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
‘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
(http://www.cdtltd.co.uk) 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 (http://info.ft.com/media/) 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
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: http://www.zynet.co.uk/there
ady/PRWeek-old-hotlist.htm This is not a comprehensive list and is
intended as a taster only.
Search engines, indexes and hotlists
Still the best way of finding things on the Web or in newsgroups.
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
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
Paid-for information services on the Web
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.
Includes search engine to help you find reports. Current highlight is
forecast for growth of Internet audience.
The Brief http://www.thebrief.co.uk/
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
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
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
Sadly the best bits of this site are under lock and key, but you might
check it out.
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.
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.