FOCUS: ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING; Clearing a path through the paper

AT THE KEY STROKE: The time is ripe for cutting a swathe through paperwork in favour of on-line news distribution UNTANGLING THE WEB: Companies offer web site audiences the option of accessing via CD-ROMs or the Internet INTERNAL COMMS: Electronic newsletters reach international offices simultaneously and are easily updated

AT THE KEY STROKE: The time is ripe for cutting a swathe through

paperwork in favour of on-line news distribution

UNTANGLING THE WEB: Companies offer web site audiences the option of

accessing via CD-ROMs or the Internet

INTERNAL COMMS: Electronic newsletters reach international offices

simultaneously and are easily updated



Both journalists and PR people are discovering that press packs in an

electronic format are more accessible and less disposable than

traditional paper-based counterparts.



Even though most publishing processes are carried out using computers,

the end product has traditionally been paper-based. But, as computer

power increases and new media appear, electronic publishing has become a

plausible alternative.



At first glance, the Internet seems the most compelling media, but it

can be complemented by the appropriate use of CD-ROM multimedia, and

even the humble floppy disk.



These new media have important implications for PR operators who think

they can carry on in the paper world in their accustomed manner.

Firstly, the basic information flow is changing direction.



‘There’s a shift towards pulling bits of information,’ says Greg

Levendusky, managing director of the Weber Group. ‘Traditionally

journalists would receive information from us, but the new generation of

journalists find things themselves on the web, and come to us if they

have any more questions.’



Levendusky complements this mode of working with journalists, with

careful attention to personal relationships with them. He believes in

‘narrowcasting’, or delivering custom-built stories to journalists.



‘The person-to-person relationship is always as good as the next piece

of information that you give them,’ he adds wryly.



One of the most important points that this highlights about electronic

publishing, is that it is not entirely up to the people in PR to choose

when they want to change their publishing format - just as important is

when their customers or their audience change preference.



‘In the hi-tech sector we’re expected to know how to produce CD-ROMs and

web-based marketing tools,’ says Andrew Smith, group account director at

A Plus. ‘It’s on everyone’s checklists when they choose their agency.’



‘The world and his dog is saying things like ‘we ought to be doing CD

ROM and web sites’, but persuading people to commit is more of an

exercise. When push comes to shove there’s often hesitation, because to

do it well takes a significant investment.’



A Plus should be well aware of this, since its first multimedia

publication has been its own glitzy brochure - The Guide to Getting

Noticed in Europe. Since the agency reckons three-quarters of its

prospective customers have access to multimedia PCs and it is a good

opportunity to impress. A Plus puts video clips on prospective

customers’ desktops which shows three of its staff explaining the A Plus

culture. The CD also contains reams of information about the Euro Plus

network, with smart traveller’s guides to major cities wherever there

are Euro Plus offices



But while it is easy to rave about the capabilities of technology, the

fact remains that paper is a cheap, easy and established method of

distribution. It gets on to journalists desks, you can control its

appearance and it is easy to scan or read.



Given paper’s advantages of economy, quality, and reliability, and the

fact that most readers prefer it, electronic alternatives may begin to

pall.



Yet clearly, they have their own important advantages. These include the

fact that journalists use computers, so electronic information can be

more convenient for them to use and easier to store; multimedia (and

Video News Releases) can make your information stand out; the web is

effective for reaching large, or ill-defined, audiences and e-mail

offers a personal high-priority communications route.



Examples of the directions in which electronic publishing is likely to

develop in the near future can be found in many sectors. Two have been

illustrated in the case studies - an electronic newsletter for employee

communications, and multimedia for the motor trade press.



A third area is providing electronic information for City analysts. For

example, Dewe Rogerson and Hoare Govett included spreadsheet files on a

floppy disk, in the flotation document for the mobile phone company

Orange.



That allowed analysts an opportunity to experiment with the figures

themselves, in a convenient and familiar format.



The mobile phone industry appears to be falling for the ‘me too’

syndrome. Once one company started using CD-ROM multimedia for

marketing, suddenly they all wanted a share of the scene. Philips, Nokia

and Ericsson have all produced electronic marketing literature for their

mobile phones, including high resolution pictures that editors can drop

straight into desktop publishing layouts.



‘Pictures will often get used just because they’re there on the CD-ROM,’

says Simon Rockman, editor of What Mobile and Cellphone. ‘Nokia’s is

best because it includes lifestyle shots.’



The most important factors in choosing either CD-ROM multimedia or

Internet media, is whether your target audience can, or wants, to use

it.



Levendusky, for instance, is fairly dismissive about CD-ROM. ‘It’s a

nice idea which we were interested in at one time, but the web is

sweeping that aside,’ he says.



