Platform: In terms of the web, out of site is out of mind - By being so tardy to take up the web initiative, the PR industry is squandering a wealth of opportunities, says Richard Bailey

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 their development.

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

their development.



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

useless.



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

software.



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

communication.



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

stakeholder groups.



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

success.



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

Times.



These are poor arguments. It is time for professional communicators to

take charge of this remarkable new communications medium and exploit

this opportunity.



Richard Bailey is an independent PR consultant.



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