Don’t panic! This beginners’ guide to the on-line galaxy makes hooking
up to the Worldwide Web as easy as giving up beefburgers
Lost in cyberspace - every Web user knows the phenomenon. There is
simply so much disordered information in there, that often you can’t see
the wood for the trees. It can be hard enough finding yourway around a
private network like Compuserve, never mind the big, bad Internet. The
metaphor applies equally to the technology choices you have to make when
considering an investment.
The essential tools for navigating the Internet are search engines and
indexes. If you haven’t discovered the best ones yet, we suggest that
you try those we recommend below. Sites often also have ‘hotlists’,
which can be very useful. Also, buy a few of those awfully trendy
After that, you’re on your own - but try to get in on the chat groups
where journalists and PRs talk together. There are at least two such on
the private networks owned by CIX and Compuserve.
It is vital to remember that information on the Internet can be very
selective, dominated by a something-for-nothing culture among its users.
Even if you found everything on a subject on the Internet, you might
miss the vital facts.
If you want all the information at your fingertips, and have it dished
out to you on a plate, you would be best advised to pay for it, and to
use additional sources of information.
Most PR staff are already acquainted with cuttings services and the
dial-up subscription databases. What is happening in these areas is the
introduction of services delivered via the Internet.
Many cuttings agencies are starting to deliver their services via the
Internet. For example, David Fuller, director of the Red Consultancy, is
expecting to get daily cuttings more cheaply, more quickly, and more
conveniently via the Internet in the near future.
The newest offering in the database area is a new-style service called
the Profound database, from MAID. It is strongly recommended by Argyll’s
Sally Costerton ‘for those PRs who are already well up the chain in
terms of using this sort of information’. And, before you say it, no,
Argyll is not their PR agency, Michael Joyce Consultants is.
The up-front subscription is...gulp...pounds 6,000, but then you have
access to many of the world’s top reports and news services such as
Reuters, through a single indexing system, delivered via the Internet.
The price is on a par with Reed-Elsevier’s Lexis/Nexis and other
database services, but the competitive edge is the indexing, consistent
interface, and Internet delivery. You can read the indexes to pages of
reports, and just pay for the bits you want.
So if you only want one table out of a pounds 2,000 Frost and Sullivan
report, you only pay a couple of quid for it. There is also an
‘alert’service where you can choose key companies to watch out for, and
the system notifies you by e-mail whenever some new material becomes
Okay, so you can’t afford it. Further down the feeding chain is the
Target service, which delivers the Financial Times group’s AFX-Extel
news service by e-mail, four times a day. You can choose up to three out
of 30 categories for a pounds 15 per month subscription fee.
And why not try Dow Jones’ money and investing update? There’s stacks of
information, and pointers to more details. The service has 290,000
registered users and is still rising. All they want in return is some
personal details, and to show you a few advertisments (see the web
address in the panel).
Let’s also stand back a little. Drilling down into the detail of the
Internet is one thing, but as we know, the Internet is only one channel,
and not everyone has the same ideas about where it is going.
Sooner or later, we are all faced with decisions about investing in new
technology, in terms of buying hardware or software, or devoting
resources to publishing information in one form or another. So where
will you find the independent advice on that?
Two sources of information may prove helpful. First, the PRCA is working
with Countrywide Communications and The Association of British Editors
on a project called PROBE. This is simply a forum for the parties to
talk about what their short and medium term plans are for investing in
electronic media, of which the Internet is just one facet. For example,
digital storage and transmission of pictures require a big investment in
hardware and training - but when do you take the plunge, and which
technologies are the press converging on?
Second source of information is Mediabase. This blueprint for electronic
publishing is a research project run by Leatherhead-based PIRA
International, in conjunction with the Newspaper Society, and the
Periodical Publishers Association. The project is focusing on case
studies, budgeting and calculating costs, business models for
advertising, design issues, useage patterns and demographics and
There are also PR and marketing-related discussion groups, which are
accessible to anyone who has e-mail. Expect to find an American bias.
For example, you can join the PRFORUM group (and get information about
how to resign) by e-mailing: list email@example.com containing the
message subscribe prforum yourfirstname yourlastname and leave the
subject line blank. Then you will start to receive copies of the e-mail
other people have sent to the group and can start to add your own input.
You can also find out about similar groups by looking up the Impulse
Research Corporation website mentioned in the panel.
Beginners’ guide: Sites to see
This selection is only a sample, not a comprehensive listing of PR
relevant sites. If you don’t find what you’re looking for in this list,
then the search engines and indexes at the top are the best places to
help you find what you do want.
If you can’t stand all that typing, then visit this temporary PR Week
web page: http://www.zynet.co.uk/theready/PRWeek.htm
...and all the URLs below will be sitting there for you simply to click
Indexes and search engines
Yahoo’s business index to PR pages is an important jumping-off point. It
is the biggest index on the web, and it comes complete with its own
search engine as well.
Digital’s site includes probably the best search engine on the web, a
big database with a very fast response. Apart from company information,
this site includes useful statistics on the Internet at large.
