WEEKLY WEB WATCH: PR for e-tailers should focus on addressing the privacy issue

Get ready for the post-buzz era of the Internet. All the king's horses, all the king's men and all the PR efforts in the universe are not enough to put the halcyon days together again.

Get ready for the post-buzz era of the Internet. All the king's horses, all the king's men and all the PR efforts in the universe are not enough to put the halcyon days together again.

Get ready for the post-buzz era of the Internet. All the king's horses, all the king's men and all the PR efforts in the universe are not enough to put the halcyon days together again.

And that's alright, believe it or not. If your effort is still focused on getting attention for an Internet service or product as the 'next great thing,' I say you're missing the mark. This business needs now to focus on the positive aspect of some specific areas that get trashed more than Bill Clinton on the Sunday talk shows.

We're talking about privacy issues. Though privacy was a thorny issue at the beginning of 2000, PR companies should capitalize on the positive efforts of their clients.

I really believe that privacy concerns, as they relate to online shopping, were overblown by a few fringe elements, like Junkbusters and the Center for Media Education in Washington.

Unfortunately, they found a lot of traction among consumers who were uneasy about what would happen to their personal information profiles. E-tailers that looked like they were abusing consumers' trust got a lot of attention. Trusted brands like Toys R Us had a good Christmas, as did did BestBuy, thanks to their efforts at overcoming consumer concerns.

Now that a lot of start-ups have shut down, e-commerce companies need to convince consumers that they won't treat personal information profiles like kids treat Pokemon cards. The best way to do this is to show some key media outlets exactly what happens when a consumer registers their personal preference information with a Web site. I can tell you that it is collected, processed, stored and then used to market new products back to the consumer. If it is used for anything else, consumers need to know which companies are in the business of making money from their private information. And they need to know which companies don't.

PR companies need to show the big consumer news outlets how this works in detail. They need to show them how Internet direct marketing differs from traditional direct marketing. Companies who profess to only use personal information for the purpose of re-marketing stand to retain customer confidence.

Reputation comes from actual user experience first. After that, provided the user experience is good, PR can be a great help. For example, if I was running the PR effort for clothing e-tailer L.L. Bean, I would make sure journalists knew: the customer satisfaction rate for the 2000 holiday season; how many new customers I acquired; how I collected personal data on those customers; and how I plan to use it.

In the case of a company like L.L. Bean, the collected customer data will be used to send existing customers personalized e-mail on new products, or discounts on closeouts.

However, and here's where the PR effort is critical, the word on the street says that content sites and portals will be more aggressive in 2001 about selling their database info as the advertising-based cash crunch continues.

Once the dust clears and an Internet portal realizes they just might weather the storm, they have to look for more revenue sources. How about that 20 million names we're sitting on? Can you hear the cha-ching sounds from here?

So the good guys play their names close to the vest. Now the good guys need to step forward. It's PR that will push them out there - boring, old-school, even traditional concepts here, but they will be more effective than a Super Bowl spot.



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