FOCUS: PITCHING FOR BUSINESS - The passive pitch. Your agency credentials are available to potential clients at the mere click of a mouse, but are PR agencies doing enough to maximise their web site potential? Maja Pawinska investigates

While account directors are busy presenting credentials, another element of the PR business is quietly doing its bit to persuade potential clients that the consultancy can transform their communications. The web site could almost be called the passive pitch.

While account directors are busy presenting credentials, another

element of the PR business is quietly doing its bit to persuade

potential clients that the consultancy can transform their

communications. The web site could almost be called the passive


PROs are increasingly finding themselves in the position of advising

clients on how web sites can be used as a tool to communicate all manner

of things, from company news, to corporate culture and values.

But how many PR companies take their own advice when it comes to their

own web sites? In the panels opposite we have looked at the web sites of

the top ten PR agencies in the UK to analyse for the first time how the

industry is using the internet.

According to a new report, ’Winning New Business in PR and Marketing

Consultancy ... the Critical Success Factors’, published by Policy

Publications in Brighton, there are a number of elements that are

crucial when clients are deciding who to invite to pitch.

The results reflect the experiences of 82 PR and marketing


They show that the top three factors in persuading a client that they

should invite one agency over another to pitch, were the quality and

experience of the people at the agency, its image and reputation, and

relationships with existing clients.

Other significant factors were the agency’s track record and the extent

of its geographical coverage. An agency’s web site could be used to

communicate positive messages about all of these areas.

So how seriously do PR agencies take their web sites as a means of

attracting new business? According to Citigate Technology chairman Suzy

Frith: ’PR web sites have to be as good as the best work you do for your


It is your own PR, and small errors or defects in the site can be

exaggerated as an expression of how efficient you are.’

Citigate Technology’s web site ( can also be

reached through its umbrella agency, Citigate Dewe Rogerson


As well as containing corporate information, the technology arm’s site

has a news service, ’The Public Eye’, which features new client wins and

articles on trends in the hi-tech sector.

It also features an interactive poll to predict future trends in the IT

sector which is changed every month, with questions such as ’Will e-mail

see the death of the penned love letter?’. Other elements include

information for potential recruits, a full list of clients and global

contacts at the company, links to holding company Incepta, and brief

case studies.

Frith believes a good web site is particularly important for agencies

working in the hi-tech and new media arenas: ’Potential clients expect

an IT consultancy to have a strong web presence. It’s often the way in

which they make an initial assessment of any company they deal


PR agencies need to find ways to add value to their sites beyond being

an on-line brochure. The expertise of an agency could be illustrated

with white papers, research reports and features, for example. The site

can be kept fresh with surveys, news, perhaps even an FTSE market watch

to keep it feeling up to the minute.

For many, the goal is to attract new staff as well as new clients, as is

the case with Cohn and Wolfe’s revamped site, updated a few weeks ago

( The site works hard on recruitment, with the

careers section including brief statements on benefits, company culture

and work environment, as well as an invitation to submit a CV to any of

its offices worldwide.

Over the next few months a number of functions will be added, including

local job listings, local language versions of foreign office site,

video case studies and a newsletter sign-up service.

Managing director Martin Ellis says he receives three to four CVs a day

directly through the web site and an average of two business enquiries a


’The aim was very much to attract new clients. The new economy is here,

everyone uses the internet all the time, and a web site is mandatory -

you can’t be taken seriously in this market unless you have an

up-to-date web site.’

Ellis said Cohn and Wolfe plans to update its site at least once a


A committee made up of representatives from each of the C&W offices

works on information to the site, and the aim is to release new versions

with updated local - country by country - content. ’A client doesn’t

want to look at a two-year-old case study, and if you’re showing old

case studies you’re not illustrating the different activities that the

PR industry is now taking on board,’ he adds.

Hi-tech agency Noiseworks (, based in Maidenhead,

takes a different tack in that its web site serves existing clients as

much as new ones, and also sees journalists as a significant


The home page is packed with synopses of news from clients, rather than

agency information. Journalists can also log on to a dedicated press

room, and the agency has made sure that there are high resolution

pictures which can be downloaded along with releases about clients.

One of the most interesting elements of the site is the secure intranet

for clients, where on-line reports relevant to each account can be

accessed from wherever the client is. ’We didn’t just want to put up a

virtual brochure and have pictures of all our staff, so we spent time

building in a back end system that would be really useful,’ says account

director James Hanson.

He says good PR web sites can also play a significant role in the pitch

process: ’I rarely go to a new business meeting and come across

potential clients who have not come across the web site. It’s the first

thing I point them to when they call, and it means that when we’re one

of five agencies presenting our credentials, we can miss out the first

15 minutes of introduction and spend more time getting to know


The aim of the PR agency web site may be to pull in new clients, attract

new employees, give a good service to journalists on behalf of clients,

or to be used by clients themselves. Whatever the target, it’s clear

that many agencies are following their own advice and making the site

work for them, rather than just acting as hi-tech wallpaper.