A search engine called Global On-line Directory with a European bias,
worth trying as a complement to Alta Vista
If you don’t have a web browser, you can still track all the Internet
newsgroups for key words (and retrieve the messages on request) by using
the Stanford NetNews Filtering service. Send the message help netnews
to: firstname.lastname@example.org and leave the subject lineblank. You will
receive instructions on how the service works.
Links to the world’s media. Very comprehensive listing of newspapers and
broadcasters with web pages, from Aftonbladet to Die Welt.
Best PR interest sites
US-based service, part of Impluse Research Corporation, listing 220 PR
Agencies and 100 additional resource links, including listserver
discussion groups (based on e-mail, and including advertising, marketing
and PR groups). UK is in the ‘Yoorp’ section.
NEWSdesk is a focus point for European IT PR, working towards a multi-
lingual service. Some parts are closed unless you register. But if you
do happen to have an alter ego chairman Graeme Radcliffe built the
service from his International Press Marketing Group database of
European IT journalists, and won the DTI Innovation Award for it in
1994. You can also see (or will soon) picture and video libraries.
Edelman’s website which dates back to January 1995 (early days for the
Internet) includes company and client information as well as a global
directory of Edelman agencies and summary of today’s headlines.
Firefly Communications got off to a good start with these client
information web pages. With several pages for each of 33 clients, and
links to client’s own web pages, this is a sprawling site which will
become much more useful soon, with the addition of a search tool to help
navigate the fast-growing offering. Firefly also put Compaq and Apple
on to the Newsdesk service mentioned above. And four out of the
company’s 37 staff are now devoted to electronic media.
Set up for Friends of the Earth running the Newbury bypass campaign. How
else would you get mail to people living in trees? Also, find out who
is your nearest local group organiser by entering your full postcode (is
that an unspoken invitation to receive direct mail?) or sign up
immediately with online credit card subscription.
Shell UK Exploration and Production’s bid to encourage informed debate
by launching the Brent Spar into cyberspace. ‘The events of last year
taught us a great deal, particularly about how we communicate and listen
to concerns,’ says decommissioning manager Eric Faulds.
Comprehensive company information, and clever graphics that change every
time you look designed by Spiderworx. The Shandwick Sourcefinder is a
special resource for journalists, directing them to spokespersons on
various topics. Unfortunately the password protection system continues
to defeat this bona fide journalist.
The technology PR agency’s survey of web users and debate on use of the
Internet is interesting. Also look out for Thunderhouse page which
launches this week with advice on use of new media.
The site is still under construction and many of its facilities such as
discussion groups, will be reserved for medical journalists or health
service executives. There are, however, the obligatory company
backgrounders, job adverts and links to other sites.
America’s biggest wire service, run by Associated Press, was being given
a facelift when we visited it - maybe something shiny and new to see by
the time you read this.
Two-Ten Communications updates a copy of its newswire on the Internet
site every two minutes, and gets 30, 40 or sometimes up to 65 ‘hits’ a
day from journalists searching for information. Useful for when they are
working at home, away from the newswire screen. Currently developing a
topic and company search engine, plus hotlinking to other agency and PR
PiMS - an intriguing rumour says that PiMS is about to sign a technology
deal to make its Internet service ‘push, not pull’. Suspicion is that
this will mean using e-mail to send out material, but also making sure
that the receiver can read whatever they’re sent.
The PA News Centre is open to everyone, and you can send challenges to
other archivists like: who was the first Essex man?.
PR Society of America’s large and comprehensive web site. The UK’s IPR,
whose Two-Ten Communications sponsored-site will be on the Internet
soon, assures us that theirs will be ‘less boring’.
Medialink’s VNR classroom includes downloadable video, cardinal rules of
video production, tips for television station relations, guidelines on
VNR production as well as a guide to related Internet sites.
The PRCA’s site launched in mid-March contains a list of members and
contact details, info on PRCA services and referral systems.
Essential on-line reading
Editor & Publisher has adopted an interesting approach to page design
which you will either love or hate. Editorial content is right on the
Dow Jones business news publication has a team of 30 journalists
dedicated to maintaining this ‘money and investing update’.
FutureNet, producer of European Internet and computer magazines such
as.net, claims to be one of the most visited sites in Europe, and is
raking in the advertising revenue from it.
Interactivity, key to successful web sites
FedEx site adds value to service by allowing you to track the progress
of your parcel either on-line,or at one remove by e-mail. It will also
put you in touch with some free software related to shipping parcels.
Get an on-line mortgage quote from Cheltenham and Gloucester based on
your income and regular outgoings. This site also supplies you with
guides to different types of mortgages, literature about moving house
and all the other useful information that (some) building societies can
pile on potential home buyers, right down to a page carrying the small
Answer 60 radio button ‘either/or’ questions and get back a
devastatingly correct personality analysis (the Keirsey Temperament
Sorter). Better still, get job applicants to do it!
Buy one of up to 3.5 million tickets online... if you happen to have a
US postal address. How parochial of them.
Find out more about Profound, the information supermarket. See box for
E-mail delivery of the Financial Times group’s AFX-Extel news service,
at four intervals every business day. You can choose up to three from 30
categories. As an added bonus you also get a one-week free trial.
How to swap formatted documents
Adobe Acrobat reader is some handy free software, which allows people
using different sorts of computers to transfer formatted documents from
one to another, and makes on-screen reading much easier.