 75 percent more space than it has in its current office in the National City Bank Building.

    Lambert Edwards plans to be in its new 6,000-square-foot office in May, which will give the company plenty of room for its current staff of 14 and hopefully will be large enough to accommodate its continued planned growth.

    Jeff Lambert, president and managing partner, told the Business Journal that he hopes to duplicate the firm’s growth of its first five years over its next five years.

    To do that, he said his company must maintain its creativity and focus on results. But most of all, he said the company must continue its drive to be the firm of choice for its clients.

    “That applies to not only our clients, but also to our staff. The two go hand-in-hand, as having good people results in doing good work, which attracts good clients,” said Lambert.

    “We doubled our size in the last five years in terms of revenue, and we believe we can double our size again in five years,” he added.

    But to reach that mark in 2010, Lambert said he has to find qualified people and not enough of those are currently available locally.

    “The only limiter to our growth is finding more good talent and I believe there is a talent shortage in PR and corporate communications in West Michigan,” he said.

    Lambert Edwards targets national companies as clients and competes with firms in New York and Chicago for those. Lambert said that means he needs people with skills that fit the national market. There are professionals like that in the region, but not enough of them.

    He said one reason for a shortage of talent here is that many going into the field don’t see Grand Rapids as being part of the national market. Once many get their degrees, they head to the major cities to ply their trades.

    Another reason is there isn’t an overwhelming number of people going into pure public relations, as college programs normally mix PR curriculum with communications classes and that results in few offering a strictly PR degree.

    Third, not all in the field understand how the media works, a key component at Lambert Edwards. In fact, many at the firm have come to the company after a stint in journalism —like Don Hunt, who still writes two columns a month for the Chicago Tribune.

    Lambert said he has hired an executive search firm to conduct a nationwide review of potential employees to fill the talent void here.

    “I’m extremely proud of the talent we have here at Lambert Edwards, present company excluded, of course. They’re a team. They’re independent and they’re passionate about PR. They’re focused on getting to know our clients and their industries, and delivering not just great PR results, but great business results for clients,” he said.

    Zondervan is one of those clients that recently received great business results, and Tara Powers is one of those passionate staffers that Lambert referred to.

    Zondervan, the nation’s largest publisher of Bibles, unveiled its marketing campaign last month for its newest Bible, Today’s New International Version, which is targeted at 18- to 34-year-olds. A portion of that campaign was an ad buy the company made last July with Rolling Stone magazine, which had agreed to carry the advertisement in a February issue.

    But just weeks before its run date, the magazine changed its mind about running the ad, citing an unwritten policy against accepting ads that contain a religious message. A week later, though, Rolling Stone reversed its decision and accepted the ad.

    Powers, managing director at Lambert Edwards, had been working with USA Today reporter and editor Cathy Lynn Grossman for months on the launch of Zondervan’s new Bible. Grossman, who broke the Rolling Stone rejection story, was interested in what Zondervan was doing because she felt the company’s campaign was somewhat of a radical approach to market a Bible.

    “When we got the word that Rolling Stone had changed their mind and rejected the ad,” Powers said, “we called her to let her know, because that was a key part of the story she was writing. She wanted to know the reason why. We didn’t have a good reason why. They hadn’t supplied us with a good reason why,” said Powers about Wenner Media, Rolling Stone’s parent company.

    “It was at that point we realized it was a good opportunity for us,” Powers added.

    Powers placed the ad that Rolling Stone rejected on a news wire and also sent releases to targeted media outlets like Fox News. Then the phones started ringing at Lambert Edwards. Powers knew she had a hot national news story on her hands that could give Zondervan more publicity about the launch of its new product than its $1 million campaign could.

    “We were on “Hannity & Colmes” that evening. We were on CNN, “Scarborough Country,” Neil Cavuto. NPR did a piece. With a little bit of prodding and just making people aware of this, the media jumped on it and ran with it,” said Powers.

    “And, of course, the whole second wave came when Rolling Stone changed their mind, again, to accept the ad. And a lot of places that covered the ad rejection, came back and did follow-up stories.”

    Lambert said that situation provided a good example of how a PR strategy can put a client in the right position to create a business opportunity, an unexpected opportunity that created 1,200 stories nationwide over a week’s time and the same number just a week later.    

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