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I’m a keen networker and there are so many groups to choose from around the Thames Valley that it can be a little overwhelming and I still haven’t visited loads of them. But I do passionately believe that networking is the key to securing new business. I won’t pretend that new business comes in overnight, but I have built up valuable contacts, from other public relations and marketing people, to those running their own businesses and people working for all types and sizes of organisations. These contacts are invaluable because I can ask their advice to help me run my own business; or because I can give them advice which means they then know what skills I have and will recommend me to potential clients. Meeting people face to face can never be underestimated and networking, mixed with social networking activity ( I favour LinkedIn and Twitter) I believe is one of the best ways to grow your business.

These are just three of the networking groups I have regularly attended. I will add more when I feel that I qualify to speak about others!

I recently joined B4 Berkshire as an ambassador. B4 went live in January 2012, following in the successful footsteps of B4 Oxfordshire, which has just celebrated its 10th birthday. The B4 model comprises a printed magazine, web based directory and quarterly Ambassador events, as well as offering business workshops from a variety of experts. I would recommend the B4 network to anyone who wants to engage with the business community across Oxfordshire and Berkshire.

For a more regular and informal networking experience, Business Biscotti has groups which meet up all over the UK, including dozens of venues in the Thames Valley. I’ve been to Oxford, Reading and Wantage so far, and have been welcomed into this friendly format, where you buy your own coffee (or not!) then get to meet what I have found to be a very varied group of start-ups, sole traders, small and large companies and charities – something for everyone.

Another different formula for networking comes from The Late Breakfast which as its name implies, spares us all having to get up at the crack of dawn, at it runs between 9.00 – 10.30 am. However, that may not suit everyone as it does mean not starting the working day until around 11 or 12 midday. But then networking is work really. This group  provides networking on arrival then an expert speaker entertains and informs for about 45 minutes. Everyone has the chance to make a brief mention of any upcoming events, then more networking before everyone moves on. You pay £10 on the door for the quality networking, speaker and tasty breakfast! You can choose from monthly gatherings in Abingdon, Didcot, Chalgrove and Thame. I’d advise visiting them all!

The Wantage & District  Business Breakfast Club meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 07.45 am. The venue varies, but is in the Wantage area (no surprises there!)  They start off with informal networking as everyone arrives, then a sit down breakfast – when you quickly have to decide who you want to sit next to for the rest of the meeting! Newcomers have the chance to talk for a minute or two about what they do and there’s a chance for anyone to talk about any events they have coming up. They take no prisoners at this networking meeting – it finishes at 9.00am. They have a brilliant monthly newsletter aptly called Eggs and Bacon!

In the years I’ve been working in public relations (PR), from time to time I’ve come across a potential client who insists they need a PR consultant with expertise in their particular business sector. It happened to me the other day. I spoke to an organisation in a niche education sector, who felt they could only work with a consultancy that was aware of their specific industry’s issues and personally knew the right education journalists and editors.

Fair enough. When venturing into public relations for the first time, you obviously must have total confidence in the individual or consultancy you will be working with right from the start. But it made me think: which is better, the generalist or the specialist PR consultant?

 Any good PR, whether generalist or specialist, will know how to put together an individually tailored public relations and communications plan, in line with an organisation’s business strategy. They will know how to spot a good story, which media sector to approach and how to ‘sell in’ whatever it is the client is offering with a view to achieving client objectives. As part of the mix, they will monitor specific industry issues, be aware of industry conferences, exhibitions and events and, naturally, come up with innovative and creative ideas that will attract the attention of key target audiences.

So, if the same principles of public relations practice can be applied to any business, irrespective of their specific field, why do you need a specialist?

Okay, I admit it, I’m a generalist! Although at Esplin PR we tend to work with small to medium-sized businesses, our client base spans a broad range of B2B and B2C organisations, from training and facilities management to a plumbing company and luxury cat hotel – all topped off with pro bono work for a national health charity.

We thrive on the variety and having the opportunity to learn about how different business sectors operate, who are the key players, what are the burning issues of the day.

However, I can see the other argument too. As master – or mistress – of their own niche, the specialist is able to fast track to the right media contact and will have in-depth knowledge of how that information should be presented.

Yet some clients are uncomfortable with a specialist PR consultancy, seeing the virtue of a generalist outfit, with a good understanding of a broad range of industries and topics. Brainstorming ideas with a group of people with experience across multiple non- competing business sectors can throw up imaginative ideas, often without having to reinvent the wheel each time. A great idea can be equally great for an estate agent or a garden centre, a charity or a recruitment company. And by reworking some specifics, rather than starting from scratch, you can save valuable time and money, impacting positively on your clients’ bottom line.

So, although generalists and specialists are the antithesis of each other, there is undoubtedly room for both kinds of public relations. It all comes down to a matter of choice. Some clients like the comfort of knowing that their specialist PR is familiar with key national journalists or editors in their trade media. Some prefer a generalist, working outside of their industry, who can bring new and outward-looking ideas to the table.

At the end of the day, the target audience is likely to determine which of the two an organisation chooses to work with. If a specialist niche market is targeting other specialists, they need to know the movers and shakers, to be on top of the latest news and views and understand the ‘sector speak’.

But if the niche market is targeting the man in the street, you need a generalist who is not afraid of asking “what is this, what does it do for me?” who can turn the ‘sector speak’ into plain English.

Perhaps generalist isn’t the right term. Maybe we should call ourselves multi-specialists. This much better describes the capability to provide a high level of service, across a multiplicity of market sectors.

If you care about your reputation and want to protect it, then you should consider Public Relations (PR). PR enables you to engage with all your stakeholders – from employees and your local community to customers and investors.

PR ‘does what is says on the tin’. It’s about managing your public relationships and safeguarding the reputation you establish as a consequence of everything you do and say, and everything others say about you.

Today’s business world is more competitive than ever. You clearly know what makes you stand out from the competition but does anyone else? PR can play a pivotal role in highlighting your unique selling points.

PR isn’t advertising, where a company pays to directly communicate its message by taking ‘space’ in a newspaper, on a website, alongside a prime time TV programme or on a radio station. It is more powerful than that.

A company using PR doesn’t pay the newspaper or TV channel but uses third party endorsement, which carries far more weight. An authoritative article written about a company, a topical comment from a company director, or a case study of a successful initiative brings far more kudos than paid-for advertising.

Good media relations are critical, especially where members of the public are the buyers. Every company needs to build up meaningful relationships with key journalists and editors, so the media know where to go to find expert comments and interesting opinions.

A PR campaign can encompass all sorts of different techniques and tools, from speaking opportunities at exhibitions and conferences to sponsoring an award category in your business sector or planning a social media campaign.

But to be successful, every PR campaign needs a plan. It doesn’t need to be complex but it does need to be clear. Define your business objectives, positioning and key messages; build these points into a unique PR strategy aimed at reaching your target audience; and you’ll find PR will work for you.

Louise Esplin, Esplin PR www.esplinpr.co.uk

Tel: 01235 850115. Mob: 07775 678237

Email: louise@esplinpr.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you need to raise the profile of your business or increase your brand awareness, we can put together a communications strategy, tailored to your requirements. Please call us on   07775 678237 to find out how we can help you hit the headlines.

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