‘Yes, the Internet is simpler,’ agrees Iain Cairns, production

controller at Harlyn Multimedia. ‘There are a lot of people out there on

the Internet, which makes distribution easy. However, multimedia offers

better potential results, as long as the people you’re trying to reach

have access to multimedia. The greatest penetration of multimedia PCs in

the last three years has been home computers.



‘We’re looking towards a point where women’s and mainstream consumer

magazines have CD-ROMs mounted on the cover, not just the techie ones,’

he adds.



One of Harlyn’s major clients is Wimpey, for whom it produces a paper-

based customer magazine. The company’s principal customers are young

people and first time buyers. Research shows that roughly a third of all

couples in this group own a multimedia PC, on which basis Wimpey is

considering producing a multimedia brochure.



Apart from the interactive benefits of multimedia, an important

advantage in using multimedia is as a unique selling point. ‘People are

unlikely to throw a CD-ROM straight into the bin,’ Cairns claims.



But while electronic publishing can be considered a viable alternative

to paper-based publishing, one of the major growth areas in Internet

publishing uses the Internet as complementary to paper publications.



Most newspapers or magazines in the western world have already got

either a web site or plans to produce one. Company publications are just

as able to make good use of the web.



For instance, since IBM designed a software product called MQ to get

owners of mainframe dinosaurs out of a scrape, it has produced a monthly

magazine to promote and explain its function to IT managers. It is

produced by Oast Communications, in four languages, and it has a

circulation of 50,000.



A web-based version with an identical content was created at the same

time, and this has produced 3,500 on-line subscription requests in six

months.



After the magazine pages are designed on DTP, the publisher saves them

as Portable Document Files (an Adobe software product) so that the

magazine can be reproduced electronically and distributed as part of a

product information CD-ROM about MQ.



‘Doing MQ on-line, the main thing I’ve noticed are that it’s a lot more

effort than I expected,’ says Andrew Rodaway, a partner at Oast.



‘You need to put time and money into promoting the site, and you need to

think carefully about how you request feedback and so on. But it can be

very successful if you get it right.’



IT product information is one of the most popular business uses of CD-

ROMs. ‘They are very, very common,’ commented one seasoned hack.



Indeed, as most IT firms have web sites as well, a cost-effective way of

having two for the price of one is to put your web site on a CD-ROM.



Digital has done this with products such as its Alpha Workstations,

which provides the advantage for many users in Europe that they can

avoid paying on-line charges to see the large Internet site.



While the Internet may be an easy means for companies to distribute

their information, in such sprawling sites it is not always so easy for

readers to find what they want. Visitors to a site may include

journalists, business partners, employees, analysts, the public, and

even customers.



‘It’s a key thing we need to look at,’ stresses Levendusky, ‘designing

web sites to appeal to diverse audiences.’



Just as the web seems set to become a more important means of informing

journalists, there is a growing need to cater separately for each

audience and to help them find the type information they seek.



In this, as in other media, the definition of content is clearly the

essential communications role that PR needs to address.



Electronic newsletters: Instant information



Winner of a new internal e-news publications category in this year’s

Communicators in Business awards, TOMNET News is a monthly internal

company newsletter for Total Oil Marine employees. Disappointingly,

however, there were only two entries.



The format of TOMNET News is simple, but boldly formatted text, with

short, often bullet-point, summaries of stories. ‘People like the sharp

style, direct approach,’ says editor Doug Alsop, who is a communications

officer in Total. ‘The results of a survey [on TOMNET News] showed that

people think it’s an effective method, very user friendly.’



The crucial point to understand about the readers is that they are

stationed in every far-flung part of the world, from platforms in the

North Sea to Asia, the Middle East and South America.



The electronic newsletter is distributed in moments using the company’s

computer network, and employees can retrieve it through bulletin boards.

The need for a coherent network is of course a major obstacle for

companies that don’t have one.



The electronic newsletter focuses on operational matters. This

complements more in-depth coverage in a glossy quarterly magazine,

TomTom, which is distributed to a wider readership.



The newsletter is written by Alsop in Aberdeen, edited in London by Dewe

Rogerson, and made up in Portsmouth by Integrated Media Systems (IMS).



Leon Rees, head of IMS, recalls an incident which demonstrated the value

of electronic publishing. He was in the middle of putting an issue to

bed on the morning of Total’s annual shareholder meeting when he heard

from Doug Alsop that Total’s chairman had left for Alcatel Alsthom and

had been replaced by another director.



‘If the newsletter had been on paper, we’d have been a month late with

the news,’ says Rees. ‘As it was it took half an hour to approve the

story, and by lunchtime it was on the platforms.’



Taking this a step further, Communications software specialists ION

International offers on-screen publishing with an interactive element.



