Spin Control On The Web

“Getting the Right Spin” proclaims the Industry Standard headline (Feb. 22 & Mar. 1, 1999) in its first special report on public relations. And what has PR wrought in this new communications domain? “…a mini-revolution among the nation’s $10 billion-dollar public-relations industry… for which many PR stalwarts were ill-prepared.”

But looking closer, it’s difficult to isolate the cyber-PR components, with the exception of email, from more traditional communications techniques. The article opens by stating that Eric Ward (PR in Cyberspace, Dec. ’98 column) of URLwire has never called a reporter in his four years in business. Rather, he relies on emailing his carefully compiled list of 10,000 journalists. A sub-head proclaims, “If [the Internet] cuts down on unsolicited phone calls, reporters will be forever grateful.”

That’s it? That’s the BIG NEWS for PR — don’t call, use email?

And still, many PR firms, large and small, have been totally blindsided by the Internet, according to Ward. The emergence of Net-centric businesses has “spawned dozens of online PR firms that specialize in disseminating information to journalists over the Net.” Disseminating is the key word, as the article goes on to outline the services of the leading electronic news release transmission firms: Business Wire, PR Newswire, Internet News Bureau, and so on….none of which even profess to be PR agencies.

That’s Not PR!

Public relations is not simply about dissemination. The paid wires have been around for years and have simply moved up the communications technology food-chain from teletype to fax to PC and web sites — valuable services in targeted distribution and archiving, to be sure. But that’s not PR!

Public relations is not so much about sending out the message as it is about crafting the message based on solid positioning. We spend much of our time developing issues with our clients, and packaging their stories appropriately to enhance their stature. The last, and easiest, thing we do is press the “send” key.

The recent mega-cyber PR event staged by Victoria’s Secret may provide some insight into just how far PR in cyberspace has advanced over the traditional practice.

A Final Sigh And Whisper For… Victoria’s

Now that the hullabaloo has died down about Victoria’s Secret lingerie fashion show webcast, what have we PR types learned beyond the old saw, “sex sells”? Not much, in my opinion. Beyond the huge traffic pileup at the web site, and the publicity shot heard round and round the world, the art of cyber-PR has advanced nary an inch.

What I saw, briefly in archival replay, was a web-broadcast of a runway fashion show, which featured all the attendant weaknesses of current web technology. Victoria’s PR team missed the boat big time by not adding some elements of interactivity, e-commerce and community to the project.

Victoria’s Secret staged the event as a typical runway show, without any consideration for the web’s special needs: Careful lighting, close-ups to fill the tiny video frame. The garments were not described. There were no direct links, and no e-purchase forms, to the catalog pages. And would you believe…I was not able to email my favorite model! I could not even download any still photos from the runway or behind the scenes. It would have been better broadcast on TV.

Okay, there was massive publicity. But as a PR practitioner, I must shout… “Show me the interactivity!”

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