EDITORIAL: PR must go back to Web basics

Now that everyone is more than a little disillusioned with the Net as a trading device, it's time for the PR world to turn its attention back to what most clients still use Web sites for - communicating.

Now that everyone is more than a little disillusioned with the Net as a trading device, it's time for the PR world to turn its attention back to what most clients still use Web sites for - communicating.

Now that everyone is more than a little disillusioned with the Net as a trading device, it's time for the PR world to turn its attention back to what most clients still use Web sites for - communicating.

PRWeek's corporate survey last February discovered that 80% of companies use the Internet as a communications tool; eight times as many as those who use it for e-commerce. At that time we reported that a meager 38.4% of agencies were getting involved in the design and content of Web sites for clients, a massively missed opportunity given that nearly three quarters of the in-house PR community have a hand in producing sites for their companies.

This week, we revisited the subject (see feature, page 25) and found that - at least in the case of the top agencies - socks have been pulled up where Web skills are concerned. Each of the five largest agencies have now generated some form of Web resource, by buying up firms (in the case of Hill and Knowlton) or by tapping the wider resources of their agency group. All agencies make the point, however, that it's not simply a case of getting the agency checkbook out and bolting on a new company.

Based on our observations of most client Web sites, however, it's clear that the massive PR opportunity afforded by the Web is still being missed - because as communications vehicles, they are failing at the very first hurdle. A vast improvement can be made to most corporate Web sites simply with a little attention to the basics. Try to find phone numbers and key contact details (within 30 seconds) at a cross section of Fortune 500 firms. It's a surprisingly frustrating task and illustrates what must always be lesson number one of the Internet. Keep it simple.



Weber Shandwick sets the bar high

So, Larry Weber has predicted that Weber Shandwick (WS) will top dollars 500 million in billings by the end of 2002 (see news story). It's a characteristically bold prediction from a characteristically bold businessman, and represents a challenging new milestone for all agencies to aim at.

What's less clear is Weber's strategy to come by the additional dollars 200 million of revenue. The CEO of this newly-minted merger predicts that organic growth will take WS to dollars 350 million. But as he admits himself, sizable acquisitions to bulk up the firm's weak links in healthcare and investor relations are hard to come by. (In an interview with PRWeek, he compared the search for business to shopping in a Russian grocery store.) Having to compete against aggressive European shops like Havas and Publicis, as well as cash-rich operations in the US, will make the task harder still.

All of this makes it difficult to fathom what's up Larry's sleeve. Of course, there are foreign acquisitions out there, but the US armory is prized by Weber above all others, and foreign acquisitions won't fill in the gaps.

And whether foreign or domestic, with today's acquisitions increasingly in the dollars 5 to dollars 10 million range, it will take some dealmaking to get to dollars 150 million. Admittedly, Weber has pulled off scores of deals in the past. But one wonders: are there moves afoot at Interpublic that would bolster revenues in a single swoop? Like most questions posed to Weber, the answer must be 'wait and see.'



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