Connie Connors - President and CEO, Connors Communications
Barbara Dreyer - COO and co-founder, Ntercept Communications
David Hafner - Senior manager of corporate communications, Etranslate
Adam Leyland - Editor-in-chief, PRWeek
Michael Lissauer - VP of marketing, Business Wire
Robin Londner - New York reporter, PRWeek
Don Middleberg - CEO, Middleberg Euro RSCG
Andrew Peloso - CEO and co-founder, Onclave John Pearce CEO, Media Map
Mike Spataro - EVP, Weber Shandwick Interactive
Mike Smith - Independent PR consultant
David Wickenden - Senior VP and senior partner, Global Practice group
head, FH Interactive, Fleishman-Hillard
Adam Leyland: I think we all agree that technology can have a part to
play in improving PR, but the question is where, how, when, to what
extent, and how much? Let's start by identifying some specific
David Wickenden: One area that holds a lot of promise is professional
service automation. That would improve billing and create internal
tracking systems and so on.
Andrew Peloso: We've also got to plug the information gap. I read the
other day that it costs dollars 6,000 to get an account executive up to
In an industry with high turnover, a structured way to capture and help
employers "store" and "retrieve" the expertise of their employees will
cut that cost and have an obvious effect on profit and quality.
Don Middleberg: The use of Web sites, particularly in a crisis, is
exceedingly important. The press kit is regarded as a desk-cluttering
encumbrance by journalists. But now journalists are actively seeking out
the press sites.
Jack Bergen: And the Web also means that we can talk directly to the
David Wickenden: Another area that can have a significant impact on how
we go about our business is through enterprise project collaboration
software programs and extranets to enable disparate offices and clients
to work together in collaborative ways.
Mike Spataro: At Weber-Shandwick, we are breaking down technology into
bit size chunks. Technology to some people in our industry would be
having a laptop computer and remote access so they can communicate when
they are not in their offices. We've got to spoon-feed it to our network
and our clients in bits that make sense.
Connie Connors: I think the education process is a big challenge,
We're a long way off from these great enterprises, collaborative things,
when we're still begging our clients to get their Web sites together and
they're worrying about printing a brochure.
Adam Leyland: Are you saying that they want you to produce their
Connie Connors: I'm saying the Web is underutilized by most of our
They'll still think about all these other marketing tools when they're
getting a million people a day to their Web site and there's no front
porch where they're offering the right messages - a metaphorical mint
julep - and enticing customers to buy their services and goods.
Don Middleberg: It's not underutilized from the journalist's standpoint,
however. It's funny. When it started seven years ago, people wondered if
journalists would ever become wired, and now they're using the Internet
more than the telephone. Our ability to find a medium in which they want
to communicate is enhancing our position as practitioners.
John Pearce: You can already see that in the way stories are pitched and
the way journalists collect information. The spamming of press releases
is increasingly unpopular with the media. By contrast, in less than a
year, our SourceNet has gotten 25,000 PR users. Things like Source-Net,
ProfNet and Expert Source are the eBay of public relations. It's linking
the buyer and seller of information directly. A matchmaking process.
Michael Lissauer: Not to create a fight here, but I think many people in
PR are behind the times. With new technology you can imbed a press
release with audio, video, flash and logos. We put out something like
1,500 press releases in a day and only 5% even have a photo.
Don Middleberg: Our survey of journalists shows that among the largest
300 newspapers in the country, 80% of all photo editors want pictures
delivered digitally. So it behooves us to create Web sites for our
clients or to tell our clients that Web sites where photos are available
in digital format can be downloaded more easily.
Michael Lissauer: I think PR people are very comfortable with so-called
traditional journalism. But there's a new audience out there of dot-com
newsrooms. There's 6,000 of these sites out there, like CNBC.com, that
are dying for content and they're 24-7.
Adam Leyland: They are dying, period.
Michael Lissauer: Okay, so there's 5,800 sites, but the point is they're
begging for better content, and PR isn't giving them what they want.
