LEnA Is A Different PR Company

May 22, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — There is public relations. Then there is what Lambert, Edwards & Associates does.

In slightly more than two years, the Grand Rapids firm has carved out a niche in the national PR business that may be more aptly described as corporate communications to a company’s multiple public segments concerning transactions, raising capital, protecting intellectual property, finding human resources or any other pertinent business issue.

Rather than directing a majority of these communications to the general public and media outlets, LE&A directs much of its efforts to a company’s investors, suppliers, customers, financial analysts and employees. In effect, the firm becomes a communications partner with its corporate clients by providing advice and direction on many business matters.

Normally only large public companies get this kind of attention. But LE&A has taken those strategies and adapted the tactics for all companies: large or small, public or private. Using this approach has allowed the firm to add a new twist to a mature profession.

Jeff Lambert and Brian Edwards started LE&A a few years ago as an investor relations firm, as transactions were their specialty. Since then, the company has grown both in size and scope. Lambert said his firm has a dozen PR pros now, with five having 10 or more years of experience. The scope extends past transactions and the firm’s billing reflects that, as LE&A had $1.2 million in revenue last year — making it one of the city’s most active PR companies.

“Philosophically and tactically, one of the reasons for our growth has been that we’ve really taken the best practices that we use with public companies and adapted them for private and emerging-growth companies,” said Edwards.

LE&A has matched its internal structure to its business philosophy and practices, which also differs from most PR companies.

“We’ve tried to really model the firm after the top law and accounting firms in town, and we’ve added a lot of senior level people who are going to be partners over the short term,” added Edwards. “We’re trying to create a partnership track and training for our younger associates.”

The idea behind LE&A actually came to Edwards and Lambert years before they started the firm. The first spark was lit in 1993 when they watched an IPO from a barely profitable business called Boston Chicken soar 143 percent on the first day of trading. Edwards said he learned that the firm’s young CEO told the company’s story to everyone, and to anyone else who would listen, well in advance of the offering.

The capper, the event that sealed the firm’s approach, came in 1995. Lambert, Edwards and Don Hunt, who joined LE&A a few months ago, were enlisted by a local law firm to communicate the sale of the Hastings Manufacturing filter division. The trio put together a detailed action plan and then communicated it to all involved, including investors, suppliers, employees, board members and the community in general.

“The sale was very well received,” said Edwards. “And Hasting’s stock rose 45 percent on the day of the announcement.”

Just two of LE&A’s more recent successes are Bondpage.com and ChurchPlaza. The former is an online site that offers financial institutions and high net-worth individuals a large selection of fixed-income securities. The latter provides a complete range of goods and services to the nation’s 370,000 churches, offering over 50 product categories. Both are privately held.

LE&A got started with ChurchPlaza by doing the standard PR work. Then the company decided to raise funds and LE&A became an important chapter in the seller’s story.

“We understand finance. We understand how to read a balance sheet and an income statement. So we did their business plan for them and helped them raise capital, not a traditional thing for a PR firm to be doing,” said Lambert. “But because of our investor relations background, they knew we would get the story.

“We do their annual report, shareholder letters and those kind of things. And just because it’s not a public company, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t communicate well with those audiences. They’re in a $49 billion industry, a leading consolidator in that industry, really not covered a whole lot by the mainstream market media,” he added. “That’s a good example of how we’re applying the public company background to private companies.”

As for Bondpage.com, LE&A helps it compete globally in a lucrative $17 trillion market.

“We’re not just publicizing the service to customers. We’re also trying to convey the market opportunity and the business model,” said Edwards. “So we don’t just do media. We also talk to the industry analysts, the people at firms like Jupiter or the Gardner Group, that are really tracking, not only dot.com companies, but dot.com companies and technology companies related to certain industries.

“We’ve talked to Wall Street about Bondpage. We have some proprietary databases that we can go to and directly target fixed-income fund managers, people that might well use the service, as well as people that might be interested in making an investment in the company at some point,” he said. “We’ve also talked to venture capitalists about Bondpage.”

LE&A has an impressive list of IT companies as clients, and a goodly number of more familiar firms on board as well. DP Fox Ventures, Panda Energy, Knape & Vogt, Riviera Tool and Zondervan Publishing are just a few of the names that most should recognize.

The seasoned veterans at LE&A may be just as recognizable as many of its clients. In addition to Lambert, Edwards and Hunt, the firm’s lineup also includes Mary Ann Sabo and Paula MacKenzie. When the experience of those five is combined, the total tops 50 years.

About a third of the firm’s business is related to investor relations —  its foundation. But as Lambert pointed out, all of LE&A’s business is in the corporate communications field.

“I would say in West Michigan there is no other firm that is really doing this kind of work. A lot of PR firms are focused on doing events and doing local media Because of our investor relations background, we have the ear of the CEO and an understanding of business, which we’ve proven in the investor relations area,” said Lambert.

“As a PR person you ought to be thinking about all the things that the CEO is thinking about,” he added. “Do I have the capital for growth? Do I have the right products? If I do this or communicate this, what kind of message or precedent is that going to send? It’s those kind of very global issues and viewpoints that we try to take.”

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