MARKET FOCUS: INTERNET - The top five PR agency Web sites: which one is the best? Agencies love to preach the importance of client Web sites. But how good are the sites of the agencies themselves, and how do they stack up against each other? PRWeek asked

The days of putting a corporate brochure on the Web are over, and most PR agencies recognize that. After several iterations, many top agencies insist that they’ve finally got it right, that their sites reflect the image they want to portray and the messages they want to get across.

The days of putting a corporate brochure on the Web are over, and most PR agencies recognize that. After several iterations, many top agencies insist that they’ve finally got it right, that their sites reflect the image they want to portray and the messages they want to get across.

The days of putting a corporate brochure on the Web are over, and

most PR agencies recognize that. After several iterations, many top

agencies insist that they’ve finally got it right, that their sites

reflect the image they want to portray and the messages they want to get

across.



In theory, the big agencies have tremendous resources to put into

developing their Web sites. Many have the capability to develop client

sites in-house and try to position themselves as experts in helping

clients project their messages. And all of the sites considered here,

with the exception of Hill & Knowlton’s, were developed in-house. But

how well are the agencies using their own sites to communicate with

potential clients and employees?



PRWeek set out to rank the Web sites of the top five agencies (based on

US PR income in the PRWeek 1999 Agency Rankings) and determine how good

the megafirms are at publicizing themselves on the Web. We selected a

panel of five judges - two potential clients, a potential employee, a

Web designer and a reporter - to rate each site according to four broad

categories: content, ease of use, design and message delivery. The

PRWeek site survey found Edelman’s site to be the best of the five,

followed by BSMG, Hill & Knowlton, Fleishman-Hillard and

Burson-Marsteller. (See box for analysis. Full details on the judges and

the methodology appear at the end of this article.)



Overall, the agencies didn’t fare so well - perhaps proving that being

your own client is the hardest task of all. While the PR profession is a

creative one, many judges felt that the sites didn’t reflect that.



’I felt really let down,’ says John Nack, creative director for

interactive firm Agency.com. ’I was expecting a lot more.’



One thing all of the agencies have focused on is their global presence,

and while that may differentiate them from smaller agencies, it doesn’t

go very far in distinguishing them from their competitors.



’I know these five companies are global,’ says Charles Bellfield,

director of communications at Sega of America. ’I wouldn’t go to H&K if

I were doing a small campaign targeting regional community relations in

the US. I know that.’



The agencies seem intent on avoiding the issue of the differing

personalities and specialties of each office and instead offer

watered-down, generic sites merely listing their capabilities. ’We made

it as general as possible so that anyone could understand the kinds of

services we can offer,’ says Kim Avdek, managing director at H&K.





Breaking the mold



But despite the similarities, many agencies are trying to differentiate

themselves. ’The various sites are comparable, and have very similar

facets,’ says Beth Ward, senior VP and content manager at

Fleishman-Hillard. ’They all have capabilities and maps, but everyone is

looking for the one thing that makes them different. Part of ours is our

culture.’



Edelman is trying to set itself apart with a section on innovations (It

points out that Dan Edelman invented the media tour and then plays up

the firm’s innovative use of interactive media), something that Nancy

Ruscheinski, the agency’s executive VP and director of interactive

solutions, says is important in reflecting its commitment to technology.

Burson has launched a virtual gallery of employee art work, called ’The

Arts at Burson-Marsteller,’ to showcase its creativity. Burson also

tries to distinguish itself with its proprietary research, such as its

recent study of perceptions of CEOs in the marketplace, and has launched

a separate Web site called CEOgo.com to bring together a range of

information and statistics on this hot topic.



’The way we try to separate ourselves is by the quality of our work, not

the number of words on our site,’ says H&K president and CEO Tom

Hoog.



’It’s not a contest, it’s a way to show how smart our people are.’



