6/12/10

By Maxine Ambrose, Joint Managing Partner, Ambrose Communications

Just before I started my first job in PR at Panasonic years ago, a friend asked me: “So exactly what will you be doing?” I couldn’t answer her, and this is the problem with PR: it’s like chasing a bar of soap around the bath. There are different definitions, activities vary hugely and there are no guaranteed outcomes.

But when it works, PR can transform a company’s fortunes, quite literally. A PR article I once wrote for a client led to them being bought by a multinational. Another client achieved the highest brand visibility in its market, just using PR, compared to its competitors who were focused on big advertising budgets.

Also, if you don’t have proactive PR, then you’re leaving the market to make up its own mind about your company and for your competitors to take the high ground. If you’re not trying to influence the message, then you are in dangerous territory.

So how do you ensure you get it right? First, it is difficult to do your own PR. One, you’re running a business — do you really have the time and focus to do PR properly? Second, do you have the right contacts and know the etiquette of dealing with journalists, PRs, bloggers and other key influencers? Make one false move and you could be on their blacklist for years. Third, there’s a certain kudos and credibility when your PR consultant does it on your behalf.

The reality is that a PR consultancy will have the know-how, the contacts and the focus to give you the results you want. Nor does PR have to cost a fortune. So when looking for a consultancy, what should you look for?

• Right fit— the ideal combination is a consultancy that has experience of promoting smaller businesses but also has a couple of big name clients. Many times I’ve leveraged a press contact gained through a blue-chip brand to the advantage of a SME client.

• Sector experience — there are PR experts in just about every industry. Is importing mangoes your business? Find out who specialises in food supply chain PR. Ring up an editor, an industry association or colleagues to get some suggestions.

• Online expertise — does the agency know how to engage with the online world, particularly social media, which even in B2B markets, is fast becoming the battle-ground for share-of-voice?

• R.O.I. — PR is hard to measure, but not impossible. Ask the agency to provide a specific list of activities and expected outcome. Services like Realwire provide understandable and affordable reporting tools (handy when you want to impress the board).

• Clear pricing — whether they admit it or not, all PR companies base their prices on time. That’s their product, just like accountant or solicitors. The consultancy should be able to give you an indication of how much activity they will provide within how many days and at what price. Plus, find a PR consultancy who understands the budget limitations of smaller, growing companies.
Hopefully this article shows that PR doesn’t have to be ‘fluffy’ and can make a real impact on the success of a growing company and rather than being seen as some kind of black art, can be aligned very clearly to business objectives.

Maxine Ambrose is Joint Managing Partner at Ambrose Communications - www.ambrosecomms.co.uk/

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