Connie Connors: You're changing the whole skill set of the profession,
which is why it's a long way off. Your average person can't put together
a multimedia presentation.
John Pearce: PR people do not like discipline, form, structure. It's an
education issue that the universities are trying to explore as to how
much technology even a liberal arts major should take in college because
they're not coming into the business world well prepared to embrace all
this technology. So it really starts long before they get to a job.
David Wickenden: This touches on a really critical point. Historically,
PR people have viewed the IT function as a separate, distinctive thing
rather than a strategic function. PR people have to stop thinking about
it as being technology and start thinking about it as being simply
another tool kit. That's a big jump for a lot of people.
Connie Connors: Twenty-five percent of our IT department is billable
now. We've fully integrated them into the account team.
Don Middleberg: I think you've just got to look at who's running the
agencies today. With few exceptions, the large agencies have pretty much
abdicated this area. It really does have to start from the top, and if
they don't get it, if they're not committed to it, it will be very hard
The other point to make is that - as our study of journalists shows -
journalists are not empowered either. I believe we should push the
envelope a little, but it may be a little too soon for us to make
elaborate press releases.
Barbara Dreyer: I think there are real blurred lines out there between
the public relations firm, the Web design firm and the advertising
agency. Some firms are trying to do it all, others are trying to take a
particular niche, but how can you be in PR and not be involved in the
Web? And yet as soon as you're in the Web, you're really stepping on
somebody else's toes.
Adam Leyland: I think PR has missed a major opportunity with the
Internet because of the obsession with the Web as an e-commerce
mechanism, rather than as a communications tool.
David Hafner: I agree. A lot of PR firms say they're experts on the Web,
and yet when you look at their sites, they're poorly designed, with
little or no information. As a client I would have to ask myself, "Do I
want them working on my Web site?"
John Pearce: But the design and navigation of Web sites is poor even at
large corporations. Even at Cisco's site, you had to dig five layers
down to get to details of their recent carnage. This is Cisco. And as
David said, the politics can get in the way. There can be as much as a
three-month delay because you have to go to IT to get the site updated.
One of the challenges for technology companies is to provide fast,
approachable Web site modification tools that are easy to use. But
that's useless until the content owner and the content designer are on
the same page.
Mike Smith: It is possible, as a PR person, to create enclaves within a
Web site where material can be developed without going through the IT
department. The last thing the Web/ IT guy wants is a press release.
They want to put up cool animation, graphics, some flash. They don't
want my stuff.
Mike Spataro: PR wasn't involved in the first and second generation of
corporate Web sites that were being built. But companies now want the
input of PR people to improve the site, particularly from a journalistic
standpoint, but also from an overall content standpoint.
Connie Connors: The frustration, on the interactive side, is in being
able to charge appropriately under a PR umbrella. I'm probably not the
only one who thought about creating an Acme brand and spinning out my
interactive group so I could charge more money. There's real value
John Pearce: But if you look at the firms who have done that, they've
crashed and burned. It's a moot point. We should ask everyone in the PR
industry: are you a technology company, or a content company, or a
professional services company?
David Wickenden: The distinction is irrelevant. If we think about the
Web as being not just about Web sites, but about communication with
targeted audiences across the Internet and leading audiences to content,
then we have to think about the application of technologies as a
fundamental, core way we have to learn to communicate. So, Web design,
application development, all those things are going to become core and
central to the way we think strategically about communicating.
John Pearce: But who's going to build the fundamental technologies?
Adam Leyland: If you're a Web content provider, you need to set up
what's essentially an in-house publishing operation. Of course, you'll
need technology, same as publishers need Quark and Photoshop. But the
development of the actual software, and even the templates, can be
outsourced. The idea that account executives should be dabbling in HTML
is ludicrous. They just need to know how to plunk their press releases
and pictures onto some prearranged template.
