WEEKLY WEB WATCH: Do you really have the skills to prosper from dot-com mania?

Most CEOs or senior managers in PR agencies are probably too caught up in the day-to-day pressures of running their businesses to spend too much time worrying about the ’dot-com’ future or what it might mean for the PR industry. After all, what is there to worry about? Business is good. Many column inches have lately focused on the ’gazillions’ being made by advertising agencies as Internet companies run straight from Wall Street to Madison Avenue.

Most CEOs or senior managers in PR agencies are probably too caught up in the day-to-day pressures of running their businesses to spend too much time worrying about the ’dot-com’ future or what it might mean for the PR industry. After all, what is there to worry about? Business is good. Many column inches have lately focused on the ’gazillions’ being made by advertising agencies as Internet companies run straight from Wall Street to Madison Avenue.

Most CEOs or senior managers in PR agencies are probably too caught

up in the day-to-day pressures of running their businesses to spend too

much time worrying about the ’dot-com’ future or what it might mean for

the PR industry. After all, what is there to worry about? Business is

good. Many column inches have lately focused on the ’gazillions’ being

made by advertising agencies as Internet companies run straight from

Wall Street to Madison Avenue.



But Santa has also delivered for PR firms, big time. If they’re in any

way active in the hi-tech, e-commerce or Internet space, then they don’t

have to look for new business. It comes to them. There are more new

clients, more company and product launches and more investor roadshows -

all with bigger, venture-capital-funded budgets - than most people who

run PR firms thought they’d ever see.



One of the most frequent complaints about PR from clients and potential

clients is that agencies often don’t respond to account reviews or

invitations to pitch.



That is not what most people would regard as the picture of an industry

with long-term problems. But being the contrary sort of person that I

am, I would like to argue otherwise. The boom is distracting attention

from the longer-term challenge. The faster you run to keep up with all

the new business coming your way, the less time you have left to devote

to positioning yourself for the time when clients’ requirements move

beyond the relatively simple ones of ’launch company, impress investors,

launch product, get talked about.’



Internet start-ups face some big challenges. One is finding enough

people of caliber as their businesses grow faster than the supply of

smart youngsters entering the labor market. Another is the age-old one

of standing out from the crowd. It’s your clients’ biggest problem and,

ultimately, it is your biggest problem.



Yet another online toy store. Yet another ’name your price’

look-alike.



Yet another ’definitive gateway to all your shopping needs on the Web.’

What’s actually different about them? Why should anybody devote time or

space to your client’s snowboarding site and not the other two that also

launched this week? It used to be enough just to be a dot-com to get

press.



Now it’s a bit like saying, ’Look at me, I have a store on Main Street!’

PR advocates, PRWeek included, like to draw attention to the correlation

between companies’ stock prices or the strength of their brands, and how

much they spend on PR. The implication is always that you are better off

spending your money on PR than on above-the-line advertising. But such

distinctions, if they were ever valid, are becoming less sustainable in

the Internet era.



Take a look at the Miller Lite Beer Pager (www.millerlite.com), a

downloadable application that lets you send out party invitations and

track the responses.



It sounds silly, but that’s the whole point. It’s perfect for anyone in

the party mood, and for a brand that is about having a good time. At one

level, it’s just a piece of software. But that’s like calling an ad

’just a piece of writing.’ The Miller party organizer could have been

the work of a PR firm, an ad agency, a sales promotion specialist or a

direct marketer.



Ask yourself, honestly, whether your firm has the skills and technical

nous to come up with something like that.



Increasingly, being noticed online, and keeping people coming back, is

more about the delivery of an experience than the ’traditional’ PR

skills of influencing the right people. Those are still needed, of

course. But anyone who makes those their main selling point risks being

relegated to a subsidiary role. And what are PR firms doing to put in

place the skills that will enable them to hold their own?



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