Commercial success or failure can rest on the way a company is perceived. Effective public relations (PR) will increase the bottom line by generating direct sales. It will also add validity to a company and its services and help improve brand positioning. But when is the best time to use it? And how can you ensure you get the most out of your campaign?

So what is PR?

PR is a way of building a company's profile and looking after their reputation through the media. If you are not a big name, it can be very difficult to persuade people to use your products. Even if you have a recognisable brand, you need to maintain a high profile so customers don’t forget you. PR agencies work with journalists to ensure a brand receives positive exposure in the press. Whether you are looking to create a buzz around the launch of a new venture, or aiming to grow an established company, PR can play an important role.

Launching a new product/business

PR will generate a buzz around a launch. News stories and features will inform potential customers about a company's products and services. A creative campaign will also generate excitement and create demand.

A PR campaign needs to be strategic and in line with your business development requirements. To promote a launch you need more than just a press release. You need to meet journalists’ needs by offering them interesting and useful materials like case studies, features and high quality images. You also need a comprehensive strategy. This takes time. It is important that you begin planning the PR campaign months before the launch.

Attracting new business or investment

PR will help your company grow. Press coverage can attract new customers or encourage investment. Look for a campaign that targets the sections of the press that potential clients read. If you are a company seeking investment, target the business pages of the nationals and the investment trade magazines and websites.

Ongoing campaigns

Your company is not going to have something to announce every week. But you can still get coverage because PR should not be restricted to just company news. This is why it is essential to work with a creative agency. More than 60% of national newspaper journalism is PR driven; journalists are always looking for content and the right approach will achieve consistent results.

Tips on employing a PR agency

You can conduct a PR campaign in-house. However, if you have the budget, you will get better results from employing the services of a PR agency. A good company will generate maximum exposure for your company. An agency will be more creative than an in-house effort, and they will have a wider range of press contacts – resulting in more coverage.

PR does sometimes have a bad reputation and unfortunately in some cases this image is deserved. Choosing the right company is vital – make sure you know what you are going to be getting for your money.

Choose people you trust and think you can work with

They may not be based in your building, but you’ll find yourself regularly on the phone to your PR Company. As more journalists become interested in your brand you may end up working with these individuals quite closely.

Choose a straight-talking company

PR also has a reputation for being vague and using jargon. You will get better results if you choose a company that uses plain English and is upfront and honest about what they can do for you. First meeting When you approach a PR company they will usually suggest a meeting to find out more about you. After this they will produce a proposal outlining ideas for a campaign.

The proposal should show you the approach they will take to publicising your business. If their ideas fit in with the way you want to be presented it shows they understand your business and its needs.

Creativity and focus

If you are a smaller company you will have less news, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be written about. The days of press release driven PR are over and agencies have to be more creative.

It is also important that your agency is focused on strategic and proactive activity. Pinging out untargeted press releases will attract journalist’s attention but not in a positive way. Receiving irrelavant press releases annoys journalists and can actually put them off writing about you, or at worse write a negative article.

Help your PR company to help you

The more you help your PR agency, the more successful the campaign will be. Here are some tips on how to work together to get results:

· Think about your target audience and how you want them to see you. Then your agency can work out how to get the message across.

· Show your PR agency what other marketing you are doing so they can project a consistent message.

· Have regular meetings and expect regular updates.

· Tell your agency what response you have from individual articles. Then they can repeat past successes.

Anyone can advertise if they have the budget, but when a journalist writes about you it is a stamp of approval because they have considered you worth writing about. This is why PR has up to ten times the value of advertising. When you consider that the cost of a full-page advert in The Sunday Times is around £56,000, the value of effective PR cannot be overstated.

Whether conducting a PR campaign in-house or outsourcing, there is never a bad time to start. The key is to define your objectives and make sure all efforts are focused on these goals.

© Crimson Business Ltd 2005