While account directors are busy presenting credentials, another
element of the PR business is quietly doing its bit to persuade
potential clients that the consultancy can transform their
communications. The web site could almost be called the passive
PROs are increasingly finding themselves in the position of advising
clients on how web sites can be used as a tool to communicate all manner
of things, from company news, to corporate culture and values.
But how many PR companies take their own advice when it comes to their
own web sites? In the panels opposite we have looked at the web sites of
the top ten PR agencies in the UK to analyse for the first time how the
industry is using the internet.
According to a new report, ’Winning New Business in PR and Marketing
Consultancy ... the Critical Success Factors’, published by Policy
Publications in Brighton, there are a number of elements that are
crucial when clients are deciding who to invite to pitch.
The results reflect the experiences of 82 PR and marketing
They show that the top three factors in persuading a client that they
should invite one agency over another to pitch, were the quality and
experience of the people at the agency, its image and reputation, and
relationships with existing clients.
Other significant factors were the agency’s track record and the extent
of its geographical coverage. An agency’s web site could be used to
communicate positive messages about all of these areas.
So how seriously do PR agencies take their web sites as a means of
attracting new business? According to Citigate Technology chairman Suzy
Frith: ’PR web sites have to be as good as the best work you do for your
It is your own PR, and small errors or defects in the site can be
exaggerated as an expression of how efficient you are.’
Citigate Technology’s web site (www.citigatetechnology.com) can also be
reached through its umbrella agency, Citigate Dewe Rogerson
As well as containing corporate information, the technology arm’s site
has a news service, ’The Public Eye’, which features new client wins and
articles on trends in the hi-tech sector.
It also features an interactive poll to predict future trends in the IT
sector which is changed every month, with questions such as ’Will e-mail
see the death of the penned love letter?’. Other elements include
information for potential recruits, a full list of clients and global
contacts at the company, links to holding company Incepta, and brief
Frith believes a good web site is particularly important for agencies
working in the hi-tech and new media arenas: ’Potential clients expect
an IT consultancy to have a strong web presence. It’s often the way in
which they make an initial assessment of any company they deal
PR agencies need to find ways to add value to their sites beyond being
an on-line brochure. The expertise of an agency could be illustrated
with white papers, research reports and features, for example. The site
can be kept fresh with surveys, news, perhaps even an FTSE market watch
to keep it feeling up to the minute.
For many, the goal is to attract new staff as well as new clients, as is
the case with Cohn and Wolfe’s revamped site, updated a few weeks ago
(www.cohnwolfe.com). The site works hard on recruitment, with the
careers section including brief statements on benefits, company culture
and work environment, as well as an invitation to submit a CV to any of
its offices worldwide.
Over the next few months a number of functions will be added, including
local job listings, local language versions of foreign office site,
video case studies and a newsletter sign-up service.
Managing director Martin Ellis says he receives three to four CVs a day
directly through the web site and an average of two business enquiries a
’The aim was very much to attract new clients. The new economy is here,
everyone uses the internet all the time, and a web site is mandatory -
you can’t be taken seriously in this market unless you have an
up-to-date web site.’
Ellis said Cohn and Wolfe plans to update its site at least once a
A committee made up of representatives from each of the C&W offices
works on information to the site, and the aim is to release new versions
with updated local - country by country - content. ’A client doesn’t
want to look at a two-year-old case study, and if you’re showing old
case studies you’re not illustrating the different activities that the
PR industry is now taking on board,’ he adds.
Hi-tech agency Noiseworks (www.noiseworks.com), based in Maidenhead,
takes a different tack in that its web site serves existing clients as
much as new ones, and also sees journalists as a significant
The home page is packed with synopses of news from clients, rather than
agency information. Journalists can also log on to a dedicated press
room, and the agency has made sure that there are high resolution
pictures which can be downloaded along with releases about clients.
One of the most interesting elements of the site is the secure intranet
for clients, where on-line reports relevant to each account can be
accessed from wherever the client is. ’We didn’t just want to put up a
virtual brochure and have pictures of all our staff, so we spent time
building in a back end system that would be really useful,’ says account
director James Hanson.
He says good PR web sites can also play a significant role in the pitch
process: ’I rarely go to a new business meeting and come across
potential clients who have not come across the web site. It’s the first
thing I point them to when they call, and it means that when we’re one
of five agencies presenting our credentials, we can miss out the first
15 minutes of introduction and spend more time getting to know
The aim of the PR agency web site may be to pull in new clients, attract
new employees, give a good service to journalists on behalf of clients,
or to be used by clients themselves. Whatever the target, it’s clear
that many agencies are following their own advice and making the site
work for them, rather than just acting as hi-tech wallpaper.
CREATING A PR WEB SITE THAT WILL DAZZLE YOUR POTENTIAL CLIENTS
Compiled by Robert Grupe, associate board director, August.One
1. Identify your key target audiences
Many company web sites try to be everything to everybody and as a result
end up not being as effective as they should be. Clearly define your
target audience and then ensure that your site reflects those marketing
communication ideals. You wouldn’t write just one version of a press
release to be used with all media would you? If your audiences are not
homogeneous enough, consider developing different sites using the same
2. Clearly define the purpose of your web site
Is it to inform, entertain, or educate? If your purpose is to educate
prospective clients about your services and successes, then dazzling
busy decision makers with high-resolution animations is not going to
have the desired effect.