Jack Bergen: The problem here is that when you're running a business and
your source of revenue is the time of your people, you're inclined to
have people do things that are not core. The real problem we've got goes
back to the fundamental way we bill.
John Pearce: As long as there is an hours-oriented billing system
instead of a technology-oriented billing system, there will be a charge
for technology without benefit.
Mike Spataro: Let's be clear here. Our clients aren't calling and
clamoring for technology. They want a return on investment and better
Connie Connors: Clients want measurement, but they don't want to pay for
Barbara Dreyer: It's a Catch-22. You've got to wait until a client wants
it in order to justify the extra cost. What you really need is someone
to embrace it yourself and then sell it to a client.
David Wickenden: Exactly. In order for us to get at that higher level
where we should be, that consultancy level, we need certain tools to
eliminate the lower functions. The industry must incorporate that as
added value, not as an extra.
Barbara Dreyer: I've been on the client side for years, and I've
consumed a lot of PR, and let me tell you that agencies do a terrible
job at justifying themselves. They promise the earth. Then they say, "By
the way, we like to do this on a retainer basis because it's going to be
much more cost-effective for you." And when you ask how they are going
to measure themselves, they tell you not to worry about that. So, the
bills come and you don't know what the hell it's for. They might give
you a clipping book if you're lucky, but other than that, there's no
measurement criteria, and there's no indication of how many hours
someone worked on what. If you try and drill into it, the agency will
say, "Well, we don't do business that way.
That's why we're on a retainer, so we don't have to worry about that
Adam Leyland: Isn't this a problem simple billing software can
Barbara Dreyer: It's also a cultural thing. If my attorney comes, I see
every single thing - the faxes, the phone bills, every little bit of
detail. I think the client community needs to be more aggressive in
asking for accountability. When software first came out for the legal
firms, the ones who had it marketed it against the ones who didn't. It
became an actual value added, so that they could go in and say, "Look,
we're going to show you what we're doing for you." It doesn't mean we
can't work on some kind of retainer basis, but we're going to show you
what's happening as opposed to you getting this big blob. So I think
it's a case where competition would be the best way to get this adopted.
If you see your competitor doing it, you're going to have to do it
Don Middleberg: Do you know one of the biggest profit centers of the
average law firm? The mail room. They use tons of paper. They charge you
every time they put together a fax, every time they do a Xerox copy. You
get billed for that and they mark it up to God Almighty. When it comes
to PR firms, I don't think you could get away with that today. Our
billing has certainly changed dramatically. I don't know if we're
typical or atypical, but we almost have two lines of billing. One line
is for public relations services for the month. The second is for
out-of-pocket expenses. But the out-of-pocket expenses are minimal,
maybe three lines and a few hundred dollars. We insist that vendors like
the newswires bill our clients directly.
We don't mark up any out-of-pocket expenses so we don't want the
Adam Leyland: There's one final challenge that we haven't talked about,
and that's how the PR industry should go about finding the solutions
that will enhance the future for PR practitioners.
Don Middleberg: I hate to say this, Adam, but the place to start, I'd
say, is by looking at PRWeek. This is one case where good, old-fashioned
print advertising really works. And you should have a columnist like
Walter Mossberg to review technology every week.
Adam Leyland: But part of the challenge is that it's a real
investigative exercise just to find out what tools are available. I'm
passionate about this subject, but I come across solutions and suppliers
almost by chance.
I don't think enough suppliers even know about the PR industry. I'd love
to have a column every week, but we don't have enough content, the kit,
the software, to review.
Mike Spataro: We look outside the industry for technology. That is my
job. Most technology solutions are designed and pitched to the
advertising and marketing community. PR isn't big enough to appear on
the radar screen. I can't tell you how many vendors are developing great
products and not thinking about our industry, and when we point it out,
they go back to their offices and completely rewrite their business
plans. I even had one client with an e-conferencing solution, and I told
him he should be marketing this to the PR industry. His response: "I
never thought of that. And now that you mention it, we're always having
to go to meetings with our PR people, and our own product could