We started enjoying the benefits of the Internet before it was the Internet.
When the National Science Foundation awarded the first four contracts to connect engineers and scientists around the country into an on-line community, we started to work with the fledgling CERFnet that established the Western leg of the NSFnet.
Up until the any-to-any communications network went commercial it was a badge of courage and honor to struggle with the unfriendly network of networks.
It was an amazing means of communications!
With newer and more user-friendly interfaces as well as the introduction of the Web things got even better.
Now they’re also worse than ever butâ€¦
Sending emails back and forth is faster and more reliable than sending letters through the USPS.
It’s easier than using the telephone and playing phone tag for hours and days on end.
It even enables you to tap into sites around the globe and research almost anything, anywhere, anytime.
We’re not big surfing fans but our son has no problem cruising from site to site gathering information on our solar system, string theory, tons of things he has a hard time explaining to us.
The Data Rich Web
Recently we had to conduct some on-line research for a client.
We searched through more that 50 on-line press rooms.
We found news releases, white papers, literature, financial statements, product reviews and more.
The Web delivered up a veritable gold mine of information.
Almost everything you would want to knowâ€¦except!
Way too often, we couldn’t find an editorial contact.
Tech support? Sure.
Sales? No problem.
Webmaster? Buried but there.
But no fast, easy way for a member of the media â€“ professional and citizen media person — to contact someone who would give them additional information.
For many we did find the editorial contact informationâ€¦had to search but we found it.
But the â€œproblem” bothered us so we returned to the office the next day to continue the unscientific research.
We chose five different product categories â€“ video post-production, storage, streaming video, network management and network security.
We randomly chose web sites of large and small firms around the globe â€“ 10 in each category.
Seven sites had no PR contact informationâ€¦anywhere
Five sites had PR contact information posted in the corporate information area, not in the press room
Eight sites contained IR contact information which we guess could be used in a pinch
Five sites required media people to register before they could access the press room area
Eight sites instructed members of the press who had questions to fill in the name, publication and email blanks and send their queries to the company. Then someone would get back to them probably only with an email.
Seven sites listed a general public relations email contact address
Ten sites listed the PR contact information on the first page of the pressroom with a specific person’s name. Sometimes only an email address was listed and at other times they included email and phone contact information.
Nearly 2/3 of the companies only wanted one-way communications with members of the mediaâ€¦outbound.
Hey, we can’t produce world peace but we can make life a little easier for a reporter, editor, blogger, analyst or producer to find the contact information.
Most of the client sites now have one or more names and contact information listed.
We just completed a detailed analysis of the reports we received on global editorial traffic to one of our clients press kits posted on VPO (Virtual Press Office) following a recent trade show.
It’s great the way their reports provide detailed analysis of our show press materials — access numbers by press release in the on-line kit.
Based on the perspective of quality, quantity and global reach the event was good from the PR perspective.
The information also raised questions:
what happened after they read the releases?
did they get everything they needed â€“ photos, information?
did they do an article, blog report?
VPO is a good service but it is only part of the solution for serving members of the media 24×7, around the globe. The PR web site â€“ as Shel Holtz, author of Public Relations on the Net, points out in his books â€“ is or should be an even more vital tool in your PR program.
Every editor/reporter we have talked to in recent years has accessed/used information from VPO on-line kits.
We asked members of the media what they expected from a PR web site.
Everyone had his or her list of what a PR web site should contain.
PR Site Checklist
What company PR web sites need isn’t brain surgeryâ€¦its journalism 101:
Contact information â€“ real names, phone numbers (office, cell), email addresses, not email@example.com. Forget those forms we often see that requires reporters to fill in with their query and someone, sometime will get back to them. Clearly written PR policy commitment to get back to the editor, reporter, analyst in at least 24 hours (faster if possible). If the company has PR people responsible for various product or company areas list contacts so the press doesn’t have to practice the email shuffle or play phone tag
Current news releases as word documents, not HTML or a month-long data stream. List them by most current date and release summary with a live link to the complete release
Company and product background
Technical/application white papers
Product Q&As, FAQs, product data sheets
How-to pieces and customer case studies
Stock and in-use, environment type product shots they can download immediately without having to jump through hoops â€“ low and high resolution
Key executive photos and bios
Industry and financial analyst contact information
Screen shots and PowerPoint presentations
Demos of products/services
Executive speeches with approval to quote freely with direct PR access for added information or assistance
If you want the product reviewed by the media; have a fast, easy method for the reporter, analyst, editor to request evaluation productâ€¦then deliver immediately after they have been qualified (you do know most of the journalists in your space right?)
Prices â€“ company stock and product (suggested retail and street)
We have received mixed signals from journalists about PR sites that request members of the media to register for access to the web site and the content.
Some think it’s a company excuse to grab his/her contact info to inundate them with â€œnews.”
Others don’t mind.
Most won’t register for PR web sites.
They’ll get their information from VPO, calling helpful/available PR folks or by doing subject searches using their search engine.
The exercise proved the point.
By changing our clients’ PR sites information we’ve noticed an increase in the number of emails and phone calls from members of the media.
It isn’t an overwhelming increase but noticeable.
What is remarkable is how often they on the fact that the contact information was easy to find and easy.
Of course others on the Internet found the contact information as well.
The number of customers who wanted to â€œtalk” with a real person when they had an installation or application question or problem also increased.
But that’s okay because we’ve found it is important to solve the issue before little items get blown out of proportion.
Editors, reporters and analysts need the information when they need it.
Not when it is convenient for public relations.
They should be able to obtain general information round the clock and round the calendar.
They shouldn’t have to â€œrequest” basic information.
Other Points to Ponder
Every company can benefit from having and maintaining an online newsroom to provide documents, graphics and press kits to the media. Public relations shouldn’t be a gatekeeper in today’s global access world.
They should be facilitators.
Online PR materials are an increasingly important part of the mix. The problem is the PR site has to be easy to access, easy to use and be constantly updated.
Public relations needs to be able to use the content management software so they can update information, add breaking news and deal with crises without waiting for IT or the web team.
You need their assistance to promote news, events and activities on the company home page and have links to more in-depth information.
You need their help in understanding how you can track who accesses the press information and what news or areas are accessed and used most.
You need their expertise in gathering data that can show the value of the PR web site and the return on investment the company gets from the site.
And the point is?
The job isn’t to simply send out news releases and expect members of the media to use them.
The release should be just the beginning of the conversation, assuming it is well written, newsworthy and sent to the right person.
That’s the beginning of the PR process, not the end.
More importantly, because of the 24×7 availability of the Internet more and more members of the research and media communities are using these tools to flush out their reports, news items and articles.
If they can’t easily find the PR contact information they will simply click through to the next source â€“ your competition and another opportunity slipped through your fingers.
If you want the press to call, make it easy for them to callâ€¦BAM!!!
Or don’t complain (usually its management that complains about your â€œlack of performance”) when your company, your management and your products aren’t getting the full coverage they need and deserve.