FOCUS INTERNET: Can you escape from the Web?

THE NET WIDENS: For people in the public relations industry the Web is proving to be an invaluable research tool ON-LINE VNRS: More and more broadcasters are downloading video clips,images and video news releases SITE SEEING: A selection of PR hot spots to provide you with a taster of information sources on the Internet

THE NET WIDENS: For people in the public relations industry the Web is

proving to be an invaluable research tool

ON-LINE VNRS: More and more broadcasters are downloading video

clips,images and video news releases

SITE SEEING: A selection of PR hot spots to provide you with a taster

of information sources on the Internet

Do you see the Internet as a fun toy to peruse over lunch, or as an

essential information source? Tom Dawn looks at what the Net has to

offer public relations professionals

There’s a noticeable and growing trend in the press to question whether

the Internet is all it has been blown up to be. After the unprecedented

hype it has received over the last two years, it would be risky for

anyone to say yes.

But the Internet continues to grow. It’s a place where you can find the

public, and business too. PR people who don’t join in are in danger of

simply marginalising themselves.

A survey by the IPR at the end of 1995 indicated that 60 per cent of PR

practitioners had experience of the Internet. In the 12 months since,

the number of registered Internet domains has increased (worldwide) from

about 120,000 to 220,000, so it is fair to assume that the proportion of

registered PR practitioners has also risen substantially.

Domain numbers are a rough and ready measure - a whole company and all

its employees can count as one domain, and the thousands of individual

subscribers joining services such as CIX, CompuServe, and America On-

Line don’t figure in that number.

The Web has also grown enormously in the same period - the total number

of sites now numbers around 170,000 compared with 30,000 before. In the

US, several estimates say that 22 per cent of ‘young adults’ have access

to the Internet, and that the proportion will grow to 33 per cent by the

year 2001.

‘You need only to look to America,’ says Simon Brocklebank-Fowler,

managing director of Citigate Corporate. ‘Citigate Group has a

substantial US operation. It’s an absolute prerequisite there for doing

business, both in PR and advertising.’

So far, the US Internet experience has proved to be a barometer for what

happens in the UK around 12 months later. So Citigate has Web access on

every PC, and makes heavy use of e-mail internally and with clients. E

mail is one of the most compelling arguments in favour of the Internet,

and accounts for the bulk of traffic. Citigate is also developing an

Intranet, a means of sharing internal resources using standard Internet

software for its front-end.

‘Increasingly the Internet is the way of getting corporate background on

potential or existing clients, and as a reciprocal we’ve been designing

Web sites for clients who increasingly realise it’s a cost of business.

A ‘need to have’,’ says Brocklebank-Fowler.

The mainstream, consuming public has so far proved wary of the Internet,

a finding confirmed by recent research in the US by market research

firms Odyssey and Yankel-ovich Partners. However, Brocklebank-Fowler

predicts this pattern will be rocked within three years, by the

Internet-on-TV deal recently sewn up between BSkyB, British Telecom and


But for business and PR, there is no need to wait. Citigate’s use of the

Internet is just the same as what most other PR agencies appear to be

doing. Firstly, they make extensive use of e-mail. Secondly, using the

Web as a research tool, they research new pitches. Thirdly, they use

client’s Web sites, especially pages dedicated to company-originated

press releases, to keep abreast of their own clients. Using the Internet

in this way as a ‘sharing resource’ is, of course, what the Intranet

does for internal communications.

Even if your clients don’t have an official Web site, it may prove to be

worth your while to look them up using one of the Internet search tools

(freely available). Unofficial Web sites are rife, and you can never

tell what they will say.

But with around 170,000 Web sites to keep a check on, it really is quite

a task to keep on top of everything that’s being said. Apart from Web

sites, there are other things on the Web as well. Live chat and

multimedia events apart, there are a great number of discussion groups,

which are oriented around special interests. In addition to a plethora

of fringe newsgroups, there are also equivalent groups within the bounds

of commercial on-line service providers, where PRs and journalists have

day-to-day contact on a friendly, informal, but purposeful level.