Compiled by Robert Grupe, associate board director, August.One


1. Identify your key target audiences

Many company web sites try to be everything to everybody and as a result

end up not being as effective as they should be. Clearly define your

target audience and then ensure that your site reflects those marketing

communication ideals. You wouldn’t write just one version of a press

release to be used with all media would you? If your audiences are not

homogeneous enough, consider developing different sites using the same

fundamental content.

2. Clearly define the purpose of your web site

Is it to inform, entertain, or educate? If your purpose is to educate

prospective clients about your services and successes, then dazzling

busy decision makers with high-resolution animations is not going to

have the desired effect.

3. Secure your on-line branding

By its very nature, the internet is an international medium and so

international legal considerations must always be considered when

communicating on the internet. Before extending a great deal of effort

in building an on-line presence and reputation, make sure you have

ensured your legal rights to your trademarks and domain names.

Otherwise, you could find yourself having to start all over again.

4. Create a winning impression

For many prospective clients, the first contact with an agency now is

its web site, and the home page is crucial in establishing the first

professional image that a prospective client has about a PR company.

Does the agency communicate clearly? What exactly do they do? Who are

their clients?

What have been their results? What can they do for me? Who can answer my

questions right now?

5. Continually improve your web site

Establish an annual editorial calendar that clearly identifies when the

site is to be updated, what will be revised, and who will be responsible

for generating the text. Web designers can change the layout and

graphics as often as your budget will allow, but the larger challenge is

identifying managers who are willing to take personal responsibility to

develop and refresh the text.

6. Optimise your search for web search sites

How a site is designed and coded determines predominately how it will

appear in web search sites. If your site is not adequately signposted,

then your competitors’ sites will appear before your own, or worse, your

site may not be listed at all.

7. Establish links from as many sources as possible

Aside from increasing referral traffic, links from other web sites also

help improve a site’s ranking in search results. Include your site

address in as many electronic communications as possible (e-mails, press

releases, white papers, etc.). Distribute all company announcements via

wire services so that they are picked-up by web portals.

8. Promote your on-line brand

Creating a web site is only half of the equation; you then have to make

sure people know about its existence. This involves traditional

non-electronic marketing, registering your site with search sites, and

banner advertising.

9. Participate in on-line communities The internet is much more that

just the web, and reputation cannot be built with good-looking on-line

brochures. Identify the on-line forums used by your key audience

decision makers and then make ensure that you establish a presence in

that space.

10. Use a reputable internet hosting service

Server failures, viruses and hacker attacks, internet traffic jams,

power failures are all operational hazards that can tarnish your on-line

reputation. If your site is off-line for too long, then it will be

removed from the directories people use to find you. Ensure that your

host has fast internet connections, 24/7 support response, and battery



Shandwick, the biggest agency owned by International Public Relations,

has a web site that covers its offices around the world. The home page

contains links to careers, news, features, expertise reputation

management and ’Inside Shandwick’. It also has summaries of news

stories; a link to the client access area; and the capacity to search by


Inside Shandwick explains the agency’s background, its mission and

beliefs, and a breakdown of the companies in the groups.

The expertise area details the practice sectors within Shandwick, with

case studies. The reputation management section includes an overview of

what corporate reputation is and an RM Spotlight area where articles

taken from various publications about the topic can be accessed. In each

section there are at e-mail links to relevant personnel.

The careers section has a ’virtual recruiter’ where CVs can be submitted

and potential recruits can read quotes from employees.

B-M -

Burson-Marsteller’s web site home page is nicely illustrated and gives

the user the opportunity to access a handy site map, allowing them to

view the many subject areas on offer and navigate the site easily. The

main categories are perception management, corporate overview, insights,

careers and e-fluentials.

The corporate overview section includes information on the practice

groups within Burson-Marsteller, locations of worldwide offices, and

B-M’s mission statement. The agency’s practice groups are listed and

explained to potential clients. However, there is no information on

existing clients, not even a list of who they are.

The careers section allows potential recruits to submit their CV. It

also provides details of the Burson-Marsteller University, which was set

up to train staff in relevant skills.

The site offers the user a lot of information on the agency itself and

its opinions, but does not give any idea of work being done for current



Bell Pottinger is the only agency in the top ten which does not yet have

a web site up and running. However, its parent company Chime

Communications does.

The Chime site gives a corporate overview of Bell Pottinger’s holding

company, concentrating on matters that concern shareholders and

investors, rather than potential clients. The site is easily navigated.

It presents information in a concise manner - breaking down information

about the company into its constituent parts and users can download the

annual report.

The Bell Pottinger web site is due to open in due course. Lord Bell says

that it will be an information site that will list major clients and

provide details of client case studies. The site will not provide a

recruitment section as the company already has a graduate scheme in

place, which is cited on the Chime web site.

Bell sees the forthcoming Bell Pottinger site as an ’important but not

prime means of communicating’.

GCI Europe -

The first thing that the user sees as they log on to GCI’s web site is

an orange cog containing a cross-section of the human brain.

