"Very marginal" is the way Steve Lett, president of a now-defunct dot-com company, describes the result of his company's initial experience with public relations. PaperStudio.com outsourced its PR functions to a so-called virtual agency that stitches together a flock of PR freelancers. One year and $125,000 later, PaperStudio had gained a paltry 15 clips for its press kit. PaperStudio's experience is common, according to current and former PR professionals who, speaking under the condition of anonymity, tell of a dirty underside to the public relations industry, where clients are bilked at every turn. "It's rape and pillage," says a woman who worked as a senior executive at a San Francisco PR firm in the mid-'90s. "Which agency can get the biggest rape-and-pillage award -- 'But hey, I'm giving you value-add!'" she snickers sarcastically.
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