‘From a professional standpoint, suppose you are stuck looking for

someone, you can post your question out to a group, now you’ve reached

out beyond the traditional limits of communication,’ says Robert Grupe,

Text 100’s on-line communications manager in Seattle.

‘PR professionals need to get a hold of these media, because PR has to

be set up for a variety of media, where each community has to have

specialist targeting and participation.’ Grupe adds that although there

are many people who don’t participate in the newsgroups, those who do

are very active. In tune with the theme of tailoring the message, Text

100’s new Web site concentrates on regionalised messages, for specific

audiences in English, French and German, including dialects.

So these groups are a good way of finding what is going on, as well as

being a very useful source for the many times you want a contact, some

background information, or advice, but there are hundreds of them. For

comprehensive monitoring there are a number of automatic methods called

intelligent agents that look out for key words of interest.

These are capable of a limited amount of discrimination between useful

and irrelevant mentions, and they make it much easier to scan the huge

number of sources regularly. For instance, apart from several separate

media-related discussion groups on the Internet, several on-line

providers have their own.

A test of the effectiveness of the Web as a delivery tool recently came

from A Plus, with what it claims was the world’s first entirely Web-

based press release, for Cambridge Display Technologies

( which journalists could access either via the

Internet or on disk.‘The response was very good indeed,’ says A Plus

partner Jonathan Simnett, who insists that the approach is not

restricted to ‘anoraks’. ‘Any freelance journalist who wants to stay in

business has a computer and a connection,’ he adds.

A Plus publicised the press pack through a variety of channels, by e-

mail, by posting announcements at a number of media-related discussion

groups, and by fax and post as well. ‘Let’s not pretend that we don’t

use paper,’ says Simnett.

But it is important to recognise that while the Web is still growing

rapidly in importanceas a source of stories for journalists, if you

want to read what they wrote, you need to turn to other sources. If you

want to see the contents of a researcher’s report, or if you want top

notch business and financial information, you have to pay for it.

All these services are available, using the Internet as a delivery tool,

but for a price. PR Week covered the emergence of MAID’s Profound

service some time ago - and eleven of the top 15 agencies from the PR

Week Top 150 league table now subscribe to it.

FT Information is also changing over to an Internet-based delivery tool,

which will be compatible with corporate Intranets. As a marketing tool,

FT Information is offering ‘something for nothing’ company information

searches, linked to its Discovery product.

There is also a daily news review, which has been broken down into

various sectors, on its Web site ( in addition

to its weekly newsletter FT Media Monitor.

You still have to pay up-front subscriptions for these products, many of

which are too large for small agencies and freelance journalists.

But the next phase of Internet marketing is called the microtransaction,

where you pay just a little for a little information. Dun and Bradstreet

is in there with its Web site, which will give you detailed company

information for dollars 20 (automatically debited from your credit card

at your request).

This service covers the vast database of US-based companies in the

company’s database, and this really is a site for the other information

providers to watch.

Multimedia: Video screenings on the Internet

Television reckons to own the term multimedia, so it might be expected

to have an interest in the upstart Internet. Indeed, the BBC was an

active provider of Internet services in its early days.

However, the most popular sites that broadcasters visit contain hard

news, with foreign content being a significant factor, and jazzy

graphics clearly do not figure. This appears to tie in with a separation

of the Internet into its original purpose, for information transmittal,

and the emergence of very extravagant entertainment sites.

These were the findings of a survey in October, by Bulletin

International. It investigated Internet use among broadcasters who had

registered with its own service, Bulletin News Network (BNN).

Some 63 per cent had connections which meant they did not need to worry

about the size of the files they downloaded (video clips are usually

very large indeed). Yet sites of particular interest were newspapers

including the Washington Post and the Times, and government sites

including the Whitehouse, the Pentagon and the FBI.

Apart from an interest in news sources, in common with many other

journalists, broadcasters can access a number of TV-oriented Internet

sites which contain video clips and photographic resources. PRs can, of

course, reciprocate by looking at the television and radio Web sites,

which every channel has.

The mode was to spend one or two hours a week on-line, and most expected

this to increase to three to five hours a week. A complementary survey

of broadcasters in mainland Europe indicated 60 per cent already gather

news from the Net and 83 per cent expect to be on-line within a year.

