It is now about three years since leading organisations in all
sectors first registered their presence on the worldwide web. In this
time, a clear pattern has emerged among corporate web sites - which can
be categorised according to the priorities of the team responsible for
Many corporate sites were developed by advertising agencies. These
advertising-driven sites sport excellent graphics and shiny backgrounds
- they have all the advantages of a static advertisement, but lack the
dynamic content so cherished by web surfers. Some offer so little
encouragement to the visitor that they even fail to give basic contact
information about the company. In short, they tend to be beautiful, but
Then there are the sites developed by IT experts. These display the
latest IT tricks like badges of honour. But the problem with these
hi-tech sites is that they too often fail to communicate because they
exclude those who don’t have the most up to date computers and browser
Advertising sites that fail to inform and hi-tech sites that fail to
communicate. What a waste of opportunities.
The web is not (yet) primarily about selling, nor is it any longer all
about computer technology. It is concerned with information and
This is demonstrated by the successful use made of the web by
non-commercial bodies - such as the Louise Woodward campaign for
justice. Thus, the discipline best placed to take control of corporate
web sites is surely the one concerned with information and
communications - PR.
So what would a PR-driven web site look like? It may have less style
than an advertising site, but it would have more substance. It should
consciously avoid technical ’bells and whistles’ on the grounds of
communicating with the widest possible audience.
As far as information is concerned, its content, including news
releases, would be regularly updated - at least weekly, and in some
cases on a daily or even hourly basis. It would also recognise the needs
of different audiences, offering customised content for, say, investors,
customers, journalists and potential recruits.
It would not be a static, isolated site, but a dynamic one linked to its
wider community, just as all successful companies are tied to other
Above all it should seek to communicate with interested parties. It
should offer location information and contact phone numbers. It should
provide details about the board and the management team, making it easy
to know to whom to address letters, e-mails and phone calls. It should
encourage communication by running competitions and by offering
on-screen forms of feedback.
By informing and communicating in this way, the PR-driven web site would
demonstrate corporate citizenship in action. It could save some money
over its advertising - and hi-tech-driven alternatives, and it should
contribute in a measurable way to the company’s pursuit of sustained
So why have PR professionals been slow to take a lead? Initially, the
web audience was seen as small, subversive and unrepresentative.
Latterly, it has been seen as too broad and international to be of value
in targeted communications campaigns; and too little real business has
been conducted on the web - yet. Above all the chairman’s awareness of
and interest in the internet has been much lower than in the Financial
These are poor arguments. It is time for professional communicators to
take charge of this remarkable new communications medium and exploit
Richard Bailey is an independent PR consultant.