PR has always been a vital part of brand management and, as businesses have moved on to the web, PR has followed. But, do brands need a different kind of PR online? Well, yes and no. The fundamental aims of online PR are broadly the same as offline - publicity and brand management - but the nuts and bolts can be different. Crisis management, for instance, can be a lot more hair-raising online. It also depends on the type of business, such as companies with a difficult proposition. To BNFL, which recently launched its site, it was a boon to find a forum on which to justify nuclear energy - there wasn't really a pre-internet equivalent to that.

Cliff Lunt, head of interactive services at NMI Group, which built the site, says the BNFL brand is a particularly challenging one because so many people have pre-conceived ideas about nuclear energy. The site gives it the chance to speak directly to the public. "Web sites are a massive PR tool," he explains. "Nuclear energy is quite an emotive term. You're not going to stop the debate, so the best thing BNFL can do is to put the argument as best it can in a fair and concise way. It's a repository of information, facts and arguments."

But most businesses don't have difficult propositions and tend to integrate online PR into their general strategy, says Niall Cook, director of netcoms at PR firm Hill & Knowlton. "If you look at PR in its broad sense, you can split it into defensive and promotional work," he says. "A lot of the time, you're trying to defend a reputation or brand; other times you're trying to exploit and promote it. You can pretty much match the things you'd do in traditional PR with online tactics. It's often the same things - you're just using the internet as a channel."

Cook thinks the necessary skillset is the same too, just a different way of looking at things. "It's about an appreciation of the new characteristics of this channel. Most good PR people can pick that up. It's about integrating it into your overall strategy."

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