Online Publishing: Spot the difference

As publishers realise the potential of online media, Joe Lepper discovers how they differ from their printed counterparts and how PROs are waking up to the opportunities of targeting the new media sites.

The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday were just the latest established print media to launch online versions back in May. Although launched relatively late in the day, compared to long-running rivals such as www.timesonline.co.uk and Associated Newspapers's version of the Evening Standard, www.thisislondon.co.uk, this should not suggest these latest titles have come kicking and screaming to the market.

They, and dozens of other publications, have developed sites not just because readers now demand the added value of breaking news and additional features, but because they are a potential goldmine.

According to latest figures from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, online advertising spend for the first half of this year was up a staggering 76 per cent on the same period last year. It is clear that with such a solid financial incentive for publishers to continue developing sites and improving content and features, PROs would be well advised to ensure they are properly targeting this growing sector.

Online targeting

But do they need the same type of ideas that their hard-copy counterparts look for? Associated's online division Associated New Media executive editor, and editor of thisislondon. co.uk, Nigel Vincent says that while some PROs are extremely effective at understanding the specific needs of online journalism, others lag behind.

'A good example of being well targeted was when we were contacted by the Electoral Commission during the London election campaign,' he explains. 'It wanted to do something with thisislondon's online polls so we came up with a survey that was both interesting for us editorially and they got a press release out of it. But PROs need to fully understand what we're about - breaking news, fun things and sport.'

There are a number of key publications, such as Guardian Unlimited, FT.com and Times Online that are frequently mentioned by PROs as vital online media to target. According to the latest figures from online research firm Hitwise, September audience figures show Guardian Unlimited has the largest market share out of all the online versions of established print titles, with 7.22 per cent, followed by The Sun (www.thesun.co.uk) on 4.35 per cent, The Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk) with 4.26 per cent, Times Online with 4.21 per cent and FT.com with 3.19 per cent.

Yet it is not solely the market share figures that are of interest. Hitwise reports that while FT.com may not be gaining as large a market share as its rivals, it is being used for longer - September's figures show the average session time for FT.com was eight minutes five seconds. This compares to just five minutes 27 seconds for Guardian Unlimited and four minutes 24 seconds for www.thesun.co.uk, indicating that perhaps breaking news, rather than lengthy features, is a key reason for using these sites.

FT.com commercial director Nigel Pocklington suggests one reason why users spend more time on the website is the variety of services on offer, including breaking news and comment on the day of announcements, archive access and personalised bulletins.

Website content

Understanding website content is crucial. Don't just assume what might be of interest to print publications would necessarily interest their online counterparts. FHM.com, for example, which operates its own team, doesn't use the same copy as the magazine, says editor Chris Mooney, instead focusing on features with interactivity such as '100 Greatest Games', which attracts one million users a month.

Furthermore, the rolling news service that many online publications provide can be of great benefit to a variety of sectors, most notably entertainment.

'With TV and music you can get a hot story and can't wait for the following day's papers so that's when you get onto the online media,' says Henry's House MD Julian Henry.

In the travel sector, Brighter PR MD Steve Dunne remembers that four years ago online coverage was not a priority. Now, with launches of standalone rolling news websites such as www.travelmole. com and newspapers, such as Guardian Unlimited, recruiting their own online travel editors, work has transformed.

'Previously, if you said to a client you had got coverage on one of the online sites they would treat it as if you had just got something in a parish newsletter, now it's totally different,' he says.

As well as understanding content, the type of service online journalists require differs. Ensure breaking-news press releases are far shorter and easier to get out quickly. Furthermore, don't send huge, high-resolution pictures. Online publications want something smaller, mostly thumbnail size.

Guardian Unlimited news and politics editor Tom Happold says due to the nature of the medium, stories about the internet and websites are more likely to get coverage on the site than in the newspaper. 'Web news is always good for us but this is also because we have a younger readership (than the print version) and they are interested in technology,' he says.

This is certainly something that agency Borkowski PR uses to its advantage.

Director Dee McCourt says that for client JCB, online publications are being specifically targeted as they are trying to increase sales on www.jcbshop.com.

'Online publications are likely to include a link to the store in their copy - which will obviously lead people to the site and hopefully increase sales,' she says.

On and offline content

But while it is important to take into account online versions' different needs and agenda, McCourt warns that, in some cases, the online publications may still take the lead from their offline counterpart. She says: 'Sites such as Femail follow the Daily Mail - so if the Daily Mail has said no to something, Femail won't feature it either.' This also applies to publications such as FT.com, where reporting is integrated.

Whether seeking publicity for a website, an outlet for breaking news or a long-running campaign involving surveys, it's clear the PR industry can no longer afford to view online versions of established titles as an afterthought.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE WITH ONLINE?

TRACY CORRIGAN, EDITOR, FT.COM

'Our reporting effort is highly integrated, so contacts among FT journalists are just as valuable for FT.com as for the newspaper.

'Although our web coverage is more timely, and we cover some stories the paper doesn't, our core subject matter is the same. Some stories develop rapidly during the day and we will make a particular effort to project them strongly on the website.

'Sources who are able to comment on big, running stories are always welcome.

The best contact points are the FT.com newsdesk and the FT.com companies newsdesk, and the best method of communication is email.'

DUNCAN SWAIN, EDITOR, RADIOTIMES.COM AND BBC MAGAZINES NEW MEDIA EDITOR

'We don't have the same limits on space and it's listings where we use that the most, with 350 national channels and 14-day listings.

'What we have editorially at Radiotimes.com is a weekly entertainment bulletin. This has a news bulletin and sales promotions and currently goes out to around 15,000 people.

'We don't get many PROs targeting us specifically for the website, but I would certainly welcome it. Email is a good way to contact either myself or the assistant editor Robin Byles.'

TOM HAPPOLD, NEWS AND POLITICS EDITOR, GUARDIAN UNLIMITED

'It's not a case of offering something different to the newspaper version, its about offering something more.

'We have breaking stories and a range of interactive elements. We also have an enormous amount of readers worldwide and I think it's this global audience that the PR industry has failed to use. We still only really get contacted about UK matters.

'In terms of investment in what we offer online and the ability to get a strong English voice on international matters, BBC Online is really our only rival. When it comes to contacting us it's best to contact the editors of the specialist sites, such as Money or Travel.'

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