CHICAGO: A former Carolinas PR firm owner wants to franchise PR operations across the country.Mike Butler opened his first PR Store in Charlotte, NC last year, and now has formed Chicago-based PRS Franchise Systems to sell PR Store franchises. The operations provide walk-in PR services to small-business owners, he explained. PR industry veterans expressed skepticism at the franchise plan. Among other critics, Kathy Cripps, president of The Council of Public Relations Firms, said, "I think it would be very hard to franchise PR. It's very much a client-service business. You need to know the team you would be working with." Butler said his prototype PR Store, opened last August in Charlotte, is doing very well, however. "We offer services to small-business owners who get left out of the circuit when it comes to big agencies, he said. The store offers one hour of free consulting to businesspeople who walk in to discuss PR services. It then charges a flat rate of $75 per hour. Butler is offering franchises for a $40,000 initial fee. Franchisees then pay 3% of revenue to support advertising for the chain. Butler recommends that a franchisee have between $111,000 and $180,000 in working capital. The company will offer a core design team of writers, designers, and production people who a franchisee can use to do work for clients. Franchisees are charged for creative services. "For the small-business owner, we can give them as much PR and marketing support as they need, he said. He's defining small businesses as those with 10-20 employees, and sales in the $2 million-$5 million range. Butler's business plan calls for selling nine franchises in the first 12 months of operation, and 150 over a five-year period. He's registered in six of the 23 states that require registration for such operations: North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana.