Digital marketing digital pr online pr SEO

Winners and losers in NMA’s SEO/SEM agency league table 2011 + PR implications

Once again, it is time to look at NMA’s annual search agency league table to see what the data tells us about the state of search in the UK – as well as the implications for PR.

As ever, I’m very grateful to NMA for providing the baseline data to look at. As I’ve done in the previous four years, I thought I’d dig behind the figures to see if there are any significant trends to be discovered – and to compare the search sector with the PR sector.

The NMA league table ranks agencies based on gross profit rather than turnover (or top line fee revenue in the case of PR Week’s Top 150). I use the phrase “revenue” in this piece as a synonym for gross profit.

Some initial headline findings:

The number agency one agency again – for the third year running – is Bigmouthmedia.

They held on to their number one slot with a gross profit of £12.61m – a very modest rise of 0.42pc (in terms of PR sector comparisons, bear in mind that this is larger than most top 150 PR Week firms achieve in terms of top line fee income).  Revenue per head came in at just under £74K – a drop of 38pc from £120K last year.

The firm with the highest percentage growth was The Webmarketing Group who returned an astonishing 1600pc increase in gross profit over 2009 to £3.1m (I thought this might be a typo – it has happened before – but the figures seem to match with the previous table). Revenue per head was a more modest £54K.

Other high percentage rises were from iVantage (273pc, albeit from a low start point of £30K) and Smart Traffic (169pc – an increase of £2.2m on the previous year).

And who were the losers?

Surprisingly, the highest percentage fall came from Propellernet – a drop of 32pc. They were one of the top performers in 2009. Back then, they recorded a 64pc rise in revenue and a £113K revenue per earner ratio. Last year, they saw revenue fall by £748K to £1.5m and revenue per head fall to £58K. SiteVisibility also fell by 26pc year on year, coming in with a revenue per head figure of £46K.

The largest absolute fall came from Latitude, which saw gross profit tumble by 22pc (or £1.1m).

Of the 35 firms who were in last year’s table (ie where comparisons can be made), 25 of them saw increases in revenue. And ironically, as we’ve seen, some of the biggest fallers this time round were some of the biggest gainers in the previous year.

So what does all this tell us?

On the one hand, you could argue that the sector overall continues to exhibit decent growth. Average revenue per head in the NMA table in 2009 stood at £49.7K. This has risen to £52K in 2010. But this year’s results also show that creating consistent, sustained, multi-year growth is as difficult in SEO and SEM as it is in any other business sector. As we’ve seen, some of last year’s big gainers have seen falls this year. Conversely, some of last year’s fallers have seen revenues rebound this year.

In comparison to the PR sector, the difference in profit per head is beginning to look less marked. There are still a few SEO firms with stellar profit per employee figures – but the lesson from the previous year is to see how many of these agencies are able to sustain such eye popping revenue per head figures over time. Generally, the SEO sector appears to remain more profitable than PR – but not by the same margin of previous years.

Service-wise, the trend towards natural search vs paid search continues – although it should be noted that a number of firms with more PPC work than natural search seemed to exhibit a higher revenue per employee figure.

From a PR perspective, it is worth noting that a recurring comment from many SEO agency heads was the fact that social media was having an ever increasing impact on search (mobile was another common theme). Many SEO firms are already staffing up around social media related services (as well as continuing the trend of hiring their own PR  people)

If the PR sector believes it ought to “own social”, it can’t ignore the role it plays in relation to search. Savvy PR firms are going to cosy up with search agencies or start rapidly developing their own SEO and SEM capabilities. Those that don’t are in danger of being condemned to a race to the bottom of a commodity media relations market.

In summary, this is just a first pass look at the figures (any errors of analysis are all mine – so if you spot any, please point them out). I’ll pore over the data in more detail and report back in further findings. In the meantime, as ever, all comments and feedback welcome.

digital pr General PR online pr tech pr Technology PR

The PR demographic timebomb

Two years ago, I posted a note about a survey of junior PR folk, conducted in December 2006, that showed a “staggering” (PR Week’s own word) 80pc of them were planning to leave the industry within 10 years. 15pc said they would get out after only 1 or 2 years, with 32pc saying they’d exit in 2 – 5. A further 27pc said they might remain in PR for between 5 and 10 years.

