Put a stamp on the company message: Public relations by post offers an alternative to spending on advertising. Roger Trapp reports

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The Independent Online
IT IS ONE THING to have a product that will sell, quite another to actually sell it. This is a well-known lesson in business, but the problem is that few companies that are starting out have the budget to advertise.

One option for a fledgling business that is cheaper than advertising, is public relations, a form of marketing that involves getting a company's name and its product or service into the news. Doing this effectively, however, is not that simple.

To help transform the inexperienced entrepreneur into a seasoned public relations professional, Holder Swan has launched PR By Post, a 10-part, do-it-yourself course. The partnership, based in north London, has extensive PR experience in the travel and leisure industries and its seminars draw delegates from established companies and cash-pressed enterprises.

Sylvia Holder sees the course she has set up with Lindsay Swan as particularly attractive to those who are too far from London to make the trip to a seminar without the expense of accommodation. Much initial interest has come from overseas, where she believes people are influenced by London's leading role in public relations.

But Ms Holder also thinks it will appeal to those who do not feel that they can take a whole day off to attend a course. Pointing out that each person is assigned a tutor, she said: 'They can take the course at their own pace, so they can do the work when it suits them.'

For a fee of pounds 350 plus VAT, those signing up receive study notes, media lists and the PR manual. By means of practical projects, specialists in such fields as national newspapers and photography will guide them through the basic public relations skills, including writing press releases, producing brochures, organising mailshots and setting up competitions.

'There's no mystique about PR,' said Ms Holder. 'If you're bright enough to run your own business, you're bright enough to do your own PR. This has been proved time and again by delegates at our courses who have frequently beaten us at our own game and achieved extensive publicity.'

She stresses that the course involves more than just sitting down with a book. But anybody keen to learn the basics without a big commitment of time and resources can do so at a fraction of the cost. The reference book, Your Message and the Media, by Linda Fairbrother, is primarily aimed at people in small organisations who find themselves made press officers by default.

'Increasingly, I find that the person who has been put in charge of media relations may have quite a different job for most of the week and has little experience of press work,' said the author. As a result, these people need to know a lot more than how to write a release - although that is covered in the book. They need instruction on recognising good stories, on how to get them across, and when to use a PR agency without being taken advantage of.

Holder Swan, 70 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AN. Tel: 071 267 6022. 'Your Message and the Media' ( pounds 19.95 Nicholas Brealey Publishing, in association with the Industrial Society.)

(Photograph omitted)