FOCUS: CYBERMARKETING - Why PR is the obvious on-line choice/The interactive nature of the Internet and the need to supply constantly updated information to sites, makes it the natural partner to the public relations industry, says Abel Hadden and Nancy R

Ever since the advent of the printing press, more people have had more access to more information. One medium has been piled on top of another, with radio added to print and television added to radio.

Ever since the advent of the printing press, more people have had

more access to more information. One medium has been piled on top of

another, with radio added to print and television added to radio.



The Internet, though, represents a shift. Radio added immediacy and

sound, while television added pictures and cable added niche interests

and greater diversity of choice. In each case there was a clear division

between the ’tellers’ and the ’told’.



With the Internet, that boundary has blurred considerably, with everyone

now able to assume either role. Thought-leaders (and the thoughtless)

have an equal voice, mimicking a return to the days of the soapbox in

the park where all citizens could express their views. The big

difference is that now there is the potential for a world-wide audience

for those views.



For public relations, the shift brings challenges and opportunities.



What happens to third party credibility? Do the tools and outlets of

classic PR disappear and become replaced with a different toolbox?



Here is our utterly biased opinion: if the Internet had not come along

on its own (with the help of government and academia), the PR industry

would have invented it.



Public relations is a discipline that specialises in communication; more

specifically it is the art of developing well-crafted messages,

packaging those messages and conveying that information to a variety of

audiences, including consumers, media and opinion leaders.



Never before in the history of communications has there been a vehicle

more well-suited to this process than the World Wide Web. The ability to

customise information for a wide range of niche audiences, the immediacy

and currency of the Net and, most importantly, the democracy of the

information on the Net (remember, now everyone can be a publisher as

well as a subscriber) demands that it be embraced by the public

relations industry as perhaps the most efficient tool we have ever had

to get the job done.



Frankly, public relations professionals should be better at

communication on the Internet than anyone else - after all, we are used

to communicating complex, layered messages to different audiences. This

is not a medium that lends itself to the quick fix, the 30-second spot,

the half-page ad - no matter how compelling that ad may be. This is a

medium that is fuelled by information and the public relations business

is, quite simply, the information business.



At the same time, the Internet has dramatically altered the playing

field in terms of how information is disseminated. Among the trends that

have emerged is an increasingly chaotic news and media environment. With

the proliferation of ’off-line’ media (24-hour broadcasting, more

magazines, more television channels), audiences are becoming more and

more segmented which is leading to the rise of media grazing. Consumers

seek specific pieces of information in the pastures of their own special

interests.



For PR the challenge is to identify the new influencers and the new ways

of reaching those influencers in a ’Net society’ as well as to integrate

ourselves more forcefully into the ongoing Internet dialogue. And, we

contend that people will eventually gravitate towards the organised

sites like Microsoft’s Slate e-zine, Hot Wired and others.



That is where the influencers, and the ongoing Internet dialogue, will

manifest themselves and that is where we need to be on behalf of

clients.



Another emerging trend is the impact of the Internet on ’traditional’

media. With customers now able to gather exactly the information they

want when they want it, there are certainly potential problems for

general interest magazines and newspapers, since each consumer can now

be his or her own editor and choose only the pieces of information that

are of particular relevance. But remember that, historically, new media

does not replace old, it simply adds another layer. So we believe that

these traditional information sources will remain but that people will

draw on the information in different ways. For public relations

practitioners, the challenge is to create information that is highly

desirable or to integrate our information with other desirable

content.



The PR business will similarly need to address the ’unreachable’

consumer.



If the consumer is able to structure his media diet, how does public

relations ’force feed’ the information to a public that does not care

enough to seek out the information, or who does not know enough to

actively search for something that might be of interest?



Our challenge is to create opportunities and environments that stimulate

interest, enthusiasm and relevance, propelling a consumer to seek out

more information either on or off the Net. Just as we learned in recent

years, companies and their products need to be where their consumers

are, rather than expecting the consumer to come to them.



Where does all of this leave the role of public relations? Clearly, the

way we do our business is changing but we believe that the role of PR is

becoming more rather than less important. Just as we changed the way we

did business when television came along, the Internet offers PR another

realm - a more exciting realm, potentially - to interact with and to

convince consumers. The hunger for information on the Internet and for

rich content and dialogue makes it the ideal medium for public

relations, with our role expanding from that of ’intermediary messenger’

(with the message ultimately filtered and delivered by the media) to the

primary messenger.



The first role is to become the content creators for our clients.

Developing marketing-driven Web sites for clients is the logical next

step in the communications continuum. In the 1980s, the solution to a

client marketing challenge might have been the production and

distribution of a value-added consumer brochure, one that not only

showcased the product in a positive light but provided a wealth of

related tips and techniques that a consumer would need and want.



We can take that solution to the next level on the Internet by creating

brand-specific Web sites that engage the consumer and offer the

opportunity to interact with the brand, while obtaining value-added

information.



There is a saying that is especially relevant here: ’Tell me and I’ll

forget. Show me and I may not remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.’

That, in essence, is the beauty of the Internet: like no medium that has

come before it, the Internet has the ablility to truly involve the user

and to help the user reach new heights of understanding that simply is

not possible with a brochure or a television advertisement.



Smart marketers recognise this fact and know that the World Wide Web is

the ultimate platform for engaging consumers and involving them directly

with a brand or a product or a corporate service. Because it facilitates

two-way dialogue and one-to-one communication between a consumer and a

corporation, the Internet can truly be relationship marketing and brand

image building at its best.



The second role that PR practitioners should be carving out for

themselves is simply to do public relations and promotion for client Web

sites that already exist. A favourite saying in the Internet industry

is: ’If we build it, will they come?’ meaning, does creating a

compelling Web site ensure that consumers will visit it? And the answer

is a resounding no.



A Web site cannot succeed without an ongoing aggressive marketing and

promotion campaign behind it and PR is the discipline that is ideally

suited to do just that.



After all, it is also easy to find a product in the supermarket but

would you leave it the the consumer to seek out a product on their own,

or would you market and promote that product aggressively through every

medium at your disposal so that the consumers are compelled to seek out

your product at retail? Web sites are no different and should be

marketed in much the same fashion.



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