By Richard Merrin, Managing Director, Spreckley Partners

I really don’t have the time to be writing this. The diary is packed with meetings, new business pitches and interviews for new staff; so why I am taking the time out to write about the benefits of online public relations?

Because this article puts Spreckley Partners in front of a wide audience of business owners, directors and entrepreneurs, enabling us to demonstrate our expertise to thousands of potential new clients. That’s the value of online PR.

There is no mystery, no dark art to doing public relations on the Web, and a PR company is doing its clients a grave disservice if it preys on these misconceptions and over-hypes the complexity of communicating online. Far from being a whole new PR discipline, online is simply another channel for reaching and influencing people; although, with the migration of millions from print and television to online, it’s fast becoming the most important medium in the PR toolkit.

But the deeper value of online goes far beyond its potential reach. Consider this: before the Web, PR agencies would dispatch paper press releases to journalists by post or courier where, with luck, they appear as news articles in the next edition of the paper. The following day, that paper would be used for wrapping chips.

Now, if a story is published online, it’s there forever. This permanence adds hugely to the value of PR output, such as news and features, case studies and profiles. Before the Internet, all the research, writing and pitching that went into a press release would last as long as the edition in which it was published; if it’s published online then it will potentially inform and influence people in perpetuity.

Of course, the corollary is that negative news stays up forever, too — which is all the more reason why organisations should focus on maximising the positive news stories they place with the online media.

Another argument for maintaining a steady stream of online coverage is the fact that it’s one of the most effective ways that an organisation can boost its performance in search engine rankings — by which smaller businesses can literally live or die.

The reach and permanence the Web brings are huge improvements on traditional media. Yet perhaps the biggest value that online brings is not the hugely expanded potential audience, but the ability it brings to engage with that audience.

Public relations is not about spewing out messages; it is most valuable when conducted as a two-way conversation between an organisation and its publics. The rise of blogs, internet video, social networking sites, Twitter et al provides businesses with forums for feedback, and for genuinely two-sided conversations between them and their customers. Engaging the public in this way is a far more powerful means of changing people’s perceptions about your company — and turning them into lifelong clients.

Richard Merrin is the Managing Director at Spreckley Partners- www.spreckley.co.uk/ Twitter @richardmerrin

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