At the time, PRCA director-general Patrick Barrow also conceded that the traditional PR agency model puts “disproportionate pressure on those at the bottom of the heap.”

In that same post, I quoted survey results that showed that middle management level PRs – average age 35 and 41 for consultancy and in-house staff respectively – were those most likely to quit their jobs in the next 2 to 3 years.

In the light of the kerfuffle over Dennis Howlett’s recent Nietzschean style “PR is dead” post, I was wondering if there was any more recent data on any of the above. If that first survey was correct, we should already have seen 15pc of the recruits from 2006 exiting the industry. I haven’t seen any figures to suggest any decline in the numbers of PRs employed – so either the exodus never happened or the 15pc have simply been replaced with a new crop of joiners. Clearly the disproportionate pressures on those at the bottom are set to rise in the current economic environment. Overservicing is rife and will no doubt be further exacerbated. Which suggests perhaps that more young PR folk are likely to jump the ship. And has there been an exodus of 35 – 41 year olds in the last two years?

If experience and expertise are needed to solve Dennis Howlett’s problems with PR, then we can only hope the demographic trends revealed in these surveys two years ago are going to go in reverse.

digital pr General PR online pr tech pr Technology PR

More tips on supercharging your PR efforts with Twitter (a case study in open source PR)

Stephen Davies at PR Blogger is turning into a one man Twitter PR resource at the moment. And perhaps providing a useful case study in open source PR.

Last Friday, he posted his initial list of UK journalists on Twitter – thus sparking a healthy dose of comments from both PRs and hacks. Including some very useful tips for PRs in terms of how best to work with journalists on Twitter (see below).

And now Andrew Girdwood from Bigmouthmedia (the guys behind the 79 out of top 100 UK PR agencies don’t offer online services survey) has created an RSS feed that amalgamates all the public Tweets from Stephen’s list of UK journalists. As Andrew points out, having this kind of RSS feed is useful because: “you want to see what these journalists are tweeting just in case you’ve got a useful response handy, but you may also want to avoid adding dozens of people you don’t know very well to your Twitter follow list. It’s also possible that journalists don’t fancy having a bunch of strangers all rock up as brand new Twitter followers.”

And if that wasn’t enough, Stephen has now released a list of UK PR people on Twitter.

That’s a lot of useful PR innovation in the space of three days (two of which were a Saturday and Sunday).

Free and openly available PR resources that once made available inspire others to create other useful tools. If that can be achieved in three days, what can we expect in a week or a month’s time? Now that’s what I call the power of open source PR.

Journalist tips for PRs on using Twitter

Kat Hannaford at T3: (likes frozen peas, the Smiths, and ketjap manis sauce)

“I’ve got to say on the whole, I don’t mind too much when PRs follow me on Twitter – particularly if

-I know them
-if they are at an agency I’m aware of
-have clients who are relevant to what I write about.

As I only have limited time, and am trying to trim Twitter down a little, I only follow PRs back if at least two of those boxes are checked. And of course, a proper Twitter dialogue (and relationship) can only proceed if both parties follow one another – in which case, it just turns into me being unaware of your brand, and you peeking at 140-word descriptions of my private life.

I’ve had a couple of bad experiences on Twitter with PRs (people trying to push their releases onto me, people spamming me every ten minutes with their @replies and so on), but the worst experiences have actually been with other journalists – who generally don’t seem to understand Twitter (and its benefits) as most PRs, and spend their time peddling links to their dry-as-stale-bread posts. And arguing with me. And pleading for freelance from me. And generally being knobs.”
Linda Jones, Passionate Media:

“I don’t mind if PR people want to follow me on Twitter, and I am keen to hear from them IF they have relevant information that could be helpful in my work, I put together a list of current projects and have tweeted a link to it. I hope this may be useful for me in that I need to find case studies, expert comment and news of relevant organisations etc and I am looking in lots of other places apart from from PR people.

I can’t see that there would be any difference contacting me or ‘pitching’ me by Twitter as from any other means. So long as it’s done well then that’s okay. If you are a PR person following me on Twitter (and a few have signed up since reading this post) please take the time to find out about the work I do before you get in touch by Twitter or any other means.

