Chapter 12 – John Bailey & Associates: The Early Years, 1996–1998
We got out the press releases and announcements of the new JB&A to appear or run the last week in February 1996. The first day of JB&A was March 1, 1996. I knew my contacts and relationships would be the key to my early success, but I way underestimated their importance.
The phone began ringing from day one. We were off and running. In those early days, whenever I did not have something specific to do, I would contact people on my prospect lists by email or phone. Looking back I would guess I personally reached over 250 people with emails and/or telephone calls that first month. (This was before Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other forms of social media.) Newspaper articles appeared announcing the formation of JB&A that supported my personal efforts. I reminded everyone that I was now in business, and if they knew anyone who might need public relations assistance, to give them my name. I would also remind them that if ever they needed help, I was there. The point is; I asked for business, I didn’t assume they knew I wanted business.
I made that same kind of effort every time I had some open time until I no longer had open time. I was relentless in reaching out to people to remind them that I and we were in business.
Lessons Learned: Always do a good job—it builds your reputation. Network well and keep your network alive by connecting with them regularly. Ask your contacts for business.
It was amazing…at the beginning of that month, I did not know what would happen, but I projected $5,000. We hit our target, and that was when I realized that setting realistic goals is essential for every person and business, whether monthly or quarterly, and certainly annually. I also knew that this was just the beginning of something very special.
One of my calls was Shawn Kahle from Kmart. She said, “I have media and presentation training for you. When can you start and would you like us to pay in advance?” I was overwhelmed and thanked Shawn profusely and did the training over the following weeks.
One call came from a Shandwick client who asked when my non-compete agreement was up. I said in one year. She said, thank you, good luck, and hung up. One year later she called and gave us their business. This was Kelly Services, which became our largest client for several years.
The Michigan Flocking Association key executive called and said they wanted to work with me and that the budget was now $20,000 for nine months. This budget was up $10,000 from their first budget estimate. This was awesome news to me.
Then my friend Paula Blanchard (now Stone), who had her own public relations firm, called and said that a major Detroit-area ad agency would like to media train many of its key executives and would I partner with her?
Pricewaterhouse called and gave us their business. This was before they added Coopers.
A friend at the Detroit Convention Bureau called and asked if I would help them establish and write their Crisis Plan—for a fee.
We were growing so fast that I had to add my first associates. Our first was Joanna Lasso, a recent graduate from Kent State University who was recommended by Bill Sledzik, who had worked with me on the Stroh account. Bill was teaching at Kent State and is now associate professor there. Joanna did everything from answering the phone to writing press releases and contacting the media.
We then hired Frank Buscemi, a few months out of Grand Valley State University, as a public relations generalist and writer. Soon after, we hired Curt McAllister who was working for another small public relations firm located in downtown Detroit. We needed Curt to help work on some automotive business we had won. Curt told me that he did not know the automotive media. I told Curt that they are all in one place covering the same stories; you will get to know them well and fast. Curt became—in my estimation—the best automotive media relations person in the industry. He was also the heart and soul of JB&A from the day he walked in the door, and is now head of Toyota public relations in Detroit. Frank also became a very highly successful automotive media relations professional and now heads marketing and public relations for TI Automotive a major auto supplier. Joanna is living with her family, including her husband and three daughters, in Chicago.
I remember the major decision I made when I hired Joe St. Henry, my first senior-level public relations practitioner. Our monthly income at that time was around $40,000. I knew I would have to pay Joe at least $35,000 plus benefits. It was a huge decision and one which I labored over for weeks, losing sleep and worrying. I hired Joe. In his first month, he billed more hours to clients for work done than I paid him; we were profitable on his efforts from day one.
In the early years, when we were invited to pitch for public relations business, we would finish in third place behind two other firms. After we began adding professionals with expertise in specific areas of our service and our team of professionals gained more experience themselves, we moved into finishing second, and then finally, we began winning business. It took time and patience for us to become a firm that could win any account, but we would not give up and it happened. At one point we were winning three times out of four, even four times out of five pitches. It was sometimes hectic and led to us adding more associates along the way.
In those days we often presented against Ray Eisbrenner’s firm and another great public relations professional, James Bianchi and his firm, especially in the automotive space. We liked each other and respected each other so much that we would ask the prospect at the end of our presentation, “Which firms are you meeting with?” They’d say Eisbrenner and Bianchi. We’d say, “They are great firms. We’d prefer you to select us, but you can’t go wrong selecting any of us.” As often as not, the prospect would say, “That is what they said about you too.” We all wanted to win of course, but we liked each other and were friends…way unlike the days of Beltaire, Franco, and Casey.
JB&A reached more than $300,000 net sales March through December 1996 and $500,000 in the full 1997 calendar year, both over projections. Our clients included companies in the automotive, healthcare, retail, and financial industries. I had set my salary at $6,000 per month or $72,000 per year for ’96 and ’97, but I could not pay myself every month. While doing the JB&A taxes in early 1998, Rob Dutkiewicz, our CPA, said, “You owe yourself $36,000 and you have the money, so you can pay yourself now.” I was thrilled and went home with a nice check that day. In 1998, we billed over $1 million and had hired several professionals to support our clients. We reached or exceeded all financial goals in every year until 2008.
Personally, I turned 60 in 1998 and earned $124,000, plus bonus and I owned a significant company that was growing rapidly, and the economy was good.
Lesson Learned: Do not give up, try harder. Keep digging. Good things will happen.