COMMENT: Thought Leader - Agencies must embrace digitalcommunications to get to the future first

There was a common saying in Silicon Valley during the dot-com heyday: "If your market is going to zero, drive it there yourself as fast as you can. Despite the e-pocalypse, it may be one of the few relicts worth salvaging.

There was a common saying in Silicon Valley during the dot-com heyday: "If your market is going to zero, drive it there yourself as fast as you can. Despite the e-pocalypse, it may be one of the few relicts worth salvaging.

Having been both a senior agency manager and a client executive, I believe the greatest challenge confronting agencies today is that the conventional business model is starting to fray. In the hi-tech sector especially, many agencies addressed New Economy companies with shop-warn approaches, rather than reinventing their business models to match their clients' DNA.

Rather than shunning the digital world, I feel that to win the race to the future, all agencies will need to adopt a new "electronic dashboard" to manage both client relations and service delivery, and embrace new business models built around real-time digital communications that automatically certify ROI.

The Electronic Dashboard for PR agency management should include dynamic, branded e-mail and web messaging. There are 100 million enterprise messages sent every day, most on blank white space with black text. The burgeoning use of instant messaging services on top of e-mail complicates the problem by at least 50%. A solution - offered by companies such as nascent Silicon Valley-based Zinglet - is to allow users of all popular corporate e-mail and IM systems to emblazon tailored messages with corporate branding.

Some such systems also track and report user activity, thus providing an immediate ROI mechanism.

While point-to-point e-mail may be the killer application, it is not always the best tool for collaborating around creative materials among disparate account teams and client contacts. The ability to house documents and files of all formats into one branded e-mail application can eliminate waste, redundancy, and latency in agency operations, and ensure that account supervisor, team, and client are all working synchronously.

Corporate PR departments and agencies should look toward such solutions as MindArrow's Messenger suite, which would also allow them to accommodate video clips and transactions within e-mail. Again, unlike conventional means of PR communications, Messenger automatically tracks and reports 40 data points of interaction among recipients and pass-along audiences.

PR agencies also have every right to move higher up the value chain in terms of premium services, such as production and electronic delivery of video brand assets, and in so doing, penetrate the C-level executive suite so-often locked for PR pros. Traditional media service providers to the PR industry have offered such services, but even the big firms have rarely had interactive tools to take this kind of service to their clients - until now.

Just recently, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Real Communications all announced self-provisioning media network portals for publishing video brand assets to the internet. Most large corporations need the ability to publish their video-based messages to a user interface that harmonizes with their own corporate website (as with enterprise messaging, streamed video today is virgin branding territory), which is a distinction my own company's product, eTV, brings to the marketplace.

A good example is FTTV, produced for Louise Kehoe of The Financial Times of London, which can be viewed at http:// news.ft.com/news/tv. What's the payoff? ETV-like systems provide users with rich data - reported in dynamically-generated charts and pivot tables - about audience viewership and asset access.

Senior managers need some help too, as they are constantly producing Powerpoint presentations for client proposals and new business pitches, but as much as 50% of their time is often spent developing and prospecting new business. Another Valley start-up, Presenter (www. presenter.com), offers a solution that allows the user to upload a Powerpoint presentation that is viewable slide by slide, with or without audio, directly on a private branded website.

Where is the new business model in all this? Agencies will certainly realize incremental revenue from the time incurred to create and manage content for the electronic dashboard. Of even greater importance, they will have the opportunity to drive recurring revenue streams by remarketing higher margin, repeatable digital communications services, and be rewarded for bringing newfound creativity and progressive change to their client base.

Atchison Frazer is a PRWeek Top 50 Corporate Hi-Tech 2000 selection, co-founder of Black Ink Media (www.blackinkmedia.com), a former director of worldwide media relations at Hewlett-Packard, and internet strategist at Porter Novelli.

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