FOCUS: ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING - Screening new forms of client contact/Publishing electronically is opening up new marketing frontiers for PR agencies and contract publishers. Nick Purdom investigates

Electronic publishing has presented a potentially lucrative opportunity to PR consultancies and contract publishers. Publishing on the internet and CD-ROM offers a means of bypassing traditional media and gives entry to areas which have formerly been the domain of direct marketing and sales promotions agencies.

Electronic publishing has presented a potentially lucrative

opportunity to PR consultancies and contract publishers. Publishing on the

internet and CD-ROM offers a means of bypassing traditional media and

gives entry to areas which have formerly been the domain of direct

marketing and sales promotions agencies.



’A lot of companies rushed to put up boring web sites and then left

them.



That’s where we come in, by providing fresh and interesting third-party

editorial,’ says Craig Waller, managing director of contract publisher

Premier Magazines which recently set up Premier Interactive, specialising

in electronic publishing.



Premier Interactive is currently working with fellow Omnicom company

Agency.Com on a web site for British Airways which will give details of

in-flight entertainment and profile city destinations. There are plans to

encourage greater interactivity by inviting people who have flown with the

airline to write a critique of films thaey have seen and list their

favourite in-flight programmmes.



’With on-line publications you can get people to contribute and

participate in a much more immediate and lively way,’ says Waller.



PR agency Noiseworks is also making the most of its ability to provide

lively content by developing what it calls WebZines. ’The only difference

between these and traditional corporate web sites is content,’ explains

managing director Nick Hayes. ’Our argument is - let’s find a reason for

people to come back to a site, which means you effectively have to turn it

into an interactive magazine.’



Hayes sees huge potential in linking clients to their marketplace through

the web. ’Relationship marketing on the web allows you to understand your

customer and market directly to them.’



The concept of WebZines for relationship marketing has allowed Noiseworks

to offer something extra when it comes to winning business. ’We go into

new business pitches now and make a link between PR and sales. If you can

show that the work you do can increase sales then you can make a good

profit,’ says Hayes.



Noiseworks is currently developing WebZines for Lotus and Hewlett-Packard,

and expects to unveil the Lotus site in the next couple of months.

Content, says Hayes, will include company positioning and product details,

press stories and schematics of ad campaigns as well as information about

exhibitions, seminars and discounts.



PC retailer Gateway 2000 has gone one step further and is already selling

via the web. ’You can choose the components you want to make up your PC

and buy with your credit card,’ says Geri Ellis, business development

director of interactive communications agency Fusion Interactive, a

subsidiary of contract publisher TPD, which produces the site.



TPD sister company Bear Park, a publisher of specialist IT magazines, is

using a web site carrying a synopsis of the content of its magazines to

sell subscriptions. In the first three months 1,000 were sold, which in a

niche market is pretty impressive.



Key to developing relationship marketing on the internet is creating new

techniques to encourage people to visit sites.



Hi-tech agency A Plus, for example, is using an e-mail alert system to

inform journalists when a relevant press release has been posted on its

site.



’In relationship marketing the aim is to generate an ongoing and direct

dialogue with the customer. Say you’ve got 10,000 people you wish to

reach, you can push information to them, encourage them to respond by

e-mail, and then tailor products and services specifically to them,’ says

Andrew Smith, group account director at A Plus.



Getting people to fill in all their details and register at sites can be

difficult, but Smith says that the introduction of a ’digital passport’

will help overcome this barrier. ’You will be able to fill in your details

once and then register automatically with different sites, which will

increase the uptake of people using the web,’ says Smith.



One of the attractions of the internet, often quoted by those interested

in electronic publishing, is its ability to reach a huge audience. ’With

customer loyalty magazines you’re talking to existing members in most

cases. With the web you have a potential recruitment vehicle,’ says

Waller.



However, with figures suggesting that only two per cent of households in

the UK are connected to the internet, the number of potential recruits is

not, at present, great.



’Consumer use hinges on web TV,’ suggests Smith. Jim Addison, managing

director of contract publisher Specialist Publications, agrees: ’From next

year, when you will be able to get televisions with internet capability,

access to the net for consumers will be easier. But in the immediate

future I don’t believe electronic publishing will totally replace the

printed word.’



It is the business-to-business sector which makes the most effective use

of the internet for relationship marketing. ’The mistake many people make

with the internet is thinking that because you can reach a large audience

you should try to cultivate a large audience. The most effective sites are

those that talk to a few people but tell them exactly what they want to

know,’ says Charles Cohen, managing director of Thought Interactive, a

spin-off from PR agency Band and Brown.



Microsoft is also taking the narrowcasting approach with hundreds of

mini-sites aimed at particular audiences. Fusion Interactive is producing

a bi-monthly on-line newsletter aimed at PC manufacturers. ’Microsoft is

using the magazine as a key relationship marketing tool to improve

relations on a one-to-one basis,’ explains Ellis.



As the internet becomes ever more powerful, many believe that CD-ROM has

had its day. But there are those who think the disc still has its place.

