AT THE KEY STROKE: The time is ripe for cutting a swathe through
paperwork in favour of on-line news distribution
UNTANGLING THE WEB: Companies offer web site audiences the option of
accessing via CD-ROMs or the Internet
INTERNAL COMMS: Electronic newsletters reach international offices
simultaneously and are easily updated
Both journalists and PR people are discovering that press packs in an
electronic format are more accessible and less disposable than
traditional paper-based counterparts.
Even though most publishing processes are carried out using computers,
the end product has traditionally been paper-based. But, as computer
power increases and new media appear, electronic publishing has become a
At first glance, the Internet seems the most compelling media, but it
can be complemented by the appropriate use of CD-ROM multimedia, and
even the humble floppy disk.
These new media have important implications for PR operators who think
they can carry on in the paper world in their accustomed manner.
Firstly, the basic information flow is changing direction.
‘There’s a shift towards pulling bits of information,’ says Greg
Levendusky, managing director of the Weber Group. ‘Traditionally
journalists would receive information from us, but the new generation of
journalists find things themselves on the web, and come to us if they
have any more questions.’
Levendusky complements this mode of working with journalists, with
careful attention to personal relationships with them. He believes in
‘narrowcasting’, or delivering custom-built stories to journalists.
‘The person-to-person relationship is always as good as the next piece
of information that you give them,’ he adds wryly.
One of the most important points that this highlights about electronic
publishing, is that it is not entirely up to the people in PR to choose
when they want to change their publishing format - just as important is
when their customers or their audience change preference.
‘In the hi-tech sector we’re expected to know how to produce CD-ROMs and
web-based marketing tools,’ says Andrew Smith, group account director at
A Plus. ‘It’s on everyone’s checklists when they choose their agency.’
‘The world and his dog is saying things like ‘we ought to be doing CD
ROM and web sites’, but persuading people to commit is more of an
exercise. When push comes to shove there’s often hesitation, because to
do it well takes a significant investment.’
A Plus should be well aware of this, since its first multimedia
publication has been its own glitzy brochure - The Guide to Getting
Noticed in Europe. Since the agency reckons three-quarters of its
prospective customers have access to multimedia PCs and it is a good
opportunity to impress. A Plus puts video clips on prospective
customers’ desktops which shows three of its staff explaining the A Plus
culture. The CD also contains reams of information about the Euro Plus
network, with smart traveller’s guides to major cities wherever there
are Euro Plus offices
But while it is easy to rave about the capabilities of technology, the
fact remains that paper is a cheap, easy and established method of
distribution. It gets on to journalists desks, you can control its
appearance and it is easy to scan or read.
Given paper’s advantages of economy, quality, and reliability, and the
fact that most readers prefer it, electronic alternatives may begin to
Yet clearly, they have their own important advantages. These include the
fact that journalists use computers, so electronic information can be
more convenient for them to use and easier to store; multimedia (and
Video News Releases) can make your information stand out; the web is
effective for reaching large, or ill-defined, audiences and e-mail
offers a personal high-priority communications route.
Examples of the directions in which electronic publishing is likely to
develop in the near future can be found in many sectors. Two have been
illustrated in the case studies - an electronic newsletter for employee
communications, and multimedia for the motor trade press.
A third area is providing electronic information for City analysts. For
example, Dewe Rogerson and Hoare Govett included spreadsheet files on a
floppy disk, in the flotation document for the mobile phone company
That allowed analysts an opportunity to experiment with the figures
themselves, in a convenient and familiar format.
The mobile phone industry appears to be falling for the ‘me too’
syndrome. Once one company started using CD-ROM multimedia for
marketing, suddenly they all wanted a share of the scene. Philips, Nokia
and Ericsson have all produced electronic marketing literature for their
mobile phones, including high resolution pictures that editors can drop
straight into desktop publishing layouts.
‘Pictures will often get used just because they’re there on the CD-ROM,’
says Simon Rockman, editor of What Mobile and Cellphone. ‘Nokia’s is
best because it includes lifestyle shots.’
The most important factors in choosing either CD-ROM multimedia or
Internet media, is whether your target audience can, or wants, to use
Levendusky, for instance, is fairly dismissive about CD-ROM. ‘It’s a
nice idea which we were interested in at one time, but the web is
sweeping that aside,’ he says.
‘Yes, the Internet is simpler,’ agrees Iain Cairns, production
controller at Harlyn Multimedia. ‘There are a lot of people out there on
the Internet, which makes distribution easy. However, multimedia offers
better potential results, as long as the people you’re trying to reach
have access to multimedia. The greatest penetration of multimedia PCs in
the last three years has been home computers.