One thing the large agencies have been accused of is not reflecting

their depth on their Web sites. However, Hoog says, ’I’m not sure that’s

what the site is for. It’s meant to introduce someone to the company,

not to go into depth.’ Bellfield disagrees. ’If I were sending out a

request for proposals, I’d go to the sites to get a sense of them as a

company,’ he says. ’H&K is missing an opportunity to clearly define who

they are.’



Despite their shortcomings, these sites are in a constant state of

change, and may have even improved upon some of these areas before this

article runs. Fleishman-Hillard’s site, which is two-to-three years old,

will likely be the most drastically changed site this year and may even

give Edelman a run for its money. The other sites were all developed

within the past year.



The new F-H site, which will go live by the end of the month, will have

a stronger global focus and will attempt to show the depth of the

offices and affiliates, according to David Lowey, a senior VP and

partner who runs the interactive group. It will also have a stronger

emphasis on the agency’s culture and will have a brighter color pallet

and more illustrations.



While it’s doubtful that any client or employee has selected an agency

based on a Web site alone, it does play a part in the process. Eric

Kraus, VP of corporate communications at Gillette, says that he would go

to an agency’s site if conducting an agency search, but mainly for

contact information. Bellfield says that he’s looking for more than that

and wants to see client work, in particular.



’It comes back to their ability to effectively communicate to me what

they can do and entice me to go further into their sites,’ says

Bellfield.



’If they can’t sell themselves, how are they going to sell my product to

the press?’ He says once he sees client work, he also wants to see

senior management bios, to see who might be working on his business.



Carrie Fenton, director of corporate affairs at BSMG, says her agency

put photos of personnel on its site so potential clients can see the

people behind the scenes and put a face with a name. ’In the people

business, chemistry is a huge part of client relationships,’ says

Fenton.



Not surprisingly, many of these sites place as much emphasis on reaching

potential employees as potential clients. ’The student audience is not a

secondary audience,’ says Edelman’s Ruscheinski, adding that the

site-development team works closely with human resources to anticipate

the questions potential employees will ask. Since launching its site,

Edelman has received over a thousand resumes via the Web.





Recruiting through your Web site



Sarah Mast, a junior at the University of Southern California and

PRWeek’s Student of the Year, says that agency Web sites are the only

way that she obtains information on potential employers. ’The first

thing I look for is general company information,’ says Mast. ’I need to

get to know them as a company, who their clients are and what their

practice areas are.’ She says she then turns to specifics on employment,

to determine what types of work she’ll be expected to do and whom she

should contact.



’If I were applying as a general employee, I’d want to know about

benefits and what job openings are available,’ adds Mast.



Most sites don’t take into account reporters covering the PR industry,

much less their clients’ industries. However, Edelman is an

exception.



The site has a ’Newsroom’ that allows reporters to subscribe to its news

service and select Edelman client news by industry. While a PR agency

site may not seem like the most likely place for reporters to go for

information on their various clients, Ruscheinski says that Edelman has

a thousand subscribers to its NewsWeb LISTSERV.



So what should a good agency site have? ’A site should be easy and

clear, with a precise message about who the agency is, the capabilities

they’ve got,’ says Bellfield. ’I want to know as a potential client

that, without much ramp-up time, they’ll understand my business. I look

very much to who their clients are and examples of their work and the

programs they’ve done.’



Bellfield says not listing clients is a big problem, and while most

sites do, Carrie Rowland, director of education at Burson, insists the

agency has good reasons for not doing so. ’We don’t post clients because

we want to respect the confidentiality of the client,’ says Rowland.

’It’s like listing all our employees’ names and numbers - we wouldn’t

want recruiters to call them.’



Mast says that while senior management bios are not the most important

thing, it’s nice for potential employees who aspire to be in that

position someday to see what people’s career paths have been.