If you feel that work by any of your clients could genuinely fit with what I’m writing about then please get in touch. Ultimately, for me, it’s not the means of keeping in touch that matters but the story. Don’t push me on stuff you have tweeted to all and sundry but please do think about if there’s anything specific that may be of interest according to the list of current projects I have gone to the trouble of preparing.”

General PR tech pr Technology PR

Most PR people believe print coverage is more valuable than online: an exercise in cognitive dissonance?

Gordon Macmillan at Brand Republic reports on a new survey which claims that “most PR professionals still favour offline media coverage over digital despite recent consumer research identifying online as the more influential medium.”

He continues: “More than half, or 53%, see it as more valuable, but the real story is that it’s their clients who are still deeply attached to print. Apparently nearly two-thirds or 64% of PRs believe their stakeholders prefer print coverage more than online, television or radio and more than half or 53% believe their stakeholders are more influenced by print coverage than television, online or radio.”

He rightly picks up on the word “believe” and asks: “I mean, don’t they ask? Apparently not according to the Parker, Wayne & Kent survey. It seems to be all about the permanence of print. The fact you can hold it in your hand and turn the page (maybe they never heard to the printer?).” If you examine PWK’s own press release on it, the whole thing is predicated on the “belief” of PRs.

I continue to be fascinated by what appears to a widespread cognitive dissonance in the PR industry (an uncomfortable feeling or stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. Or to keep with the Orwellian sub theme of this blog, doublethink).

In this case, the two contradictory attitudes are: the belief that print media continues to be the dominant media influence and the fact that most of the real data on the subject seems to suggest the opposite.

Why is this happening? Here’s my theory.

In spite of claims to the contrary, the main reason clients still hire PR firms is for “media relations” (although as PR Week has previously reported, clients are spending most of their budget on account management, admin and reporting). And media relations still tends to be geared around getting print based coverage – because that is the skill set (inventory) that most PR firms still have to sell.

So you can see the temptation to try and justify what you have to sell by implying there is still a need for it. And I don’t deny that there is still a large education job to be done client side regarding what are the most effective techniques today. Some cynics might argue that if clients want print coverage lets sell what they ask for – even though we know it isn’t best solution. However, you get the sense from the PWK survey that no one is really asking the questions clients really want answering – namely, how can you help me understand how my target audiences behave, what really does influence them and what is the most effective means of delivering a measurable impact on those audiences?

Over the last 18 months I’ve tried not to miss the opportunity to quiz people about their media consumption habits. On a number of occasions, I’ve asked people to try a little test – basically, to write down what they think their average media consumption is over a week – and then to actually write down what they really do. Most of the time, people are very surprised about the divergence between their belief and reality. The most common is to over-estimate the time they spend reading newspapers and magazines and to underestimate the amount of time they spend online – as well as how online influences their decision making process.

However, before I get accused of being some kind of online obsessive, let’s be clear – I’m not saying print media is completely irrelevant. That’s patent nonsense – and my own recent experience bears out the role it can play in a purchase decision. However, to automatically assume that print is the most influential medium is more an act of faith than rational judgment. And don’t forget the shelf life of print coverage is a few hours.

The starting point has to be the data and evidence that justify an approach. When you actually start to gather real information about how people really do consume media – both on and offline – you build a picture of a very different world to the one that PRs in PWK’s survey seem to inhabit (the emphasis placed on buyer personas by search marketing agencies is an example of how PR could and should be helping their clients).

It’s a bit like when a relationship is going down the tube. Although logically he may know its over, he still clings to the belief that “she still loves him really.” Surely better to face reality and move on – the heartbreak will be more painful the longer you refuse to face facts.

General PR Web/Tech

Why Search Marketing Is Eating PR’s lunch

Ask any traditional PR company – large or small – whether they consider £300K per annum as a sizeable PR account and I don’t think you’ll find anyone who’ll disagree with you.

What about £300K a month? There probably isn’t a PR account in the country that would come close to this kind of spend.

Guess what. Search marketing agencies are now beginning to command that kind of expenditure. Some will (rightly) argue that much of this is going on PPC campaigns ie the actually revenue and profit claimed by the agency on this will be a smaller percentage. However, in spite of this, the bigger search marketing firms are clearly achieving much better margins than most PR firms. And they are gaining a greater slice of overall marketing budgets – and taking the lead role in influencing the rest of the marketing mix.

