ANALYSIS: Weekly Web Watch - Time for the dot-com PR to earn their fees and provide a lifeboat

The job of the dot-com PR is getting ever tougher and so is that of PR professionals working for established companies' e-biz units. Not because those firms might be finding things a lot tougher financially, though many are. The problem for Web-oriented PR divisions is combatting the noise created by other firms which are hitting the ground in their scores.

The job of the dot-com PR is getting ever tougher and so is that of PR professionals working for established companies' e-biz units. Not because those firms might be finding things a lot tougher financially, though many are. The problem for Web-oriented PR divisions is combatting the noise created by other firms which are hitting the ground in their scores.

The job of the dot-com PR is getting ever tougher and so is that of PR professionals working for established companies' e-biz units. Not because those firms might be finding things a lot tougher financially, though many are. The problem for Web-oriented PR divisions is combatting the noise created by other firms which are hitting the ground in their scores.

Weren't things great a year ago? CNNfn and CNBC played out the dizzying triumphs of the 'new economy' everywhere from bars to hotel lobbies to hospital emergency rooms. The fortunes of Internet companies became the concern not just of investors and suppliers but also of mass TV audiences.

Analysts like Morgan Stanley's Mary Meeker and Merrill Lynch's Henry Blodget would, in the old days, never have been known outside the investment banking and stockbroker communities. And suddenly they were near celebrities, appearing on TV and quoted in every major newspaper.

There was even talk, for a time, of a Silicon Valley-based 'reality' TV program which would have been a kind of Survivor for bright-eyed young entrepreneurs. The idea was to have contestants seduce, impress and curry favor with a panel of venture capitalists. They would gradually get eliminated leaving just one to get the funding.

The financial fortunes of companies became a consumer relations PR issue, not just a question of investor relations. For anybody whose job it was to build buzz around a company, things had never been so good. All you had to do was mention the word Internet. And if your own company happened to raise dollars 20 million in second round funding, or if it happened to do well on flotation, you were almost guaranteed to get a few column inches, or 30 seconds of air time.

It was just too tempting not to use it. The white heat of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, and all those companies doubling or trebling their stock prices within 24 hours of flotation were just so great at driving stories for everyone. The problem with it, however, was that it tied so many companies' reputations, and what little brand recognition some had, to the fortunes of the new economy as a whole.

And as we all know, the new economy turned out to be a great 50 yard dash, but not such good value when it comes to the long term.

Everybody knows the Pets.com puppet is out of a job, along with all its co-workers. And TV-watching America is keeping an eye on who will be next.

It's entertaining, but also a bit like some exotic 'extreme' sport where commentators explain arcane rules that you're never quite sure they themselves understand, and it is never clear why one contestant gets to move to the next round and not another.

But you can be sure of one thing: the people who have heard of you will be wondering if you'll be the next to go down. The almost-celebrity analysts who in their over enthusiasm talked up the Internet economy, are now, in their over pessimism, talking it down. And every time one of them mentions this or that 'weakness' in Internet pet supplies retailing, or in online prescription replenishment, you know that the message is being relayed to your customers and all the journalists who write for your customers.

So now the media relations job has moved from riding the slipstream of the high performers to fighting the noise of the implosion and dodging the debris as fellow participants hit the ground. And if you can stop just one journalist from describing your company as 'struggling' then you've probably done a good day's work.



- Stovin Hayter is editor-in-chief of Revolution. He can be reached at stovin.hayter@revolutionmagazine.com.



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