Agency.com’s Nack cautions against agencies gratuitously using

multimedia components on their sites, particularly when their bulk

prevents users from being able to access information. ’If you can’t

access it, it’s the same as not having it,’ says Nack. However, he says

it is necessary to use multimedia when touting the agency’s multimedia

capabilities. ’I did think it was necessary for Fleishman-Hillard. It

actually talked about the company’s multimedia prowess’ but didn’t use

advanced technology on the site.



And while companies are focusing on adapting their site’s tone for the

Web, Nack says they still have a way to go. ’Apple is a company we

always look to, because they have a great tone of voice that shows their

personality,’ says Nack. ’None of these struck me that way.’ However, he

also doesn’t think companies should over-compensate. ’Companies

shouldn’t seem to have a split personality when you go to the Web,’ says

Nack. ’But these were all kind of beige-vanilla. They didn’t have any

pop.’





Judges



Charles Bellfield: Director of communications at Sega of America



Rebecca Flass: Boston reporter for PRWeek



Eric Kraus: VP of corporate communications at Gillette



Sarah Mast: Junior at the University of Southern California and PRWeek’s

Student of the Year



John Nack: Creative director for interactive firm Agency.com





The methodology



The judges were asked to rank the sites according to four criteria.

Content accounted for half the marks, with sub-categories worth up to 5

points each, for a total of 50. Message delivery to potential clients,

potential employees and reporters was worth at most 10 points each, for

a total of 30 points. The remaining 20 points were evenly divided

between ease of use and design.





WEB SITE REVIEW: TOP AGENCIES IN CYBERSPACE



Burson-Marsteller



www.bm.com



Web Developer: In-house



Ease of use: It’s not clear what the topics are by the titles on the

homepage. Users might have a hard time finding what they’re looking for

with so many sub-sections. 5



Design: Primitive design, but fairly clean and quick. Goes slightly

overboard on the Java-script. The rotating cartoons on the home page are

also a little risky - people either get them or don’t. 6



Content/features: Client list: Nonexistent. 0



Geographical capabilities: The map makes it easy to spot locations.

4.6



Practice area capabilities: Practice profiles are thorough and give

examples of work, although they don’t mention clients by name. 4.6



Senior management bios: Has only scant information on Harold Burson,

rolled up into a section on the agency’s history. 1



Contact information for senior management, new business, employment: All

offices are listed with contact info, but they don’t give specific

contact names. 3.2



Agency news releases: They’re hard to find, since they’re in a section

called ’Insights.’ But many company news releases are included. 4



Client news releases: None.



Agency news coverage: The site included bylined articles, but little

third-party information. There was only a brief mention of Burson ranked

in PR agency rankings. 2



Use of multimedia: Seemed primitive and gratuitous. 1.2



Job openings: The job openings were described in detail, but users are

taken to the hotjobs.com site. 4



Message Delivery to:



Potential clients: This site is ’buzzword heaven,’ according to one

judge.



It talks about integrated capabilities and perception management, but

doesn’t explain what is meant by that. One of the first things mentioned

in a section on ’Commitment to Client Partnership’ is results, which

should appeal to potential clients. But the agency fails to explain what

it has done for clients. 7.6



Potential Employees: The site fails to give a sense of what it’s like to

work at Burson. 6.6



Reporters: Reporters looking for quick details on clients are out of

luck. While there is background on the company and its capabilities,

they are tough to find. 4.6



Funniest Moment: Talk of ’innovation’ and ’state-of-the-art

technologies’ next to a black-and-white photo of Bill Marsteller. There

may have been a more appropriate place to put the photo.



Total: 54.4





BSMG



www.bsmg.com



Web developer: In-house





Ease of Use: The site was extremely easy to navigate. Topics are clear,

pages download quickly and the navigation bar appears on each page, so

you don’t have to go back to the home page. 9



Design: Funkier than the other sites, this one uses visually attractive

and pleasing colors that stand out and provide a sense that this is a

high-energy agency. The look is fun yet professional. However, one judge

admits to initially being turned off by the approach, particularly the

home page, where the words ’Beach, Sand, Magnified Greatly’ pop up.

