Analysis: Weekly Web Watch - Waging PR war on the Web can jettison unbiased middlemen

What a drag. There’s just been a story about your impending product release - your most important in years. You know the writer got most of his points from your arch rival. Now you’re going to have to try to get the ear of other journalists and reviewers and turn around the spin before they start picking up on the article. But there’s no guarantee they will write anything, or see it your way if they do.

What a drag. There’s just been a story about your impending product release - your most important in years. You know the writer got most of his points from your arch rival. Now you’re going to have to try to get the ear of other journalists and reviewers and turn around the spin before they start picking up on the article. But there’s no guarantee they will write anything, or see it your way if they do.

What a drag. There’s just been a story about your impending product

release - your most important in years. You know the writer got most of

his points from your arch rival. Now you’re going to have to try to get

the ear of other journalists and reviewers and turn around the spin

before they start picking up on the article. But there’s no guarantee

they will write anything, or see it your way if they do.



So what’s a poor PR pro to do? Of course, you’re going to try all the

persuasive lunches and telephone briefings that you can. But these days

there is another, increasingly obvious tool in the armory when it comes

to corporate wars of words. In addition to putting in hours with the

influencers, the journalists and analysts, just go direct to the

customers.



You don’t get corporate wars much fiercer than in the hi-tech industry,

and it’s here that we are increasingly seeing tactical Web sites being

created simply to influence opinion on a particular product or

topic.



These are not the marketing sites that we’ve come to know and love that

seek to persuade us of the virtues, benefits or coolness of a product or

brand. There are few bells or whistles. Their purpose is quite

explicitly to ’dis’ the opposition.



When Microsoft’s Web site started carrying a document entitled ’Windows

2000 server: A Prime Choice over Novell’s Netware 5.0,’ Novell decided

not to take it lying down. Not only did it send in the lawyers, claiming

a number of false statements, it also created a special section on its

own site. ’The Novell Advantage over Windows 2000’

(www.novell.com/advantage/w2k.html) rebuts Microsoft’s arguments point

by point, and also carries a ’Did You Know?’ section with links to

negative press about Microsoft and Windows 2000.



Sun Microsystems, meanwhile, has not been nearly as polite. On its

’Realitycheck’ site (www.sun.com/realitycheck/), under the heading ’The

Straight Dope on W2K,’ Sun asks: ’Would you drive up to the starting

line with a vehicle containing 63,000 potential defects?’ It is

referring, of course, to the Internet economy as the Indy 500 and to

Windows 2000 as the defective car. Sun quotes The Wall Street Journal,

trade publications like Computerworld and Smart Reseller and research

firm The Gartner Group to back up its arguments.



Not that Microsoft wasn’t asking for it. The ’Dot-truth.com’ section on

its corporate Web site, subtitled ’The dot-truth is out there,’ is

dedicated to trashing Sun and just about any favorable comparison it

makes between its Solaris operating system and Windows 2000. Microsoft

also drags in Gartner Group and unspecified ’press reports’ to lend

credibility to its arguments.



Sites like these will only grow in number. They’ll especially be used in

business-to-business contexts, where corporate clients will care enough

to check out all the arguments before spending large sums of money. The

trade journalists who have traditionally held such power in these

contexts will be ’disintermediated’ by such a development - slowly edged

out of the loop as corporate PR pros go direct to the audience. The

warring sides will use journalists’ words as so much disposable

ammunition, but that’s all it will be. And their own reputations will

not shine as the words of journalists are increasingly pitted against

those of their colleagues.





- Stovin Hayter is editor-in-chief of Revolution. He can be contacted at

stovin.hayter@revolutionmagazine.com.



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