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Going public

If your company is a four-man pension IFA in Bournemouth, you might think a public relations programme is well outside your remit.

After all, isn&#39t PR that thing you do over lunch with journalists and girls in short skirts to get your name in the paper? It is true that relationships between industry commentators and personal finance journalists are certainly forged over expense accountlunches and some female PRs have been known to wear very short skirts but there is a lot more to it than that.

A senior manager at Scottish Provident recently asked me the difference between advertising and PR. He said he thought they were the same things. The most concise answer I could think of was this. If you are using advertising to promote your business, you will pay for a space, for instance, a quarter-page in a magazine. In that space, using a blend of visual imagery and (usually) clever words, you will convey a positive message about your company and everybody who sees it will know you have paid for that space and that you have contrived your own messages.

Enter PR for some credibility. PR is different in so much as you can hire a specialist agency to build your profile with the financial press. It is the agency&#39s job to helpyou build a bank of press contacts that will in turn lead to the Holy Grail of PR – column inches Hopefully, a quote will be included and maybe even a photograph. When the reader sees your company name mentioned in the Sunday Times or the Daily Mail, he or she regards it as the personal opinion of the journalist, which counts as a third- party endorsement and a highly credible way of delivering a message to a wide and specifically targeted audience.

That is the fundamental difference between advertising and PR.

To return to our small pension IFA in Bournemouth (apologies if this is you, this example is merely to illustrate a point), a company of this size can benefit enormously from a well planned, professional media relations campaign, depending on business objectives.

For instance, if you want to grow your company and recruit more RIs, how can you be sure to attract high-calibre advisers that will make the right impact on the business and grow a solid client base?

There is no better way than raising your company&#39s profile in the financial trade press that will be read by your peers and industry pundits alike.

Building a brand profile from total obscurity does not happen overnight. But, with the right PR team, time, effort and commitment, it can happen surprisingly quickly. Many of the top personal finance IFA commentators are small, independent companies with no particular unique sales proposition but a modicum of vision and a sense of adventure. Tip – if you want to get quoted, get off the fence.

Another obvious PR benefit to companies large and small is that client prospecting suddenly gets a whole lot easier as most people are more receptive to an organisation they have heard of.

You probably think that hiring (God forbid) a London PR agency is far beyond practical budget constraints. Another myth. For a few thousand pounds a month, you can create an effective PR campaign on either a short-term project basis or on a longer-term retainer basis. But you get what you pay for, that is, the time of professional PR practitioners.

The prospect of hobnobbing with cynical hacks may seem daunting. How do you hold the attention of luminaries such as Jeff Prestridge of The Mail on Sunday or Ian Cowie of the Daily Telegraph? Your PR agency will enrol you in a media training course before you are even put in front of a journalist and by the time you meet one you will know the difference between real news and PR flannel. You will understand the news cycle, deadlines, the value of case studies (your clients&#39 positive experiences of your business) and the benefits of research-based media coverage.

The press can also provide a platform for wannabe copywriters. Almost all the fin-ancial trade titles will consider placed articles from budding columnists. The benefits of professional, high-level PR are myriad. Financial PR is a thrivingindustry and, like the National Health Service, available to all although, unlike the NHS, you will not have to wait months or years to get tangible results. So, if you are that small IFA inBournemouth and you long to be the next Chase de Vere, PR might be the first step on the road to growth, success and, who knows, even five minutes of fame.

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