(Quick caveat: the above applies primarily to the consumer sector – however, it can’t be long before we start to see a similar trend in B-to-B marketing).

Another trend that could get PR firms worried is that the search budgets are moving towards natural search rather than PPC ie this is a much more fee/consultancy led spend – and starts to encroach upon some of the traditional revenue areas for PR.

Others are already highlighting the need for PR firms to work more closely with their search bretheren – but it doesn’t appear to happening quick enough.

So why is the traditional public relations consultancy sector is suffering from a special form of cognitive dissonance?

On the surface, things appear rosy. Agency top line fee income is on the rise. Martin Sorrell at WPP says PR is seeing a healthy growth rate compared to other areas of the marketing mix (though PR is coming from a very low base).

However, even though agencies appear to be billing more, they don’t seem to be any more profitable. Recent research from Plimsoll suggests that one third of PR agencies are making a loss, one third are breaking even and one third are profitable (but the margins here range from a measly 2 – 3pc to around 25pc for a handful of top performing agencies).

And PR agencies aren’t helping themselves either. Another recent survey featured in PR Week showed that overservicing is rife. It almost beggars belief that 10pc of PR agencies say they regularly overservice clients by 100pc. In fact, all PR agencies appear to overservice – it is merely a question of how much. On this evidence, 95pc of PR companies overservice their clients by 25pc or more.

In which case, it is no surprise that this is leading to widespread staff dissatisfaction through repetition of the same tasks, length of working hours and volume of administration (another PR Week survey showed that the average PR company spends nearly 75pc of its time on account management and administration as opposed to value added client work).

For many years, PR consultancies have tried to improve their standing within the marketing mix – seeking to take on the mantle of brand custodian and chief marketing partner to clients. However, the reality is that for the vast majority of PR companies, PR still means one thing and one thing only – press relations. And to be fair, that is what most clients still see as the primary function of PR.

Clearly the PR industry has not been unaware of the impact of the Internet. However, it seems to have got sidetracked by peripheral, tactical issues such as whether journalists prefer to get press releases via e-mail or RSS; should the social media press release template be more widely adopted; what is the appropriate press etiquette for using Twitter, etc.

Somewhere along the line, many people seem to have missed the following:

– the Internet is the fulcrum of most buying/influencing decisions today (80pc of all web traffic begins with a search; 90pc all B-to-B buying decisions, irrespective of purchase value, will begin with a web search). Influencing the customers customer is (or should be) why PR companies exist. Yet hardly any build PR programmes based on today’s reality.

– the level of insight that can be gained into buyer behaviour and intention via the Web is immense (and yet hardly any PR companies seem to base their recommendations to clients around this).

– because the Internet landscape changes almost daily, a testing and experimentation mindset has to become the norm (again, PR agencies, with their much vaunted creativity, are still sending out crap press releases in a written format that has remained largely unchanged in 50 years).

– many PR companies are still fixated with print based media coverage – even though the anecdotal evidence is filtering through that many readers don’t read print any more (even though they may still buy or purchase a publication – unsurprisingly, publishers aren’t exactly rushing to admit this either).

– the organisational structure of PR agencies has remained unchanged since the 1930s ie directors, account managers, account execs or “Finders, minders and grinders”. The organisational structure and traditional skill set of the PR professional is out of kilter with what will deliver real marketing value in today’s world. PR companies almost all use a retainer model for billing – they need to do this in order to generate the cash flow to pay people’s salaries every month and cover their office costs. The danger is that in many cases they are recommending approaches to clients on the basis of what work will justify the utilisation of their current staff and skill set – rather than what is the best and most valuable approach for the client.

– PR metrics remain on the whole unaligned with genuine business metrics. Worse, there is no “line of sight” between PR metrics and the business goals of a client. For example, many PR companies will tout advertising equivalence as a metric of success. In other words, a positive article appears in a publication, the space occupied is measured and compared with the equivalent cost of taking that as ad space, and the equivalent cost calculated. 99pc of all PR companies using this method will also use a multiplier – anywhere between 2 and 10 – to inflate the figure on the basis that “editorial is more valuable than advertising”. It doesn’t take much to work out why this is nonsense. Worse than that, the metric never had any real, direct connection with a meaningful business outcome

Given all the above, it isn’t hard to see why PR companies believe client expectations are becoming more unreasonable – and why chronic over servicing is on the rise, which in turn is a path to ruin.