‘We’re looking towards a point where women’s and mainstream consumer
magazines have CD-ROMs mounted on the cover, not just the techie ones,’
One of Harlyn’s major clients is Wimpey, for whom it produces a paper-
based customer magazine. The company’s principal customers are young
people and first time buyers. Research shows that roughly a third of all
couples in this group own a multimedia PC, on which basis Wimpey is
considering producing a multimedia brochure.
Apart from the interactive benefits of multimedia, an important
advantage in using multimedia is as a unique selling point. ‘People are
unlikely to throw a CD-ROM straight into the bin,’ Cairns claims.
But while electronic publishing can be considered a viable alternative
to paper-based publishing, one of the major growth areas in Internet
publishing uses the Internet as complementary to paper publications.
Most newspapers or magazines in the western world have already got
either a web site or plans to produce one. Company publications are just
as able to make good use of the web.
For instance, since IBM designed a software product called MQ to get
owners of mainframe dinosaurs out of a scrape, it has produced a monthly
magazine to promote and explain its function to IT managers. It is
produced by Oast Communications, in four languages, and it has a
circulation of 50,000.
A web-based version with an identical content was created at the same
time, and this has produced 3,500 on-line subscription requests in six
After the magazine pages are designed on DTP, the publisher saves them
as Portable Document Files (an Adobe software product) so that the
magazine can be reproduced electronically and distributed as part of a
product information CD-ROM about MQ.
‘Doing MQ on-line, the main thing I’ve noticed are that it’s a lot more
effort than I expected,’ says Andrew Rodaway, a partner at Oast.
‘You need to put time and money into promoting the site, and you need to
think carefully about how you request feedback and so on. But it can be
very successful if you get it right.’
IT product information is one of the most popular business uses of CD-
ROMs. ‘They are very, very common,’ commented one seasoned hack.
Indeed, as most IT firms have web sites as well, a cost-effective way of
having two for the price of one is to put your web site on a CD-ROM.
Digital has done this with products such as its Alpha Workstations,
which provides the advantage for many users in Europe that they can
avoid paying on-line charges to see the large Internet site.
While the Internet may be an easy means for companies to distribute
their information, in such sprawling sites it is not always so easy for
readers to find what they want. Visitors to a site may include
journalists, business partners, employees, analysts, the public, and
‘It’s a key thing we need to look at,’ stresses Levendusky, ‘designing
web sites to appeal to diverse audiences.’
Just as the web seems set to become a more important means of informing
journalists, there is a growing need to cater separately for each
audience and to help them find the type information they seek.
In this, as in other media, the definition of content is clearly the
essential communications role that PR needs to address.
Electronic newsletters: Instant information
Winner of a new internal e-news publications category in this year’s
Communicators in Business awards, TOMNET News is a monthly internal
company newsletter for Total Oil Marine employees. Disappointingly,
however, there were only two entries.
The format of TOMNET News is simple, but boldly formatted text, with
short, often bullet-point, summaries of stories. ‘People like the sharp
style, direct approach,’ says editor Doug Alsop, who is a communications
officer in Total. ‘The results of a survey [on TOMNET News] showed that
people think it’s an effective method, very user friendly.’
The crucial point to understand about the readers is that they are
stationed in every far-flung part of the world, from platforms in the
North Sea to Asia, the Middle East and South America.
The electronic newsletter is distributed in moments using the company’s
computer network, and employees can retrieve it through bulletin boards.
The need for a coherent network is of course a major obstacle for
companies that don’t have one.
The electronic newsletter focuses on operational matters. This
complements more in-depth coverage in a glossy quarterly magazine,
TomTom, which is distributed to a wider readership.
The newsletter is written by Alsop in Aberdeen, edited in London by Dewe
Rogerson, and made up in Portsmouth by Integrated Media Systems (IMS).
Leon Rees, head of IMS, recalls an incident which demonstrated the value
of electronic publishing. He was in the middle of putting an issue to
bed on the morning of Total’s annual shareholder meeting when he heard
from Doug Alsop that Total’s chairman had left for Alcatel Alsthom and
had been replaced by another director.
‘If the newsletter had been on paper, we’d have been a month late with
the news,’ says Rees. ‘As it was it took half an hour to approve the
story, and by lunchtime it was on the platforms.’
Taking this a step further, Communications software specialists ION
International offers on-screen publishing with an interactive element.
