PR TECHNIQUE ONLINE MEDIA: Grabbing Net surfers by the eyeballs - Once a company spends a considerable amount of time and money developing its Web presence, how can PR pros draw eyeballs to the site? Rebecca Flass reports

In the prehistoric days of the World Wide Web - five years ago - sites were such a new fangled phenomenon that a workable marketing plan was ’build it and they will come.’

In the prehistoric days of the World Wide Web - five years ago - sites were such a new fangled phenomenon that a workable marketing plan was ’build it and they will come.’

In the prehistoric days of the World Wide Web - five years ago -

sites were such a new fangled phenomenon that a workable marketing plan

was ’build it and they will come.’

No more. With about 800 million web pages in existence, chances are slim

that surfers will just happen upon a company’s online presence. Because

web sites compete against the entire Web for visitors and media

attention, it takes something special to get noticed.

To lure visitors to a site, there are a number of approaches to try and

experts agree that mixing and matching is probably best. The online

world is tailor-made for mixed marketing - for everything from the basic

(getting listed with search engines, getting the site reviewed) to the

more cutting edge (attending vertical trade shows, conducting polls and

- still the word du jour - ’affiliating’).

Companies should build buzz for a new site before it’s live without

spoiling the news of the launch. Ed Niehaus, president of Niehaus Ryan

Wong (NRW), which represents and helped debut industry gargantua Yahoo!,

says this can be done by developing a company - not a site - story

beforehand. For example, when NRW was preparing to help

launch its site, it pitched profiles of the new CEO of PlanetRx, Bill

Razzouk, who had been the number two person at FedEx. It also pushed

pieces on the venture capital funding for the company.

Niehaus advises companies launching a site to think about whether they

want to be first or foremost. With the threat that a competitor may

announce a similar product, many companies push the beta version of a

site, which can dilute news of the final product.

While companies may want to send out numerous press releases to gain

attention, this tactic may backfire. ’Don’t dilute your voice,’ says

Niehaus. Online greeting card site, ranked the 15th

most visited site by Media Metrix, sends out press releases to drive

visitors to the site only during the holidays.

When pitching to the media, PR pros should not only focus on technology

publications, but the vertical markets that a company’s site appeals to

as well. Frank Gelman, COO of The Rasky/Baerlein Group, says an

important component of PR efforts for clients Better Homes and Gardens

Online and Ladies’ Home Journal Online includes targeting food and home

decorating publications.

’The media is more sophisticated in a way that’s made it easier and

harder’ to get attention for a company’s web site, Gelman explains.

’It’s easier because the media grasps the idea a lot quicker but it’s

harder because they’re in a ’been there, done that’ situation.’

The vertical media are also important to auction site eBay, which works

with publications like Marybeth’s Beanie World Monthly and Sports

Collector’s Digest.

To help drive site traffic, eBay participates every year in hundreds of

trade shows, on topics like baseball, gemstones, Star Wars, Beanie

Babies, coins and stamps. In addition to having booths at the shows,

eBay pitches its users as keynote speakers and panelists.

Many corporations also swear by web site reviews and awards. ’If you’ve

got a site, chances are, there’s an award for it,’ Niehaus says. Net-ads

has a page listing the ’best of the best web site awards’


One of the most important ways to get yourself known online is to

affiliate with other sites - to link up with them and, if you’re doing

e-commerce, to share revenues with the referring site. Several

companies, such as LinkShare, have popped up to broker these partnering


Erica Hartman, public relations director for, says

her company is beginning to develop an affiliate program with sites such

as LookSmart, and

Polls also help drive site traffic. Yahoo! does a weekly poll in

conjunction with National Public Radio’s Marketplace, which announces

the results on the air. Every four months Shell Oil conducts The Shell

Poll, which covers topics such as teens, values and the millennium. It

posts the results on the Internet and issues news releases on the


Contests are another way to drive site traffic and generate excitement.

When Shell launched a site in February 1998 with the theme of ’Count on

Shell,’ the company used a combination of sponsorship, hyperlinks and


During the 1998 Olympics, the company sponsored a snowboarding game on

CBS Sportsline; users could click through to the countonshell. com


Shell also held a contest and awarded an all-expenses paid trip to the

Olympics in Nagano for the family that agreed to have its trip diaries

published on the Shell site, allowing site visitors to hear what it was

like to be an American at the Olympics in Japan.

According to Sixtus Oechsle, manager of corporate communication for

Shell Oil, hits to the web site increased by more than 10,000%, and

never dropped below 700% higher than the highest month prior to the




1 Build buzz for the site before launch.

2 Search for ways to reach vertical markets, including pitching to

vertical trades and trade shows.

3 Conduct thorough research and submit for appropriate awards.

4 Get creative. Rather than just issuing press releases, consider

holding polls and contests.

5 Develop affiliations with other sites.


1 Overwhelm the media with press releases.

2 Fail the ’so-what’ test and assume that if it’s interesting to you,

it’s news.

3 Drift into a launch. You have only one chance to announce a new site -

make sure your plan is aggressive and well thought-out. Realize that if

you announce the beta version of the site, you may be the first one out

of the gate but you may also have to live with the media’s first


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