Thinking small has meant big business for PR firm Shaky start gave way to success

June 10, 1993|By Dollie Merritt | Dollie Merritt,Contributing Writer

Her Hammond High School classmates could have told yo Carolyn West Price would be doing well at whatever she put her mind too.

Twelve years after graduating at age 16 and being voted "most likely to succeed," the 28-year-old Howard native has already breezed through a variety of marketing and public relations jobs to head her own firm, IMPACT Marketing & Public Relations Inc.

And she's done it by thinking small and providing personalized service.

Two semesters shy of a master's degree in business administration from Loyola College and confident she could make it on her own, Ms. Price quit her job at a Baltimore advertising agency and lined up two clients for the business she planned to run out of her Ellicott City home.

The day after giving notice, she learned that one account -- half her new client base -- couldn't get the loan that would have paid her fee.

"I was heartsick," she said. "I had just given up my job, I was still in school, my computer was sitting on my dining room table and my first account didn't make it. . . . It was too late to turn back."

With a single client paying a $650 a month on a retainer and no money to buy a fax machine, copier or other office equipment, Ms. Price stuck with her original idea to attract small professional service businesses such as medical practices and accounting and law firms.

"There are too many businesses out there that cannot afford a traditional agency and there are markets that have not been serviced before such as medical businesses. You can't market a doctor's office like a used-car business," Ms. Price said.

One client is Therese McDonald, office manager of the Hearing Assessment Center in Baltimore County. Ms. McDonald's husband, Jim, and his associate, Stephen Seipp, are clinical audiologists who own the business.

Dissatisfied after dealing with a large public relations firm, Ms. McDonald said it seemed more sensible to match their business with Ms. Price's small firm.

"We were not getting our specific needs met," Ms. McDonald said. "A small business doesn't have a budget that a hospital would have and we got lost in the shuffle. Carolyn didn't know about audiology or hearing problems, but she is willing to learn about the technical side of what we do."

IMPACT's first client was Ellis & Associates CPA, an accounting and management advisory service in Perry Hall.

"Carolyn is constantly promoting the firm and it is constantly growing," said owner James Ellis, who said he considered several other agencies before hiring Ms. Price.

"Since she was smaller, we believed she would give us more time and provide us with services on a more personal level," Mr. Ellis said.

IMPACT has grown enough that she's considering building an office addition on her house. After handling 60 clients in three years, IMPACT's gross revenue has jumped from $36,000 the first year to $200,000 in 1992.

Last fall, Ms. Price hired public relations coordinator Rick Aronhalti, a former intern who was one of the students she taught as an adjunct professor at Loyola.

"I like the one-on-one with the clients. I want to grow but I don't envision wanting to be a huge agency, she said. "I have done no advertising; all of my clients came to me through word of mouth or general visibility."

In addition to working about 60 hours a week at her business and teaching two courses each semester at Loyola, Ms. Price takes on voluntary speaking engagements for local business groups and has begun contributing a monthly column about marketing to the new Howard County Business Journal.

In her free time, Ms. Price likes to ride horses and scuba dive with her husband, Jeff Price, a field supervisor for Aladdin Tub and Tile Refinishing in Baltimore.

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