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How to start a PR company with Google and a credit card

In 1977, Mark Perry ran a punk fanzine called Sniffin Glue – a defining image from the mag was a hand drawn diagram of finger positions on a guitar for E, A and B7, with the caption: “Here’s three chords. Now form a band.” (Perry himself denies it ever appeared in the publication – but for better or worse, the myth has taken precedence over the reality).

In a similar vein, there is nothing much to stop anyone starting a PR company today – with little more than Internet access and a credit card.

Here’s the FAQ:
1. Do I need an office?

No. If you need to meet people, go to them. If you really feel the need for a business address, then there are plenty of virtual office solutions that won’t break the bank in the early days. Or simply hire meeting rooms as and when you need them.

2. What about a phone?

Use Skype and a mobile (pay as you go if you are on a tight budget)

3. Do I need to own my own computer?

This will probably be your single biggest investment – even so, for PR needs, you could pick up a perfectly serviceable laptop for a few hundred pounds. If you were feeling really bootstrapped, you could get away with simply finding a comfortable internet cafe and paying for your internet access as you go.

4. Do I need my own software?

No. In short, Google is your friend. Using Google Docs gives you free access to a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software.

5. What about a database?

Again, who needs to pay for stuff these days? Try Blist.

6. How do I go about promoting myself?

Build a website. There are plenty of free tools around to do that. Again, you could try Google. Or why not just have a blog as your primary website? And don’t forget LinkedIn.

7. Aren’t there specific services such as PR Newswire, Vocus, etc that no self respecting PR firm should be without?

Not anymore. Name any service that costs a lot of money and you can usually find a lower cost or free alternative. Use Sourcewire for press release distribution. Use Getting Ink Requests to find out about editorial opportunities. Use Google Alerts via RSS to Google Reader and Google Blog Search for monitoring.

8. Don’t I need some kind of fancy intranet?

No. Google Sites will do the trick (some people don’t think it’s much cop, but the point is, it’s free – and at that price, it’s good enough.

9. What about setting up a limited company, VAT, banking, accounting?

Setting up a limited company is quick and straightforward these days – do it yourself, or use a third party. You can apply for the flat rate VAT scheme which removes a lot of the headache. Banking, again, do it online – a number of the banks are offering 2 years free banking now. Accounting – for returns purposes, if you feel confident, do it yourself – or at worst you can get accounting done for a small business at relatively cheap rates these days.

10. I don’t actually know that much about PR – how do I learn?

Well, if journalists are to be believed, the professionals aren’t that good themselves – so you haven’t got much to lose. Even so, there is plenty of good free advice to be found on best practice – try following it and you might even surprise yourself at the results.

Of course, I exaggerate for effect. There are clearly many other factors to consider, However, I believe the general principle is true – namely, that the barriers to entry and potential ongoing running costs of a PR business these days have never been lower. The main constraints are time, energy and imagination. As well as delivering true value added services that clients are prepared to pay for.

Will the spirit of “three chords, now form a band” be reborn in today’s PR environment? Let’s see.

Books Current Affairs digital pr Web/Tech

“The digital revolution is over”: Nicholas Negroponte in 1998

Douglas Adams once described Nicholas Negroponte as someone who: “writes about the future with the authority of someone who has spent a great deal of time there.”

After re-reading his 1995 classic Being Digital and collected Wired magazine columns, I think that is a very valid description.

Being Digital is best remembered for his distinction between bits and atoms – but second time around it made me appreciate how uncannily prescient he was on a whole host of things: mash ups (commingling), the current travails of the music and media industries and the rise of Chindia for example).

But it also made me realise there were lots of other gems he uncovered. One was regarding MIT faculty member Mike Hawley who had looked at the challenge of cramming more music on to a normal CD. As Negroponte described it, the music industry was tacking the problem in a very incremental manner: “by changing the laser from red to blue.” Hawley looked at recording a piano piece as an example – and noticed that the gestural data density, the measurement of finger movement, was very low. In other words, by storing this on the CD and using a MIDI interface, you could get around 5000 hours of music on a single CD.

According to Negroponte: “By looking for the structure in the signals, how they were generated, we go beyond the surface appearance of bits and discover the building blocks out of which the image, sound, or text came. This is one of the most important facts of digital life.”

PR and marketing is still very much about signals (messages) – though as Negroponte stresses: “interaction is implicit.”

Or consider his Dec 1998 Wired column in which he pronounced: “The technology is already beginning to be taken for granted and its connotation will become tomorrow’s commercial and cultural compost for new ideas. Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence.”

A trip through Negroponte’s past writings thus still holds valuable guidance for today and the future.

Current Affairs

Tony Blair’s Information Diet

Looks like Tony Blair was an early adherent of Tim “4-Hour Work Week” Ferriss’ Information Diet – at least if this PR Week story is to be believed.

According to David Hill, Blair’s former communications director from 2003 to 2007 (and now a director at Bell Pottinger)”

‘His attitude was always that he had people working for him whose job it was to keep in constant touch with stories and he was not going to allow a story to deflect him from his strategic approach unless absolutely necessary. So, he did not listen to a single edition of the Today programme from 1998 until he stood down last June – and I’d bet my bottom dollar he still doesn’t. As far as I am aware, he never watched a TV news bulletin – or listened to a radio bulletin – during the four years I was at Number 10.’

A shocking revelation? Or simply sensible time/resource allocation?


How many PR companies have a data governance strategy?

I recently claimed that one of the curious paradoxes of PR companies working in the technology sector is that while they pump out information on behalf of their clients regarding best IT practice, etc, the number of agencies with a robust and properly documented data management strategy is rare.

Mr Waddington at Rainier pulled me up on this and commented: “I can’t believe that in 2008 most agencies don’t have a data management policy or a centralised media management system and tools.”

Interesting therefore to read in the latest issue of Information Age about the results of a survey into data governance in UK companies generally. From a poll of 279 organisations of varying sizes, the magazine found that 42pc had a formal data governance strategy – which means 58pc do not. Admittedly, 27pc hope to implement one in the next 6 – 12 months. But that still leaves nearly a third of businesses without a data governance strategy.

According to Information Age: “It seems clear that many of the obstacles to driving a data governance strategy forward are largely cultural, stemming from both the upper echelons of the organisation and the rank and file. In 30pc of cases, ‘obtaining organisational buy-in’ proved the chief challenge, a problem that seems to stem from a general lack of ‘ownership awareness.’ Indeed, it seems the data governance evangelists are chiefly those in middle management, who are flanked by the disinterested or the unenlightened.” Sound familiar?

If Wadds is right, then the PR consultancy sector is a shining example to the rest of British industry in terms of data management and governance. The reality, I suspect, is that the PR consultancy world is no better or worse than than any other UK business sector on this particular matter.

Information Age magazine