‘E*News, with its on-screen polling function, is enabling companies to

enter a new era of internal communications in which employees and

management are able to have instant two-way dialogue on issues of the

day,’ says David Davis, chairman of ION International.



E*News enables corporate communicators to conduct internal audits,

readership surveys and market research and can operate across networks

from as small as 10 terminals and with no upper limit.



Daewoo: CD proves a hit with journalists



Daewoo has been a favourite subject for marketing case studies since its

highly successful launch on to the UK car market in 1994.



It has now followed up its innovative use of multimedia for marketing

and in the showroom, with a multi-media press pack.



‘We all know how much journalists receive through the post each

morning,’ says Alison Moran, Daewoo Cars press officer. ‘We also know

that most of it goes straight in the bin. But motoring journalists, for

example, need to refer back to information all the time, and this is a

compact, ready-filed information source for them. They can grab text,

pictures, view the details of our test-drive fleet, and print out a

test-drive booking form to fax to us.’



The disk also contains substantial background information about the huge

Korean textiles-to-spacecraft conglomerate, as well as video clips of

the two basic car models.



‘Journalists like it,’ says Moran. ‘It’s novel, we are definitely the

first motor manufacturer to do this. Everything is there at the touch of

a button, and it makes it more interesting to find out about something.



‘The crucial thing is that journalists can get access to the information

they need quickly and easily, and not have to wait for us,’ she adds.



The CD-ROM is sent to around 1,700 motoring journalists, freelancers and

even small weekly newspapers, and updated every six months. The

proportion of these that do not have access to a multimedia PC is

unknown. The CD-ROM is also used as an internal tool to brief directors

and managers on the business.



Multimedia is a growing feature of showrooms, including those of Rover

and Nissan dealers. Daewoo’s marketing approach is unusually reliant on

multimedia however, for a number of reasons.



The showrooms are built on a superstore concept. The showrooms are owned

by Daewoo, so there are a limited number. These are supplemented by

satellites and kiosks, roadshows and a web site, which all rely on

multimedia to create a virtual showroom, open 24 hours.



Daewoo also used electronic assistance rather than salespeople wherever

possible. This was part of a strategy to avoid giving people the feeling

of a hard sell. The touch-screen help points principally guide customers

through the car details, specifications, and so on.



In addition, an interactive questionnaire about the way people used

their car guides them to a particular model, which they can then

customise with accessories or different colours, and see the result on-

screen.



Multimedia packs: Finger on the web



An Internet devotee recently claimed ‘we don’t want boring ASCII text on

the web’.



But while classifying language as boring, he illustrated an important

point. The web was designed to deliver information, not a gallery of

sound and graphics.



Nonetheless, many see the web’s future as a multimedia entertainment

medium, held back only by the heavy penalty in on-line charges for modem

users.



You have a choice when publishing information electronically. If you

want to reach a large but ill-defined audience without taking on a major

distribution job, then the web may well be the answer. Not everyone is

on it, but a surprising number are. Most users want information,

attractively presented, but without extravagant designs and graphics. Of

course, you also have to let them know your web site exists, and attract

readers with some kind of promotion. Multimedia CD-ROMS, on the other

hand, you can put on people’s desks, even though they may not be able to

read them.A CD-ROM gives you the power to collect many hundreds of

megabytes of information on a disk that costs about a pound. That makes

it a reasonably cheap way, for instance, to distribute high resolution

pictures that a magazine can use without the trouble or cost of

scanning. A number of photo libraries are beginning to use CD-ROMs, and

there are readily available standards common to any type of computer

hardware or software.



The way a multi-media presentation is rolled together, means you can

only cater for one type of computer at a time. A presentation designed

for a PC won’t work on a Mac or a Unix machine or an IBM mini-computer.



One way around this is to design the presentation using web pages, and

put these on the CD, together with a browser. This approach has been

used, for example, by Digital in promoting its Alpha workstations.



Web pages can be viewed on most types of computers. Their multimedia

capability is more limited, but at least a CD-ROM caters for users who

don’t want to download a lot of graphics and animations, or who don’t

own a modem.



Another alternative, which can be delivered either on the web or CD, is

a document viewer such as Adobe’s Acrobat. This is not yet multi-media,

but it captures the graphical formatting of a design in a way that is

convenient for conventional DTP production, and which makes it available

to readers regardless of the type of computer they own.



The full range of electronic media is considerably broader than this.

The main technology choices form a substantial chunk of a recent

PIRA book Advertising in a Multimedia Age. (ISBN 185802 159 6). This

also devotes space to radio and television technologies not covered

here.



One of its most significant conclusions is that there is a transfer of

advertising spending to new media and television, and away from

conventional print media.



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