We submitted Tim Smith, the founder of Element PR, to a thorough grilling on the “What We Do” issue. Below is a transcript of that interview.

Element: Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is public relations?
TS: Really? If you have to ask, we’re off to a very bad start. Check here for the Webster-like definition, or here for a more Bluth-like approach.

Element: So, what do you do?
TS: At the end of the day, Element PR is in charge of getting our clients’ names in the paper. With the caveat that the word paper, implies everything from The New York Times to a Twitter stream. We want people to read about our clients; the right people, that is, at the right frequency in the way that best impacts a business’s success.

Element: That sounds like marketing-speak.
TS: Yes, sorry about that. Please ask readers to change the adjectives above with their favorite profanity.

Element: So why did you start Element PR?
TS: I like to take a different approach to PR. I’m fascinated by the story-telling process, and the ability to combine stories with trends. I also really like to swing for the fences.

I’m also the most impatient person I know. When you’re in charge things get done much faster.

Finally, all economic evidence to the contrary, I think the technology industry is always looking for creative, effective and experienced PR people.

Element: What’s with the name?
TS: Are you kidding? It’s got everything: it’s easy to remember, has a great metaphor going for it, and people can actually spell it. That, plus the name I really wanted was already taken.

Element: Do you specialize in new media?
TS: Don’t get me started. I’ve been working with new media since the days of Usenet. Listen, I don’t care if someone reads a blog, listens to the radio, watches Fox News (actually, that bothers me a little) or dutifully reads their local newspaper. What matters is that the person reading/listening/watching is the appropriate audience for what my client is trying to sell them.

Element: Sell them? Aren’t you in the influence business?
TS: Let’s not be naïve, OK? My clients are trying to sell things. PR is a sales tool.

Element: What makes you so special?
TS: It’s a combination of experience and creativity. I’ve been involved with literally hundreds of technology companies over the years, so I come up to speed very quickly. Because I’m inherently contrarian, I have a way of finding creative ways to tell a story. I’m also the second-best writer I know.

Element: What kind of clients do you work with?
TS: If you have a company that uses technology to solve a problem, then Element is probably a good fit. So we’re in the technology category, which is admittedly an insanely large category but it is what it is. People who work at (and start) PR agencies need a variety of accounts to work on. Otherwise, they might as well work internally. Element will always cross a wide span of technology companies, from the Web 2.0 companies to the world to clean tech to enterprise software, and anything else that strikes our fancy. We look for businesses that we think have a good story to tell and that have a chance to make a long-term impact.

Element: What was the high point in your PR career?
TS: That would have been in 1996 when I met my wife at Niehaus Ryan Wong.

Element: I meant professionally.
TS: Oh, you mean the cover stories? Had a few of those, but I’m too self-effacing to talk about stuff like that.

Element: And the low point?
TS: I’d have to say being subjected to a 60-minute diatribe on the appropriate uses of the company font has to be right up there.

Element: Any final words?
TS: Despite claims to the contrary, PR is not rocket science. If you do your homework, read the stories you need to, talk to people in a way that doesn’t waste their time, you can accomplish great things. Element is a combination of no-nonsense media relations and creativity, relentlessly focused on results.