It also isn’t hard to see why SEO/SEM is taking an ever increasing share of marketing budget. It naturally begins with a focus on the end customer and provides a level of tracking, measurement, ROI visibility and “line of sight” to fundamental business objectives perhaps unparalleled in the history of marketing. In short, it is data driven and outcome focussed. The two things PR companies seem to fall down on regularly.

So is it all doom and gloom for the PR profession?

Absolutely not. Smart PRs are beginning to notice that particular PR skills coupled with SEO/SEM approaches could provide the most powerful marketing approach the world has seen. Also, what many SEO/SEM agencies are now finding is that they have the opportunity to take a much more strategic role in marketing overall – in some cases, they are already getting involved in strategic work – they just don’t know it. However, in order to sustain growth, these organisations will need to add complementary skill sets that will convince buyers of their ability to deliver.

In short, those PR firms that bite the bullet and make the necessary (and in some cases, painful) structural adjustments to develop a properly integrated (and genuine) search/PR approach are the ones best placed to thrive in the long term.

General PR

What is your attitude to marketing investment risk?

One of the first questions a financial advisor will ask you is: “what is your attitude to investment risk?”.

Whatever response you give – cautious, moderate, high – should determine the financial products the IFA recommends to you. Broadly speaking, the higher the potential return, the higher the risk (profit is the reward for risk).

What if we used a similar analogy with marketing investment?

Are clients and prospects seeking well above average marketing returns? In which case, they may need to spend money on original and creative programmes that have never been tried before – and thus have no track record or guarantee of success (much social media activity could be placed here). Then again, more cautious clients may seek safe returns on tried and trusted approaches (traditional media relations).

Or perhaps they need a balanced portfolio of safer and riskier marketing investments?

Of course, many clients want greater than average returns with money back guarantees. If it were a financial product, they’d be highly suspicious. So beware those who claim to be able to deliver huge ROI with little or no risk.

General PR Technology PR Web/Tech

How to create a journalist backgrounder in 5 mins with Google

Anyone who has ever spent more than 5 minutes working in the world of PR will almost certainly have had to produce a journalist backgrounder in their time.

This is a document prepared for a client before they meet or are interviewed by a journalist. Although different agencies might tinker at the edges, the basic format has always remained the same – namely:

1. Name, Job title, e-mail, phone number, etc.

2. A brief bio of the journalist eg previous titles worked for, areas of interest, etc.

3. Examples of previous articles – usually the most recent ones, but often, for the sake of completeness, going back over a year or more.

In the past, this has probably ranked as one of the most manual and time consuming tasks undertaken by a PR person (and probably still contributing to the PR industry’s chronic over-servicing issue).

Although the basic contact info would normally be easy to find (though not always), and the bio information would hopefully be reasonably up to date (these days you might consider Wikipedia as a good source of bio info – check these examples for Chris Green at IT Pro and Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC), the bit that could take ages was compiling previous articles. This would normally take the shape of ploughing back through old press clippings, photocopying the relevant ones, compiling a weighty briefing document, and then reading through it all to try and “synopsise” the content for the benefit of the client.

With print content becoming increasingly replicated on the web (and with more original Internet-only material being generated), the time taken for this task can now be drastically reduced with the help of Googe Advanced Search.

For staff journalists, the task couldn’t be easier. Let’s use the example of Cliff Saran at Computer Weekly (no particular reason to single out Cliff – any staff journalist could be used).

Type “cliff saran” into Google – back comes all of Cliff’s articles and blog posts. Want to narrow it down? Use advanced search to look back over the last week, month, etc. Want to search for specfic topics or phrases? Simply add them into the search string.

Now, the PR can spend time analysing the content rather than spending most of the time trying to track down the material in the first place. And it doesn’t cost a penny.

But what about freelance journalists who write for a number of different titles? Again, a similar approach can be used – let’s take Danny Bradbury as an example. Type “danny bradbury” into Google. This will bring back a very broad range of results, but the editorial sites are easy to spot. For example, you can see he has written a piece for The Guardian. Typing “danny bradbury” into Google brings back all the articles he has done for the Guardian. Again, you can use advanced search to narrow down over a time period and/or on specific search phrases.

There are some additional benefits to this approach. You can bookmark specific searches for use in future. Even better, why not use a tool such as Diigo to create lists of saved searches that you can share with colleagues (or anyone else you may find relevant). Why not share with clients and allow them to carry out their own reading and analysis of a journalist’s coverage? If agency and client share and compare their findings it should create a far more accurate picture of what a journalist might be interested in.

As soon as I realized that I was able to fall asleep myself Ambien Without a Prescription any outside help, I just stopped taking it.

In short, a journalist backgrounder can be reduced to a series of web links that take no more than five minutes to create. As opposed to a lengthy tome that is time consuming to produce and doesn’t allow for any kind of interactive analysis.

PRs should now be able to focus on value added analysis rather than data collection. It might even go some way to reducing the over-servicing issue – which is no bad thing.

General PR Technology PR Web/Tech

An open source model for PR?

For a number of years, I ran the UK PR account for MySQL, the ubiquitous open source database (and recently acquired by Sun for $1bn).

In that time, I got to know some very bright people there (not least the inestimable Marten Mickos, MySQL’s CEO), as well as getting first hand insight into an innovative new business model. Back in October 2006, MySQL’s VP of Community Relations Kaj Arno announced the then introduction of MySQL’s Community and Enterprise Editions with a quite telling phrase:

We aim to better serve both categories of MySQL users — those who are willing to spend time to save money, and those who are willing to spend money to save time.”

The parallels with the world of PR are quite similar. The traditional tools that have been employed by many client companies to support their PR efforts are now in many cases free (or at worst, a minimal cost). What is the role of a PR consultancy in a world where many of its traditional services and “black box” solutions are now freely available?

In my view, the answer lies in MySQL’s open source model, transferred to the PR world. Those who are prepared to spend time learning how to use these free (or near free) tools – and share their experience – will benefit from a greatly reduced financial cost. Rather than hoard knowledge, there will evolve an open community of PR practitioners – both agency and client side – prepared to share their experience.

However, there is clearly going to be a demand from client businesses to create solutions more quickly – and they will be prepared to pay for this expertise. PR consultancies will thus move to a paid-for support and

Far fetched? Gentle reader, I welcome your feedback.

Current Affairs General PR People

Do the public think PRs are liars?

Roy Greenslade at The Guardian has picked up on a new survey that looks at public attitudes to PR:

According to a study by Ciao Surveys, 60.3% of people in Britain believe that PR officers often lie, while only 3.3% are convinced of the opposite. Additionally, only 17.9% of the respondents think public relations have a positive effect on society, against 26.5% who disagree.

Despite these findings, the survey shows that nearly a third of Britons believe the PR industry is a necessary one at 32.7%, as opposed to only 21.1% who believe it to be unnecessary.

Respondents evidently showed a good understanding of the industry because, when asked about their impression of a PR officer’s main job function, they stated it is strongly related to: media relations (49.6%), event planning (18.2%), advertising (9.5%) and word of mouth marketing (7.9%).

According to Ciao, 55.1% of respondents seem to be aware of the symbiotic relationship between the PR industry and the media, as they declared that the two are biased by each other.

Some people recognise that the media are the main vehicles for the PR industry’s messages, with 13.8% believing that up to half of the content in daily newspapers is initiated by public relations, and a sizeable group think up to 80% of the content in consumer magazines is PR-related.

I’m curious to know how the word “lie” is being defined in this context. Do they mean outright untruths or lying by omission? If PRs were uttering outright porkers to the extent the public appears to believe from this survey, I think we’d know about it. I suspect it is more an unspoken distrust of PRs (apparent) attempt to influence by careful selection (and omission) of facts.Recently, I got a problem to fall asleep, I was spinning for a few hours, Ambien Without a Prescription but sleep did not come. I think there is a qualitative difference between simply wanting to put your best case forward and deliberately trying to bamboozle your audience – the latter, surely, an ultimately doomed strategy – the truth will always out.

digital pr General PR tech pr Technology PR Uncategorized Web/Tech

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.