This visual represents the site’s ’intelligence quarterly’. Other ’cogs’

present the user with the other main categories - ’our practice groups’,

job opportunities, GCI Europe offices, and the info centre.

GCI’s web site is comprehensive and easily navigated. The info centre is

an archive of information on GCI, covering the company’s staff changes,

acquisitions and various other topics. The intelligence quarterly lists

a series of reports to download on topics relevant to communication

professionals in ’all industries’.

The job opportunities section allows potential recruits to send in their

CV, while the GCI Europe offices gives information about specific


Some clients are listed in the ’our practice groups’ section of the

site, but there is little in the way of comprehensive detail.


Citigate Dewe Rogerson’s web site offers the user a plethora of

information on the company and its areas of expertise. On entering the

site the user is presented with a list of the different sectors that the

agency deals in. These include financial and corporate communications,

technology and media relations. The latter allows the user to download a

flashy videostream of client logos and corporate imagery. Other

categories present the user with text on the agency’s approach to areas

of business and, in many cases, the option to access further


The site can be navigated quickly and, with users given the option to

bypass any videostreams, progress through its topics is not


Contact names for further information are given - the user clicks on the

name and an e-mail box is opened.

However, the site does not provide information on recruitment and there

is a lack of information on clients or case studies to back the agency’s



The home page of the global healthcare communications practice, a new

entry in the top ten of PR Week’s Top 150 league tables this year, is a

series of purple moons which are the gateways to the different sections

on the site: MAC, services, team, contacts and opportunities.

The MAC area covers the company’s philosophy, including its trademarked

system, Brand Syzygy, which it uses to target the right audience for

each product.

The team section is a brief statement about the company’s approach to

staff management, and the contacts section gives details of MAC’s

offices in Surrey and New Jersey, plus names and e-mail addresses for

key personnel in the UK and the US. The opportunities area has an e-mail

address for the HR manager, and links to details of current


The site is heavy on brief mission statements, and there are no case

studies or client details. It is akin to an on-line brochure, although

recruitment is clearly high on the list of priorities.


Hill and Knowlton’s site kicks off with a selection of stories about

recent account wins and agency developments. The site is broken down

into: corporate overview, solutions, geographic reach, news, career

centre and site map/search.

There are also links to ’thought leaders’ and parent company WPP’s

Atticus awards, open to all companies within the WPP group. Thought

leaders is a collection of papers, speeches and articles generated by

the company.

The solutions area gives information and contact details about the

company’s global practice areas, and the geographic reach map shows all

the countries in which H&K has a presence.

The ’careers centre’ is slightly confusing, as it is doubled up in the

the careers opportunities area of the ’contact us’ section. It allows

users to submit CVs, and contact managers in each of the major


It only outlines vacancies in the US, but does provide some information

about the group’s commitment to training.


The exhaustive Charles Barker site is divided into careers in the BSMG

group, clients and services, ’our world’, company profile, ’what’s hot’

and ’contact us’.

Each of these areas has subdivisions with more information and the

company profile area has a few facts and figures.

’Our world’ shows a globe marked with all the company’s offices


Clicking on these gives full contact details. There are also links to

networked partners around the world.

There is a comprehensive client list, including some hotlinks to

clients’ web sites, details of each of the agency’s service areas, and

detailed case studies of recent work.

The ’what’s hot’ area contains all the latest company news as well as a

series of management guides produced by Charles Barker, which cover

subjects such as how to tailor communications programmes.

The careers section gives full details of vacancies worldwide, with

email links to the relevant department.


CPN’s home page, like Shandwick’s, proclaims its expertise in the area

of reputation management. The user-friendly site has links to the areas

of what’s new, capabilities, services, careers and key contacts.

There are details of all the services offered by the agency - from

financial services to cause-related marketing and media relations - as

well as Scene, its newest offering for the gay market. This is the

biggest area of the site, and there are contact details of the relevant

staff for each service.

The careers area has contact details for the director of personnel,

outlines the type of people the agency is looking for, and has details

of vacancies.

E-mail links to all key staff are in the contact section. The news

section covers latest developments at the agency, and work it is doing

for clients.

There is a link to the agency’s network, Porter Novelli International,

and the ’more info’ section enables users to request a hard copy of the

company brochure, plus other publications and papers.


Biss Lancaster’s web site is visually very striking - with startling

images of babies pulling various facial expressions.

The baby them is carried through into the various sections of the web

site, which are also illustrated by images of babies.

The various headings are: ’A clear view’, ’Results led’, ’Creative’,

’Our skills’, ’Expertise’ and ’Contact us’.

Most of these open a single page of text. For example, the section

entitled ’A clear view’ expresses Biss Lancaster’s belief in keeping

their communication solutions simple, an attitude reflected in the web


The ’Expertise’ section of the site goes into more detail than many of

its competitors. It lists clients in various sectors and also provides

some case studies of work the agency has done.

The Biss Lancaster site is easily navigated and its simplicity and

text-light approach acts to its advantage. However, there is a

noticeable lack of any area dedicated to recruitment.

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