8.6



Content/features: Client list: It’s a good list, although the client

page does not link to all of the clients’ own Web sites. But while it

refers to this as a ’representative’ client list, it’d be good to know

if these were all current clients. 4.8



Geographical capabilities: The map showing the agency’s global presence

is clear. It has contact information, including a name, for each office

and links to individual sites for more information. 5



Practice area capabilities: Includes case studies as examples of work.

4.8



Senior management bios: Detailed. 4.8



Contact information for senior management, new business, employment: All

offices are listed with contact information. 4.8



Agency news releases: Current releases listed, and there is an archive.

4



Client news releases: Not there, though the site gives scenario

summaries for several clients. 4



Agency news coverage: The press clippings in an Adobe Acrobat file took

way too long to download. 3.6



Use of multimedia: Generally absent, although one judge didn’t think

that was such a bad thing. 2.4



Job openings: Does a good job describing openings and giving contact

info, but job seekers may find it hard to sort through them. 4.25



Message delivery to:



Potential Clients: The agency demonstrates its capabilities through its

case studies. 8.2



Potential Employees: Provides the basics, such as job listings, contact

information and company background, but doesn’t give a sense of why

someone would want to work there. Doesn’t list benefits. 7.4



Reporters: It’s got freshly updated press releases, clips, client

listings and a good overview of the company. 6



Funniest Moment: A case study of Dunkin’ Donuts that says, ’Coffee is

hotter than ever.’ Haven’t enough people scalded themselves on Dunkin’

Donuts coffee?



Total: 78.05





EDELMAN



www.edelman.com



Web developer: In-house





Ease of use: The site is easy to navigate, although you sometimes have

to go through a lot of clicks to get there. Links are clearly labeled.

9



Design: The design is simple and has a clean, professional look that is

not cluttered with unnecessary graphics. Somewhat cold, though. 8.8



Content/features: Client list: It’s hard to find. There isn’t one

complete list, although certain clients are listed by office and

practice expertise, which is useful. 4



Geographical capabilities: This has almost everything imaginable. Each

office around the world has a separate set of pages. 4.8



Practice area capabilities: One judge described the ’Practice Expertise’

section as the best part of the site. 5



Senior management bios: This is disappointing, since they even go so far

as to list senior management by practice area. There are random bios

buried in the ’Practice Expertise’ section, but they aren’t very

informative. 2.4



Contact information for senior management, new business, employment:

Each area has contacts and information is listed for each office.

4.75



Agency news releases: Well organized with a great feature: e-mail

subscription to press releases. 4.4



Client news releases: Only one of the five to include them. Reporters

can select the industries they want to receive releases from. 4.8



Agency news coverage: Doesn’t include very much beyond how it ranked in

various PR agency rankings. 2



Use of multimedia: Minimal, but effective. 1.2



Job openings: Has a pull-down bar to select openings by office, allows

people to apply online. Best of breed. 4.8



Message delivery to:



Potential Clients: The agency details its capabilities and tries to

distinguish itself by its innovations. However, clients looking for

examples of work will be disappointed. 8.8



Potential employees: The ’Working at Edelman’ section is extensive. It’s

clear that recruiting is well planned and taken seriously. 9.8



Reporters: It has a great pressroom and allows reporters to quickly get

the latest news they’re looking for. It is also the only agency of the

five to provide a specific media relations contact for the agency.

9.2



Funniest Moment: The description of Dan Edelman’s ’first-of-its-kind,

cross-country trip with the Toni Twins (Which twin has a salon

permanent, and which has the Toni home permanent?),’ which the agency

says ’established him as the Father of the Media Tour.’



