Pankhurst on dotcom life: It's time for some genuine PR or you will get the bunny

I went back to school recently. I didn't visit my old school though - I took the trip up to Yorkshire to give Wakefield Girls high school a Friends Reunited award for being one of the 'friendliest' schools in the UK.

We don't just win awards; we present them too. It's nice to do something positive but, of course, we got something positive back: pages of publicity.

We've spent time putting together the number of messages sent by former pupils and the number of active ex-school mates at the 22,000 or so secondary schools listed on our site. Elliott school in Putney came top - its ex-pupils stay in touch more than anywhere.

Ideas like our 2004 School Friendship League Table take a lot of planning, however. To get it right, the vital step was to bring our first permanent PR manager, Carolynne Bull-Edwards, on board in the summer. We've also got an agency, BMA Communications.

Publicity has always come pretty easy to Friends Reunited. We have a simple message about what we do and what it means to people, and that has been responsible for a lot of our 11 million users joining the site.

Just this week, I noticed that the new Ben Elton novel mentions us and journalists regularly reference entries on Friends Reunited.

But there's more we can do, as shown by the Friendship League Table, and such ideas generate all sorts of angles for people to write about.

BBC Wales interviewed me on the back of it to talk about the fact that only two Welsh schools entered the top 200. They wanted to know if Wales was seen as an unfriendly place. Let's hope they do better next time.

This shows an important opportunity for online businesses in general to promote themselves. Like us, they should have direct contact with their consumers and, therefore, what they do or think about certain subjects.

They can get in touch with many of them at once, quite cheaply. It also goes beyond the PR-stunts people like Richard Branson seem to love so much.

Under our new, more structured approach to PR, we're closely monitoring its value to the business and, according to clippings agency Romeike, we're generating editorial coverage with an equivalent advertising value of about £12 million per year.

All of which sounds good news, particularly if it means I don't have to dress up as a giant bunny rabbit and slide down Everest in a bath full of baked beans just to get some column inches.


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