Other developing services for broadcasters include MediaLink - which

runs a successful audio Web news release service for radio stations -FT

television, and IPMG Newsdesk, the IT news distributor. Newsdesk has

just completed its first-year experimental project with customers IBM

and Hewlett-Packard. The site includes 30 second clips of video news

releases, which broadcasters can use to decide whether they want to

download the full VNRs.

Subjects included IBM’s coverage of the Olympics (one of 15 VNRs), and

Hewlett-Packard’s work with Disney for The Lion King (one of eight).

According to Newsdesk, use of its broadcaster’s section is increasing.

The IBM VNRs were accessed on 411 occasions, and Hewlett-Packard’s VNRs

on 151 occasions. In addition to Newsdesk’s knowledge of downloads, it

knows of cases in Germany, Italy, and the Irish Republic where the VNRs

were broadcast.

Special hardware and software is needed to stream video across the

Internet without wasting band width, and this is still a developing

technology. The Newsdesk Internet VNR service, which is based on a high

speed VDOLive server, will be launched as a full Video Live service in


Site seeing: PR hotspots

PR Week’s selection of Web sites can be found at Internet


You can save yourself some typing by going straight to this and the

previous PR Week hotlist at the address:

ady/PRWeek-old-hotlist.htm This is not a comprehensive list and is

intended as a taster only.

Search engines, indexes and hotlists

Alta Vista

Still the best way of finding things on the Web or in newsgroups.

Text 100

Slim at the moment, but expected to grow. It is worth exploring this

site to see how Text is handling the regionalisation of its public

relations message.

Yahoo! UK PR Companies

s/Corporate_Services/Public_Relations/There are several sections which

include public relations - try using the Yahoo’s search engine to locate

the others.

Paid-for information services on the Web

FT Information

Real-time corporate and financial news, plus a sample of the AFX news

service, updated every few minutes. Also has a growing company

information service, and is soon to introduce special-interest news


Dun and Bradstreet

The nearest thing we could find to micromarketing - dollars 20 buys you

information on any of the 10 million companies on this database. There’s

a useful example of what you might expect to get.

Forrester Research

Includes search engine to help you find reports. Current highlight is

forecast for growth of Internet audience.

The Brief

A future events diary for arts, the media, and entertainment. A

subscription service, but you can get a sample of what’s on offer. See

also Profound on the last PR Week hotlist (29 March, 1996)

E-zines, events and media guides

Internet Marketing Digest

A really useful cull of UK and NL press cuttings about Internet

marketing, which can be sent to you by email for free.

Media-related E-zine list johnl/e-zine-list/keywords/media.html

Eleven media-related electronic magazines, all of which you can see on

the Web for an idea of their content. If you like them, you can also

request some of the titles to be delivered by e-mail.

Site seeing: PR hotspots continued

Media Professional e-zine

One of the better e-zines from the list - you can elect to have it

delivered to you by e-mail.

Marcus Austin’s media and marketing guide

A no-nonsense hotlist with a few worthwhile sites.

BT Business Connections



Complements BT’s advertisingon teleworking, with news and discount


Government, UK and Europe

European Commission

The essential jumping-off point for all sorts of Community information.

The EC R&D information database

Only one of the Community’s web sites. Cordis is an example of one of

the big databases it makes available.

Hansard and UK government published information

There is a very big open government project. A bit hard to find, but

rather useful.

TV sites

Bulletin International

Sadly the best bits of this site are under lock and key, but you might

check it out.

FT-Television headlines

Hotlinked news items stream past the first page,like ticker tape. See

also NEWSdesk and Medialink in the last PR Week hotlist (29 March, 1996)

European Business News

Good use of the Web site as a feedback route, and plenty of information

about the channel’s programmes, with presenter and contact details.

Agent technologies


Stanford’s free NetWatch service seems to have moved, but is essentially

still the same. You can use it to get a taste of what intelligent agent

technology can do. Access is either via the Web site or by email.

IBM’s Agent technology

There’s some interesting information on this site explaining the

technology. It is smarter than keyword matching, although that is a

starting point. Tell it when it has found the right sort of story and it

gets better at its job.

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