Here’s Your Guide To Launching Your Own Public Relations Business

Updated on 3 December 2018

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start business public relations industry

One of the things you must consider when you enter the Public Relations industry is are you going to be generalist or specialise in one sector, says Samanatha Watt, founder of GinjaNinjaPR.

Watt has been in the Public Relations (PR) industry for 27 years. “My initial start was in engineering and I think that gave me a good grounding for the technology sector. I have built friendships with media and clients over the two plus decades and have learnt immense amounts,” she says.

According to Watt, it’s important to understand and respect the role the media plays and how to best serve their needs. “See the big picture and be strategic in your intent.”

Nelisa Ngqulana is the founder of the company PR Trends ZA and also the host of the South African edition of Africa Communications Week. She says it’s important to contribute to the media. She has a blog, for example, and she’s involved in Twitter chats like #PRAfricaChat.

start business public relations industry
Samantha Watt, founder of GinjaNinjaPR and Nelisa Ngqulana, founder of PR Trends ZA.

If you’re planning to start a business in the PR industry, here’s what you should know:

Industry overview

Victor Sibeko, chief executive officer of  Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA), says the Public Relations and Communications industry is growing remarkably and that there are specialised areas that have generated interest including consultants in corporate affairs and CSI specialists.

According to Sortlist, the top PR agencies in South Africa include LiveWired Public Relations, Atmosphere, Flow Communications, Marcus Brewster PR, Red Ribbon Communications, Clockwise Media, Moshate Media, Eclipse PR, PR Worx and DUO Marketing and Communications.

Ngqulana says that because of the growth of social media, the reputation and communications industry is growing.

According to Watt, not only do clients need content, they need to build media relationships and shape perceptions as thought leaders and industry gurus. “PR has the ability to communicate a client’s value system, integrity and abilities in a manner that is believable. It supports other communications tools and plays an integral role in an integrated campaign,” she explains.

“In my view, PR should lead more campaigns than it does currently. It is the personality behind a brand and in our cynical world with significant trust issues, PR is needed,” says Watt.

To start your business, you’ll need a laptop, internet connection and website

Services to offer

Watt says that PR is pretty standard in its service offering, which is why your attitude and ability to deliver are so important. She explains that PR services include media engagement, consulting, media training, content generation, and integrated communications. Media engagement is a framework to understand the behaviour of social media marketing-based audiences.

Ngqulana explains that the heart of PR is storytelling. “Writing is a big one (as a service).”

She says other offerings can include media training for clients. “A lot of businesses only have a social media presence, so it’s important for them to understand how it works.”

Ngqulana adds: “PR is also an integral part of events.”

What you need to start

To enter the sector, it is advisable to have a communications degree or diploma, says Watt.

To start your business, you’ll need a laptop, internet connection, website. According to Watt, a clipping service that monitors what is being said about a client’s company or products in the media, bookkeeper and accountant, as well as a good and varied media list, are important. “Access to Microsoft products or the like is imperative too.”

Ngqulana says that a business profile is also important to have. “It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It should tell people who you are and what you’ve done before.”

She added that if you’re working from home, you can make use of co-working spaces or negotiate with people you know to use their office spaces for free, to meet clients. “Having lunches and coffee meetings can be expensive.”

She adds: “Start small with what you need.”

It can be tricky when you go to a funder to motivate funding, because your business is selling ideas. You have to try to land a certain account through pitching ideas

The challenges

The biggest challenge is not having a clearly defined service offering or product, says Ngqulana. “When you’re new, you don’t have a body of work, so it’s quite challenging to get the business you want.”

She says another challenge is having capital. “It can be tricky when you go to a funder to motivate funding, because your business is selling ideas. You have to try to land a certain account through pitching ideas.”

Ngqulana says when she started out the market was completely different. She says she ended up working with a lot of smaller businesses instead of corporate.


Watt says it’s vital to have standard business requirements like having a business registration number and a VAT number, in order. “Experience counts in this industry and a well-defined track record will help you retain business,” says Watt.

“Some businesses belong to the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA) but I have never been a member. I have built my career and business by working very hard over many years. Referrals have assisted me with gaining new business.”

Ngqulana explains under PRISA, you prescribe to a code of ethics. She says there are other organisations for PR professionals like the International Association of Business Communicators and the African Public Relations Association.

“Our involvement is voluntary in the organisations. When you belong to the body, you can get training and can get certification or earn points for a certification.”

Training and support

Sibeko says that PRISA has a programme specifically for SMEs, called Jumpstart, which focuses on up and coming or aspiring consultants or specialists in the communication field. He says that although membership fee annually costs R2018, SME owners pay a lot less – R1130.

According to Sibeko, in Jumpstart, SMEs get training on subjects like understanding the current state of the PR industry, what’s new in terms of ethics and standards. “We talk to them about what is expected when you speak to a new client, how do you listen to a brief, and making sure you’re compliant since you are now a service provider.

“We also have breakfast meetings on a monthly basis where we invite various experts to talk,” says Sibeko.


Watt says being an entrepreneur is not stress-free or predictable. “You need to work hard and commit to the business to see it succeed.

“Understand how business processes work and ensure you have an excellent administration person.”

She added: “Know that it will take years to get it off the ground properly and even then, you will have dips.”
Watt also believes that your reputation is important, and you have to protect it. “Build a good credit record and be a good client too.

“Don’t grow too quickly and never become hands-off. Owner run and managed is the only way to go.”

According to Ngqulana, there are four things you must have if you want to venture into Public Relations:

  • A lot of creativity. “You’re in the business of ideas.”
  • You must be able to write.
  • You must be a problem solver. “You’re going to help clients through a crisis. You should be able to think on your feet.”
  • You must be a networker, because a big part of what you do is to build relationships.

Ngqulana says besides the above you should create your own project to show what you can do. “Do what you can where you are. Social media is free, so you can curate your own social media account.”

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