3. Secure your on-line branding
By its very nature, the internet is an international medium and so
international legal considerations must always be considered when
communicating on the internet. Before extending a great deal of effort
in building an on-line presence and reputation, make sure you have
ensured your legal rights to your trademarks and domain names.
Otherwise, you could find yourself having to start all over again.
4. Create a winning impression
For many prospective clients, the first contact with an agency now is
its web site, and the home page is crucial in establishing the first
professional image that a prospective client has about a PR company.
Does the agency communicate clearly? What exactly do they do? Who are
What have been their results? What can they do for me? Who can answer my
questions right now?
5. Continually improve your web site
Establish an annual editorial calendar that clearly identifies when the
site is to be updated, what will be revised, and who will be responsible
for generating the text. Web designers can change the layout and
graphics as often as your budget will allow, but the larger challenge is
identifying managers who are willing to take personal responsibility to
develop and refresh the text.
6. Optimise your search for web search sites
How a site is designed and coded determines predominately how it will
appear in web search sites. If your site is not adequately signposted,
then your competitors’ sites will appear before your own, or worse, your
site may not be listed at all.
7. Establish links from as many sources as possible
Aside from increasing referral traffic, links from other web sites also
help improve a site’s ranking in search results. Include your site
address in as many electronic communications as possible (e-mails, press
releases, white papers, etc.). Distribute all company announcements via
wire services so that they are picked-up by web portals.
8. Promote your on-line brand
Creating a web site is only half of the equation; you then have to make
sure people know about its existence. This involves traditional
non-electronic marketing, registering your site with search sites, and
9. Participate in on-line communities The internet is much more that
just the web, and reputation cannot be built with good-looking on-line
brochures. Identify the on-line forums used by your key audience
decision makers and then make ensure that you establish a presence in
10. Use a reputable internet hosting service
Server failures, viruses and hacker attacks, internet traffic jams,
power failures are all operational hazards that can tarnish your on-line
reputation. If your site is off-line for too long, then it will be
removed from the directories people use to find you. Ensure that your
host has fast internet connections, 24/7 support response, and battery
SHANDWICK - www.shandwick.com
Shandwick, the biggest agency owned by International Public Relations,
has a web site that covers its offices around the world. The home page
contains links to careers, news, features, expertise reputation
management and ’Inside Shandwick’. It also has summaries of news
stories; a link to the client access area; and the capacity to search by
Inside Shandwick explains the agency’s background, its mission and
beliefs, and a breakdown of the companies in the groups.
The expertise area details the practice sectors within Shandwick, with
case studies. The reputation management section includes an overview of
what corporate reputation is and an RM Spotlight area where articles
taken from various publications about the topic can be accessed. In each
section there are at e-mail links to relevant personnel.
The careers section has a ’virtual recruiter’ where CVs can be submitted
and potential recruits can read quotes from employees.
B-M - www.bm.com
Burson-Marsteller’s web site home page is nicely illustrated and gives
the user the opportunity to access a handy site map, allowing them to
view the many subject areas on offer and navigate the site easily. The
main categories are perception management, corporate overview, insights,
careers and e-fluentials.
The corporate overview section includes information on the practice
groups within Burson-Marsteller, locations of worldwide offices, and
B-M’s mission statement. The agency’s practice groups are listed and
explained to potential clients. However, there is no information on
existing clients, not even a list of who they are.
The careers section allows potential recruits to submit their CV. It
also provides details of the Burson-Marsteller University, which was set
up to train staff in relevant skills.
The site offers the user a lot of information on the agency itself and
its opinions, but does not give any idea of work being done for current
BELL-POTTINGER - www.chime.plc.uk
Bell Pottinger is the only agency in the top ten which does not yet have
a web site up and running. However, its parent company Chime
The Chime site gives a corporate overview of Bell Pottinger’s holding
company, concentrating on matters that concern shareholders and
investors, rather than potential clients. The site is easily navigated.
It presents information in a concise manner - breaking down information
about the company into its constituent parts and users can download the
The Bell Pottinger web site is due to open in due course. Lord Bell says
that it will be an information site that will list major clients and
provide details of client case studies. The site will not provide a
recruitment section as the company already has a graduate scheme in
place, which is cited on the Chime web site.
Bell sees the forthcoming Bell Pottinger site as an ’important but not
prime means of communicating’.
GCI Europe - www.gcieurope.com
The first thing that the user sees as they log on to GCI’s web site is
an orange cog containing a cross-section of the human brain.
This visual represents the site’s ’intelligence quarterly’. Other ’cogs’
present the user with the other main categories - ’our practice groups’,
job opportunities, GCI Europe offices, and the info centre.
