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SPN APR 2012 InMyView


Helena Hoerberg-Lever runs the PR for London Swimming Pool Company. She knows how difficult it is to obtain editorial without the support of advertising and urges companies to be careful about social media

with scepticism? W

hy has public relations become so controversial, making some nod their heads with approval and others shake their heads

PR used to be just that – relations with the public. In the last few decades the practice has in effect grown to encompass communications with the wider world. For a commercial organisation this does not just mean creating a desirable image in the public opinion to generate more business, but to also assert a great reputation amongst its existing customers, suppliers, associates and so on.

Some of the first ever PR activities in England can be traced back to Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who pioneered the concept in the 18th century by promoting the parliamentary career of Charles James Fox via press relations, lobbying and celebrity campaigning.

With the realisation that favourable publicity can have far greater scope and effect than, for example an advertising drive, the practice became all the rage in the 1960s producing a new business bandwagon of agencies popping out of the ground like (magic?) mushrooms. Since exposure in the media at this time mainly consisted of newspaper and magazine features, ex-journalists were hired by these firms to write and pass press releases to editors over rather a few martinis with a view to securing the precious coverage.

However, with radio and TV developing in the media in the 80s and 90s, the right press contacts and writing skills were replaced by verbal re-presentation at assorted publicity events as the most important tool of the trade. PR became synonymous with ‘swanning around at drinks parties’ or, as we say nowadays, ‘networking’, the quality of writing went downhill and with it the industry’s reputation.

The face of public relations has changed in the

five years I have been handling the PR and marketing for London Swimming Pool Company due to the explosion of media coupled with the financial difficulties of the recession. It has become very difficult to obtain editorial without the support of paid for advertising, including in local publications, and even then the piece needs to be about something new or unique. Thanks to the internet, journalists and feature writers can now easily find information for their articles and do not have to rely on the content and angle in the external press releases or case studies they receive. Is it these challenges that are stopping my peers in the industry from attempting to obtain press coverage? It continues to be the case that positive publicity in traditional media can be very beneficial for a business, although PR efforts in combination with marketing initiatives must not be regarded as a substitute for a strong sales process. In order to get in front of your target audience in print you need to give ‘good telephone’ to find and start building a relationship with the correct editor, which for pool companies means interior, garden, education and so on.

As with successful sales, following up on what was submitted and including high quality images to make the write-up come alive are an absolute must.

By now we all know that an excellent website – your online shop window – is essential for most businesses and valuable space in this article need not be used up to discuss that requirement.

On the other hand, the new kid on the publicity block – social media – is causing confusion considering that the PR role is a balancing act between promoting the company’s image and protecting its interests – when business is good everyone wants a piece of you. The problem is, some of these new media platforms can provide a public forum for customer complaints and other grievances which can escalate out of your control very quickly and seriously damage the credibility of a company. Every organisation should think very carefully about how they could handle such negative exposure and whether the potential rewards – being talked about and being ‘liked’ – outweigh the risks. Just because these media are available, and that it seems like everyone is joining and following and that the membership is free of charge (so far) does not mean that it is right for your business.

Having a presence on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter etc does not replace the need for a website and other marketing efforts. Social media are money making businesses in their own right and they are clearly achieving a lot of publicity for their services.

How popular do you want to be and for what reason? spn i FOR FURTHER INFORMATION


“As with successful sales, following up on what was submitted and including high

quality images to make the write-up come alive are an absolute must”

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