By NBF News
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Public relations has become a very important way for businesses to stay competitive in any industry. For this reason, organisations require the services of public relations consultants to maintain their strength in the industry and in the competitive business world.

Unfortunately, most new businesses or small and medium scale businesses often think that they are ruled out of access to this important repositioning tool. Besides, firms, even big ones, are beclouded with the perception that PR is an ancillary service, which should be one of the segments to go, especially during tough times. Economic history has shown that successful businesses are those that increase their focus on marketing during hard times. Contrary to trends in the developing world, where the first casualty is usually PR in the scheme of corporations' planning during economic turbulence, experts say PR should be one of the leading schemes in managements' survival strategies. To them, this is especially important under the current economic scenario.

Experts believe that a firm could require this service to achieve various set objectives, including increasing customers' and investors' awareness; inaugurating new products or services or building corporate image. Whatever reasons, public relations consultants, it is believed, mainly render their services to build businesses. PR is also regarded, in part, as marketing.

Practitioners in the field say PR has various ways it responds to businesses in terms of relevance.

According to the Chief Executive Officer of Synthesis Communications Limited, Mr. Desmond Ekeh, most organisations are built to create values, which in turn, return values to the creating organisations in form of financial profit or even public goodwill. He says in most cases, this value is created through the offering of a product or a service.

Strictly speaking, he says a business organisation uses its marketing department to develop new value propositions, which it expects should be patronised or exchanged by consumers for financial returns that eventually constitute profits.

He says the first step should begin with a management's recognition of the need for PR services. According to Ekeh, marketing has a linkage that satisfies a business' goal, which is to generate profit. He notes, however, that the marketing department cannot successfully perform this function without employing the support and services of other units, especially PR.

He says, 'Once it is recognised by the management as a needed line of approach, then the benefits can be accessed. While businesses have the challenge of anticipating consumer needs and creating specific services or products to satisfy these needs (by ensuring that the developed product gets to the consumer) so as to be able to meet organisational goal, PR, on the other hand, collaborates with marketing to ensure that the consumer, first and foremost, is aware of the product, knows the key benefits and the unique offerings of the product.

'But these processes of awareness creation and value relationship on products and services may not be done by just anybody; they are executed by professionals, if results are to be expected.'

He adds, 'Public relations collaborates with businesses to attain organisational goal, through awareness creation, media relations management, product publicity, stakeholders' relationship management and sundry functions.'

To the Deputy Managing Director, eMaginations, Mr. Rarzack Olaegbe, the process entails that a business must see the need for a PR consultant first before beginning to search for the service. He says a PR consultant, in turn, will assist with the development of a proposal, which is a road map on what to do, how to do it, what to expect, the cost and other requirements.

He adds, 'After these initial steps, it will now depend on the creativity of the consultant and his team, in executing the plan, to achieve success. It is a planned and painstaking process, and the success does not happen overnight. It is a gradual, painstaking and deliberate effort.'

Olaegbe explains that the services of a PR consultant may be required by both the existing and new businesses. According to him, it is not all about money but the passion derived from building a business that gives satisfaction to professionals.

Ekeh, however, believes that it is easier for practitioners to make money, after such individuals must have proven to owners of businesses that they can actually support their operations through effective strategies, which may involve counselling.

Ekeh says, 'Public relation is necessary and fundamental for all businesses, both old and new. For instance, Coca-Cola is a brand that has been around for decades, yet the company deploys the tool of PR to remain on top. For a new business, it is even more necessary.'

According to him, a new business needs to be known through a well designed awareness creation and brand building campaign. He says that this will also need consistent, intensive and sustainable publicity and media exploitation. Besides, he says such a business will also need to cultivate friends and customers through strategic or orchestrated stakeholders' parleys and deliberate public engagements.

Importantly, the two experts believe that PR requires special training.

According to Ekeh, the training required is particularly in the area of journalism and media communications, adding that a PR practitioner should be well trained and groomed, if he is to counsel businesses effectively and knowledgeably. He, however, notes that anybody, man or woman, can do the job.

Olaegbe notes that the challenges in building businesses with PR usually come from clients, the brief taken and its execution.

'The challenges are usually enormous. Depending on whether you are an employee PR practitioner or you are running a consultancy on your own, the major challenge has to do with character, size and positioning of the business,' he says.

Generally, he says, building businesses is a very challenging pathway. 'But the ability to contend with so many things, including managing the media (that may not understand what you go through managing a client, which in turn, expects more than what an expert should do) will go a long way in reducing the challenge,' he adds.