GCI’s web site is comprehensive and easily navigated. The info centre is
an archive of information on GCI, covering the company’s staff changes,
acquisitions and various other topics. The intelligence quarterly lists
a series of reports to download on topics relevant to communication
professionals in ’all industries’.
The job opportunities section allows potential recruits to send in their
CV, while the GCI Europe offices gives information about specific
Some clients are listed in the ’our practice groups’ section of the
site, but there is little in the way of comprehensive detail.
CITIGATE - www.dewerogerson.com
Citigate Dewe Rogerson’s web site offers the user a plethora of
information on the company and its areas of expertise. On entering the
site the user is presented with a list of the different sectors that the
agency deals in. These include financial and corporate communications,
technology and media relations. The latter allows the user to download a
flashy videostream of client logos and corporate imagery. Other
categories present the user with text on the agency’s approach to areas
of business and, in many cases, the option to access further
The site can be navigated quickly and, with users given the option to
bypass any videostreams, progress through its topics is not
Contact names for further information are given - the user clicks on the
name and an e-mail box is opened.
However, the site does not provide information on recruitment and there
is a lack of information on clients or case studies to back the agency’s
MEDICAL ACTION - www.medicalaction.com
The home page of the global healthcare communications practice, a new
entry in the top ten of PR Week’s Top 150 league tables this year, is a
series of purple moons which are the gateways to the different sections
on the site: MAC, services, team, contacts and opportunities.
The MAC area covers the company’s philosophy, including its trademarked
system, Brand Syzygy, which it uses to target the right audience for
The team section is a brief statement about the company’s approach to
staff management, and the contacts section gives details of MAC’s
offices in Surrey and New Jersey, plus names and e-mail addresses for
key personnel in the UK and the US. The opportunities area has an e-mail
address for the HR manager, and links to details of current
The site is heavy on brief mission statements, and there are no case
studies or client details. It is akin to an on-line brochure, although
recruitment is clearly high on the list of priorities.
HILL&KNOWLTON - www.hillandknowlton.com
Hill and Knowlton’s site kicks off with a selection of stories about
recent account wins and agency developments. The site is broken down
into: corporate overview, solutions, geographic reach, news, career
centre and site map/search.
There are also links to ’thought leaders’ and parent company WPP’s
Atticus awards, open to all companies within the WPP group. Thought
leaders is a collection of papers, speeches and articles generated by
The solutions area gives information and contact details about the
company’s global practice areas, and the geographic reach map shows all
the countries in which H&K has a presence.
The ’careers centre’ is slightly confusing, as it is doubled up in the
the careers opportunities area of the ’contact us’ section. It allows
users to submit CVs, and contact managers in each of the major
It only outlines vacancies in the US, but does provide some information
about the group’s commitment to training.
CHARLES BARKER - www.cbarker.co.uk
The exhaustive Charles Barker site is divided into careers in the BSMG
group, clients and services, ’our world’, company profile, ’what’s hot’
and ’contact us’.
Each of these areas has subdivisions with more information and the
company profile area has a few facts and figures.
’Our world’ shows a globe marked with all the company’s offices
Clicking on these gives full contact details. There are also links to
networked partners around the world.
There is a comprehensive client list, including some hotlinks to
clients’ web sites, details of each of the agency’s service areas, and
detailed case studies of recent work.
The ’what’s hot’ area contains all the latest company news as well as a
series of management guides produced by Charles Barker, which cover
subjects such as how to tailor communications programmes.
The careers section gives full details of vacancies worldwide, with
email links to the relevant department.
COUNTRYWIDE - www.countrywidepn.co.uk
CPN’s home page, like Shandwick’s, proclaims its expertise in the area
of reputation management. The user-friendly site has links to the areas
of what’s new, capabilities, services, careers and key contacts.
There are details of all the services offered by the agency - from
financial services to cause-related marketing and media relations - as
well as Scene, its newest offering for the gay market. This is the
biggest area of the site, and there are contact details of the relevant
staff for each service.
The careers area has contact details for the director of personnel,
outlines the type of people the agency is looking for, and has details
E-mail links to all key staff are in the contact section. The news
section covers latest developments at the agency, and work it is doing
There is a link to the agency’s network, Porter Novelli International,
and the ’more info’ section enables users to request a hard copy of the
company brochure, plus other publications and papers.
BISS LANCASTER - www.bisslancaster.com
Biss Lancaster’s web site is visually very striking - with startling
images of babies pulling various facial expressions.
The baby them is carried through into the various sections of the web
site, which are also illustrated by images of babies.
The various headings are: ’A clear view’, ’Results led’, ’Creative’,
’Our skills’, ’Expertise’ and ’Contact us’.
Most of these open a single page of text. For example, the section
entitled ’A clear view’ expresses Biss Lancaster’s belief in keeping
their communication solutions simple, an attitude reflected in the web
The ’Expertise’ section of the site goes into more detail than many of
its competitors. It lists clients in various sectors and also provides
some case studies of work the agency has done.
The Biss Lancaster site is easily navigated and its simplicity and
text-light approach acts to its advantage. However, there is a
noticeable lack of any area dedicated to recruitment.