Tim Hazelhurst is chairman of IAS Marketing and Communication which

specialises in relationship marketing for building materials clients such

as Eternit and TAC targeting architects, local authority planners and

other specifiers.



’Forty per cent of architects have access to the internet and half use it

for things other than e-mail. Over the last two years CD-ROM penetration

in this sector has increased from 40 per cent to 65 per cent and almost

all use it regularly,’ says Hazelhurst.



IAS clients are supplied with CD-ROMs which are quicker for downloading

pictures and graphics. ’The internet is still far too slow for an

architect to be able to pull down colour pictures showing roof slating

techniques, for example,’ says Hazelhurst.



A Plus recently produced a CD-ROM for IBM called Seminar in a Box,

intended to create relationships with dealers and resellers and help them

sell products. The disc contains video and sound clips, which Smith feels

could not be adequately handled by the internet. ’Even with faster modems

I don’t think video and audio are truly viable on the internet at the

moment,’ he says.



Addison is another who can see a role for the CD-ROM in contract

publishing.



’The penetration of machines is such that if you’re active in the right

sector you could use CD-ROM now,’ he says.



Electronic publishing is a burgeoning market, but whether CD-ROM will have

a significant role to play when the internet becomes a truly consumer

medium remains to be seen.



CASE STUDY: DISSEMINATING DISASSEMBLY INFORMATION



Six international construction groups are currently bidding to carry out

the disposal of Shell’s Brent Spar oil platform. Over the next three

months the bids will be analysed and discussed by a range of interested

parties including environmental groups, government departments, the media

and academia before Shell makes its proposal to the Department of Trade

and Industry in the autumn on the best way forward.



’Our biggest challenge is to explain to a wide, non-technical audience the

complexities and engineering issues that need to be resolved,’ says Eric

Faulds, decommissioning manager for Shell Exploration and Production.



Shell began using CD-ROMs more than a year ago to store the many public

reports it produces. Late last year it decided to explore the technology

further by producing a CD-ROM giving the background and general

information on Brent Spar. The disc won a Certificate of Merit in the UK

Communicators in Business Awards earlier this year.



For the next stage of the Brent Spar project - analysis of the disposal

bids - Faulds had no hesitation in turning to CD-ROM again. ’The CD’s

interactivity and its detailed animation and video sequences make it much

easier to understand and follow than the written word.’



The Brent Spar project also has its own web site containing information,

reports and press releases, but this was not considered as an alternative

to CD-ROM for detailed information and explanation about the disposal

bids. ’The internet was a non-starter. It’s not useful for running sound

and pictures. You can’t get people to download that volume of data, it

would take days,’ says Faulds.



The six contractors were asked to supply information about their

proposals.



Multimedia production company Image Blueprint of Aberdeen, working with

software company Traquair Software, then turned this into a three-minute

computer simulation in 3D plus more detailed information in the form of a

2D animation and a company profile for the CD-ROM. ’It was important all

bids were treated equally. We didn’t want it to turn into a competition

between bidders as to who could produce the best graphics,’ says

Faulds.



One thousand copies of the CD-ROM have been produced so far and the disc

will be used at a series of dialogue seminars being run around Europe.



Environmentalists, consumer groups, trade unions, government

representatives, academics and journalists are some of the other

targets.



While CD-ROM has been chosen as the most suitable medium for the job, a

video containing a synopsis of the CD-ROM has also been produced. ’Not

everyone has a CD-ROM drive,’ explains Faulds. ’I suspect CD-ROM is a

medium for the future and will become better as more and more people get

CD-ROM disc drives.’



CASE STUDY: HOOKING UP TO ANNUAL REPORTS



Several companies have put extracts of their annual report on the

internet, but Reuters claims to have been the first company in the UK to

publish its complete annual report on the web on the same day the printed

version was received by shareholders.



’The annual report is the principal document that presents Reuters to the

world, and the internet enables us to reach a much wider audience.



An electronic annual report also has advantages because it can be updated

and made more live,’ explains Peter Gregson, manager of corporate

publications at Reuters.



Corporate Graphics International, a specialist in corporate identity and

annual reports, began work on the web version of the annual report

simultaneously with the printed version in September. ’The theme for the

annual report this year was embracing the internet and there are net

analogies throughout the report. The printed version is like a manual for

the on-line version showing internet users where to click for additional

information,’ says CGI’s client services director Jo Sumner.



Reuters annual report went on-line on Monday 24 March and by Friday 28

March (Good Friday) it had registered 396 hits. ’For an annual report we’d

measure this as successful,’ comments Sumner.



Gregson is convinced of the value of putting annual reports on-line.



’It adds to our general reach to a broad spectrum of people. Our home page

would be incomplete if we didn’t have an annual report on it.’



The annual report will stay on-line for a year, and Reuters’ half-year

figures will be added when they come out in July. There are more ambitious

plans for next year’s on-line annual report. ’Hopefully we will make it

more live and interactive. We’re exploring the idea of regularly updating

Reuters’ share price and other graphs,’ says Gregson.



Sumner adds that planning is in the early stages, but suggests that CGI

will be looking at adding press releases, analyst comment and an e-mail

facility to answer visitors’ questions.



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