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E-Business and Public Relations

Public relations, or PR for short, is usually an afterthought at most e-business web sites. While every business wants and needs free publicity, sprinkling a few press releases or links to news articles on a web page does not constitute public relations. PR, often the forgotten stepchild of e-business, is one of its most misunderstood and yet most valuable marketing tools.

One of the most important PR elements is the online press release and press room. A proper online press room can be a source of publicity about your company and an important resource for journalists. However, for most e-businesses, press releases are ill-conceived and of little interest to anyone other than the CEO. They are emailed or faxed to a list of editors and reporters, with the misconception that the recipients will actually write stories from these releases! PR professionals know better. Press releases do little for your business anymore because the old "publish and pray—send and forget" strategy no longer works. In addition, bombarding journalists with press releases can actually harm the reputation of your company.

Should you give up on writing press releases? Of course not. If press releases are well conceived and sent out as a part of a comprehensive promotional program, they have their uses—if written correctly. (We'll look at that a bit later.)

Before you compose that press release and click the send button, put yourself in a journalist's place. You're swamped by hundreds of press releases a week. You're trying to hit a deadline for a story. You need fast information, and it needs to be accurate, succinct, and in a place that's easy to locate on the Net.

When journalists write about companies, the first place they turn to is not a stack of press releases (which most often go ignored), but the web. They start by visiting the target company's web site, or turn to search engines to find businesses that manufacture, distribute, or sell the product or service they're writing about.

Since this is true, your company's web site designer(s) should give serious thought to how journalists can quickly and easily access the information they need from your web site. This demonstrates the necessity of an easily navigable site with a clearly labeled press room that quickly satisfies the journalist's need for basic information.

So how's e-business doing in this regard? Research suggests—poorly.

Of those sites that do have press rooms, studies have shown that the web site designs don't sufficiently address the needs of journalists. "Most PR sections fail to support journalists in their quest for facts, information, and points of contact that they can use when they write stories about companies or their products," reports a study by Kara Pernice Coyne and Jakob Nielsen (Nielsen Norman Group, Fremont, CA). The report, "Designing Websites to Maximize Press Relations: Guidelines from Usability Studies with Journalists," notes that there is a "pressing need for PR practitioners to put sound, timely information on the web."

The Nielsen study tested the PR sections of 10 corporate web sites, all of which demonstrated significant press usability shortcomings. Were these small or unknown businesses with little resources to do it right? Far from it. Here's part of the list:

  • BMW

  • Fidelity Investments

  • Merck

  • Nokia

  • Philip Morris

  • United Colors of Benetton

  • United States Patent Office

  • Wal-Mart Stores

Scary, huh? You'd think that organizations this large would have the forethought to design a proper press room for journalists that speaks to their needs.

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