‘E*News, with its on-screen polling function, is enabling companies to
enter a new era of internal communications in which employees and
management are able to have instant two-way dialogue on issues of the
day,’ says David Davis, chairman of ION International.
E*News enables corporate communicators to conduct internal audits,
readership surveys and market research and can operate across networks
from as small as 10 terminals and with no upper limit.
Daewoo: CD proves a hit with journalists
Daewoo has been a favourite subject for marketing case studies since its
highly successful launch on to the UK car market in 1994.
It has now followed up its innovative use of multimedia for marketing
and in the showroom, with a multi-media press pack.
‘We all know how much journalists receive through the post each
morning,’ says Alison Moran, Daewoo Cars press officer. ‘We also know
that most of it goes straight in the bin. But motoring journalists, for
example, need to refer back to information all the time, and this is a
compact, ready-filed information source for them. They can grab text,
pictures, view the details of our test-drive fleet, and print out a
test-drive booking form to fax to us.’
The disk also contains substantial background information about the huge
Korean textiles-to-spacecraft conglomerate, as well as video clips of
the two basic car models.
‘Journalists like it,’ says Moran. ‘It’s novel, we are definitely the
first motor manufacturer to do this. Everything is there at the touch of
a button, and it makes it more interesting to find out about something.
‘The crucial thing is that journalists can get access to the information
they need quickly and easily, and not have to wait for us,’ she adds.
The CD-ROM is sent to around 1,700 motoring journalists, freelancers and
even small weekly newspapers, and updated every six months. The
proportion of these that do not have access to a multimedia PC is
unknown. The CD-ROM is also used as an internal tool to brief directors
and managers on the business.
Multimedia is a growing feature of showrooms, including those of Rover
and Nissan dealers. Daewoo’s marketing approach is unusually reliant on
multimedia however, for a number of reasons.
The showrooms are built on a superstore concept. The showrooms are owned
by Daewoo, so there are a limited number. These are supplemented by
satellites and kiosks, roadshows and a web site, which all rely on
multimedia to create a virtual showroom, open 24 hours.
Daewoo also used electronic assistance rather than salespeople wherever
possible. This was part of a strategy to avoid giving people the feeling
of a hard sell. The touch-screen help points principally guide customers
through the car details, specifications, and so on.
In addition, an interactive questionnaire about the way people used
their car guides them to a particular model, which they can then
customise with accessories or different colours, and see the result on-
Multimedia packs: Finger on the web
An Internet devotee recently claimed ‘we don’t want boring ASCII text on
But while classifying language as boring, he illustrated an important
point. The web was designed to deliver information, not a gallery of
sound and graphics.
Nonetheless, many see the web’s future as a multimedia entertainment
medium, held back only by the heavy penalty in on-line charges for modem
You have a choice when publishing information electronically. If you
want to reach a large but ill-defined audience without taking on a major
distribution job, then the web may well be the answer. Not everyone is
on it, but a surprising number are. Most users want information,
attractively presented, but without extravagant designs and graphics. Of
course, you also have to let them know your web site exists, and attract
readers with some kind of promotion. Multimedia CD-ROMS, on the other
hand, you can put on people’s desks, even though they may not be able to
read them.A CD-ROM gives you the power to collect many hundreds of
megabytes of information on a disk that costs about a pound. That makes
it a reasonably cheap way, for instance, to distribute high resolution
pictures that a magazine can use without the trouble or cost of
scanning. A number of photo libraries are beginning to use CD-ROMs, and
there are readily available standards common to any type of computer
hardware or software.
The way a multi-media presentation is rolled together, means you can
only cater for one type of computer at a time. A presentation designed
for a PC won’t work on a Mac or a Unix machine or an IBM mini-computer.
One way around this is to design the presentation using web pages, and
put these on the CD, together with a browser. This approach has been
used, for example, by Digital in promoting its Alpha workstations.
Web pages can be viewed on most types of computers. Their multimedia
capability is more limited, but at least a CD-ROM caters for users who
don’t want to download a lot of graphics and animations, or who don’t
own a modem.
Another alternative, which can be delivered either on the web or CD, is
a document viewer such as Adobe’s Acrobat. This is not yet multi-media,
but it captures the graphical formatting of a design in a way that is
convenient for conventional DTP production, and which makes it available
to readers regardless of the type of computer they own.
The full range of electronic media is considerably broader than this.
The main technology choices form a substantial chunk of a recent
PIRA book Advertising in a Multimedia Age. (ISBN 185802 159 6). This
also devotes space to radio and television technologies not covered
One of its most significant conclusions is that there is a transfer of
advertising spending to new media and television, and away from
conventional print media.