Total: 83.75





FLEISHMAN-HILLARD



www.fleishman.com



Web developer: In-house





Ease of use: Most judges viewed the site as easy to get around, but one

said it took long to navigate. 8.4



Design: The Web site is not cluttered with flashy graphics, which gives

it a professional look. While the home page is a little bland and the

design is primitive, it has icons and color-coding for various sections,

which shows creativity and style. 6.2



Content/features: Client list: Clients are not listed, although the

agency alludes to them in the practice area overviews and awards

sections. 0.4



Geographical capabilities: All office locations are listed and details

are given for non-US offices. 4.6



Practice area capabilities: Outlines the practice area and gives

examples of work the agency has done. 4



Senior management bios: There’s an interview with chairman and CEO John

Graham, but that’s it. 1.4



Contact information for senior management, new business, employment: The

contact information for careers is the strongest of the three, but each

office is listed with a contact. 3.6



Agency news releases: F-H has put out more than four releases in the

past year, but you wouldn’t know it from this site. Its acquisition of

Lois Paul & Partners, a fairly large announcement, isn’t even on here.

1.2



Client news releases: None. 0



Agency news coverage: It has an interview with John Graham and articles

by staff in the FHZine, but that’s about it. 0.8



Use of multimedia: The agency mentions its multimedia capabilities,

which means it should do a better job of demonstrating them. 1



Job openings: Jobs can be sorted but are not easily listed by section.

4.75



Message delivery to:



Potential Clients: The agency tries to get across the message about its

international coverage and detail practice areas. But one judge said

there wasn’t enough to woo a potential client into choosing Fleishman.

It’s not clear if Fleishman specializes in any particular areas. 6.4



Potential Employees: The site allows potential employees to learn about

benefits, job openings, agency background and clients. It also has a lot

of resources for them to use in their work. 7.4



Reporters: By not including the most recent agency news - or even older

news as background - F-H indicates indifference. And by not listing

clients, it also misses out. 6.2



Funniest Moment: The title of an article by senior VP and partner Jay

Lawrence: ’Is it real or is it Astroturf?’



Total: 56.35





Hill & Knowlton*



www.hillandknowlton.com



Web developer: External





Ease of use: The quickest to move to the next page, this site would have

scored higher if it weren’t for a few really annoying things like

excessive, unhelpful graphics and poor organization. 5.25



Design: The design is amateurish, and the graphics and look of the site

selection seem a bit dated, although the color scheme is aesthetically

pleasing. 6



Content/features: Client list: It might have been listed under

’Experience,’ but who has the patience to wait that long? 1



Geographical capabilities: The graphic showing office locations is a

nice touch. 4.5



Practice area capabilities: Distinguishes itself from other agencies and

lists examples of work. 3.5



Senior management bios: Extensive, with photos. 4.25



Contact information for senior management, new business, employment:

Contacts for potential clients were excellent, broken down by practice

areas, which is also helpful for reporters. But potential employees will

not be as lucky. 3.75



Agency news releases: Easy to access and plenty of them, but contact

information isn’t listed. 3.75



Client news releases: None. 0



Agency news coverage: A section has speeches and articles by H&K pros

but nothing by third-parties. 3



Use of multimedia: Heavy, badly executed and crashed a lot of browsers.

The NetComs section is great in demonstrating what the company can

actually do for clients, though. 3.5



Job openings: Lists contacts in each area but not job openings. 1.25



Message Delivery to:



Potential Clients: Talks about capabilities in detail, but no case

studies. 6.75



Potential Employees: It doesn’t provide enough information for a

potential employee to be prepared for an interview. 4.25



Reporters: The research is good, as is the history and contact info.

Press releases on the front page indicate a real knowledge about the

speed at which reporters need to access information. But not listing a

contact for general inquiries isn’t helpful. 5.75



Funniest Moment: The typewriter sound that occurs in the NetComs

section.



Total: 56.5





* Scores for H&K were gathered from only four judges, since one was

unable to access the site entirely, despite repeated attempts. Scores

were tallied and divided by four to obtain an average score.



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