Starting a successful public relations firm today requires a combination of business savvy, insight into how journalists think, and expertise in social media, said Sharon Cain, the managing director of Quest PR, a UK-based firm. Most important is a deep of understanding of your clients and their goals. "Get under their skin, understand their business challenges, their business goals and their customers. Where do they want to be in three years and how can PR help them to get there? A good PR plan needs to fuse with a company or organization's business goals in order to be effective," according to Cain. Cain, who worked as a journalist for the BBC and SkyTV before founding Quest PR 11 years ago, recently offered her best advice for PR startups: What type of person is best suited for starting a PR firm? What professional background/skills will help a person be successful in this venture? The key here is that the person needs to be business minded with a real understanding of how to be commercial in this harsh economic climate. PR experience is preferable, however an understanding of self-promotion, marketing, sales, brand management and competitor analysis will help a person succeed in running his or her own firm. In reference to professional skills, understanding how journalists think is a must. These are the people who will be promoting your clients on your behalf, so knowing how to format releases to suit their needs, understanding when their deadlines fall, and knowing when not to contact them will help you build good relationships with the media, which will help you increase your clients coverage. Social media skills are also now a must for any PR practitioner. Knowing how they operate enables you to get your message out to an ever-growing audience. By fusing this with traditional media; you will be able to reach out to the widest audience available. What are the most important things to consider when writing a business plan for a PR firm? Understand the wider economic climate: Keep up to date with what is happening in the wider economic environment. This will help you understand how both your business and your prospective clients will be operating. Understand what your target audience will be: Consider your skills and what audiences you wish to target. Understand who your prospective customers/clients are: Find out which companies are within your target audiences and begin to engage with them. Understand what you can offer them: At Quest PR, we are able to guarantee coverage; however, as a start-up business, this may be unachievable. It is important to manage realistic expectations of what your business can offer. What tips do you have for a start-up firm when it comes to getting new clients on board? A three-pronged approach: Network in the right places, where you know prospective clients will be. Set and sustain a vibrant marketing plan, which includes PR firms practicing what they preach. Use social media wherever possible, including running engaging and dynamic blogs. The idea is to self-promote and to also engage with prospective clients. Where is the best place for a PR professional to network? It really depends on what you specialize in. At Quest, a journalist-led B2B agency, we network with organizations attended by owner managers of SMEs, because they are Quest's target audience. A lot of time can be wasted networking in the wrong places. It is important that networking is also planned and linked in to the marketing and business plan. What are some tips for a start-up PR firm to market itself online and in social media. Join LinkedIn. This is fast becoming the social media site of choice for professionals. When you have met someone at a networking event, make sure you link up with them straight away. Also, ensure you are joining in discussion groups and getting noticed as an authority in your field. Join Twitter. Twitter is constantly growing and will enable you to join in on conversations immediately. Make sure you are looking out for trends, opinion leaders and most importantly ... make sure you tweet! What's the worst thing a company can do PR-wise when it comes to crisis management? What are some of the best practices? This is simple ... to not have a plan. When things go wrong -- whether this is a simple product recall or a mass redundancy -- a business needs to implement its crisis-management plan, which should always include engaging with their audience. This can be done by making an official announcement, but also by interacting with their social media audience immediately. In addition to this, you need to make sure that there is a figure head of the company who will be willing to talk to the media. The delivery needs to be apologetic and credible, so it is important that they have received full media training, something that we offer as standard to all clients of Quest PR. What are some innovative ways PR firms can help businesses market their products or services using social media? Always look to make your activity interactive. Run competitions, create discussion points on Twitter using hashtags, follow trending topics on social media, and try and interlink it with your client. Make your information sharable and always make a newsletter into an e-newsletter. How important is it to reach out to traditional media (newspapers, magazines, TV) with the advent of social media and the web? Traditional media is still a vital function, and in particular, trade magazines still have a strong influence on their sector. For example, radio didn't die with the advent of the television and therefore we cannot consider that the internet will completely kill off TV and the traditional press. It is true that social media has challenged their existence; however, with clever changes happening, the traditional media will always have a place in the wider media world. How has PR changed in the past five years? What do you see as some of the most exciting changes/trends? Social media has changed the way we communicate. It is an exciting time for us, as we are in the business of communication and engagement and social media has given us more ways to do this, in particular with audiences that we were previously unreachable. At Quest, it has been the fusing of traditional and social media that has allowed us to engage with more people, which has meant that we have won more business, built strong relationships with industry leaders, and considered new areas of business across Europe and the U.S. What are some useful tools (blogs to read, books, apps, trade publications) a PR professional can use to improve his or her business? Look at top blogging practices -- in particular those coming from the U.S. -- as they have claimed to be two years ahead at defining blogging perfection . Read industry publications, such as PR Week, as they give a good insight as to what is happening within the PR sector. Join the CIPR. They have a wealth of knowledge and courses that will improve you as a PR practitioner.