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5 Key PR Questions For Businesses

PR consultant and guest speaker at the Forum's seminar programme at the upcoming Business Show Rob Metcalfe answers 5 common PR questions regularly asked by small business clients. 
People much more learned that I have written books about every aspect of PR. Rather than a repeat of that, here are my brief answers to five key PR questions that every business is likely to ask at some stage in its development.

Why should I bother with PR?

I always say that you can’t choose whether or not to ‘do’ PR, only whether or not to manage it. In other words, your ‘publics’ (customers, staff, shareholders, journalists, others) will continue to have ‘relations’ (contacting you, buying from you, talking about you, writing about you, etc) with your organisation whatever you do. PR gives you the opportunity to manage some of that interaction and its outcomes. If you have any interest at all in the reputation of your business, then you should be actively engaged in a PR programme.

Outside agency or internal resource?

It’s horses for courses to a degree. An in-house PR person is likely to have better access to the people that matter within the organisation, a fuller knowledge of the business, and a deeper understanding of internal politics. As well as being more flexible, an external agency can usually offer a wider breadth of expertise and experience, more creativity, additional resources when needed, and perhaps a better understanding of media and comms trends. The argument shouldn’t be about cost. A good internal person or team will cost as much as using an agency. It’s more about what’s right for your business and its culture.

How much does it cost and how can I demonstrate ROI?

It depends how much you want or need to spend. What you’re buying is people’s time and expertise. You can hire a freelance who will work a day or two a week to you for a few hundred pounds a month. An agency, which will be able to devote more resource to your needs and be available for ad hoc consultancy and crises, will probably have a minimum monthly fee level. Ask if so and what it is before you start discussions with them. The best results come from long term agency client relationships, so while a one-off project can be great, it pays to consider whether you can afford an ongoing annual activity programme. As to ROI, you need to know what you’re trying to achieve before you start. More sales? A better reputation? An enhanced share price? Better recruitment? PR can help deliver all of these and its contribution can be measured against specific targets.

Where does social media fit it?

There is now a social media element to almost every campaign we undertake and I think, among all external suppliers, (good) PR agencies are best placed to create and manage social media content . We have a clear view on what works and what doesn’t for businesses, in particular the futility of chasing ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ for their own sakes. The key thing to remember is that social media is not really a marketing tool. It’s not another channel for your brand and business messages. Instead it’s a listening tool that gives you a great opportunity to engage with a small number of interested consumers at any one time.

How do I choose an agency?

The PRCA (Public Relations Consultants’ Association) has a good agency-finder service but there is a wide range of other resources too. There are some not very good agencies out there, so recommendation is particularly useful. Canvas friends and colleagues, ideally in the same sector as you. Always issue a written brief (even if it’s to only one agency). Always indicate a guide budget - it avoids a huge amount of mutual time wasting. Even when you’ve found an agency that can deliver what you want, personal chemistry is going to be important, so make sure you meet the team.
About Rob Metcalfe

Rob Metcalfe is a chartered marketer and managing director of PR agency Richmond Towers Communications.
Rob is one of the speakers at the Forum’s seminar programme at the Business Show in Olympia, London on 28th – 29th November. For more information on the Forum’s Business Show Programme click here. 

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