Communications People Have No Business Running Web SitesBy: Andy Marken
"The Internet is about competition. It's about growth. It's about reaching out to your people, your suppliers, your business partners, your customers in new and more comprehensive ways. In this new environment real-time access to information is power."Lou Gerstner, president of IBM
For almost anyone reading Public Relations Quarterly the basic premise of this article seems like hierarchy. After all, you’re the communicators for your companies. You're the ones who are responsible for interpreting and disseminating information about companies, their management and products to their many target markets.
We’ve heard the rationale for PR (and marketing communications) Web site "ownership" at so many conferences we were almost beginning to believe it ourselves.
Fortunately we also understand the difference between one-way conduits and one-on-one communications. We also realize firms live or die based on sales…winning and retaining one customer at a time.
Before we enter the fray over Web site "ownership," let’s make certain we are talking about the same World Wide Web.
The Web as we know it today is really less than five years old. It sits on a network of more than 100,000 networks spread around the globe. There are more than 32 million devices accessing the Web. This number is expected to grow to more than 300 million by the year 2001. More than 1,000 new Web sites are posted each month. The average document sits on a business Web site for three months.
Internet and Web technologies have spread like nothing the world has seen before. They have changed forever the way we educate, inform and entertain. They have flattened organization charts; blurred the lines between customers, staff personnel and suppliers; erased country borders; and changed the work habits, locations and hours of millions of people.
A Tool Born for PR
The Internet and Web would appear to be tools tailor made for public relations and communications people. But two books we recently read, a client’s site development program and a review of sites that really work make us question the wisdom of management putting something as useful as the Web in the hands of communications "professionals."
The first book by Shel Holtz, Public Relations on the Net…Winning Strategies to Inform and Influence the Media, the Investment Community, the Government, the Public and More! is well worth reading. It explains how the Internet and Web can be used to address the informational needs of nearly all of public relations’ audiences. The author uses all the right words…writing for the screen, targeted messages, press agentry, monitoring/measurement, etc. However, he doesn’t spend much effort using the two words that measure the success or failure of a company and its management…Sell, Service.
The second book, The Later Years, from H&M Publishers is an accumulation of writings by Edward L. Bernays. Bernays, often called the dean of modern day public relations, died in 1986. He never had the opportunity to take full advantage of the communications tools we take for granted today like the fax, computer, Internet or Web. A strong-willed and practical PR person, he was a strong proponent (some might say antagonist) of having communications people understand and use the behavioral sciences to improve the relationship between an individual, idea or product and the publics rather than simple one-way communications. Liberally translated, he was talking about one-to-one communications, the true strengths of the Internet, and Web.
Establishing PR/Web Ground Rules
The final event was a “discussion” with a firm’s parent company public relations and communications management. They had determined they would develop a single Web presence for the corporation. All divisions and product groups would have their information included but that the site would be run by public relations and marketing communications. It was a logical publishing opportunity for internal, external, investor, customer, government and communications relations.
But let’s examine some of their site guidelines:
Visitor Centric Guidelines
Compare this internally focused Web site with sites that make it fast and easy for people to:
The Corporate Policy Site
Cisco’s has been widely publicized because it’s an extraordinarily successful profit center for the company producing more than $5 million in sales every day. But there are other things that can be learned by studying their site and their approach to the Web:
Beyond the PR Scope
All of this goes well beyond what one PR person had in mind at a recent meeting we attended when she said it was important for people in the profession to take control of their organization’s Web site.
These organizations are succeeding because they focus on defining, developing and improving the relationship with each person who visits the firm’s Web site. They don’t focus on motivating the visitor to a specific action. Instead, they work to develop long term relationships because long-term memory and retention value are more important than short-term motivation.
If PR or communications people get the assignment for their firm’s Web site they should shed every idea of how the communications process works and their target "audience." In today’s flattened virtual organization a Web site isn’t about ownership and control. It's about global one-to-one communications that is a corporate issue…not a departmental issue.
They will probably be far more effective behind the scenes rather than struggling to control the new medium.
© Copyright 1999, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications
The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.