Still In The Womb

Sure the Net is still in its infancy. But some online disciplines have advanced more than others have. While web development has progressed tremendously and online advertising is toddling along, cyberspace PR is still, in many aspects, in the womb.

Shel Holtz said it best in his new book Public Relations on the Net: Winning Strategies to Inform and Influence the Media, the Investment Community, the Public, and More!, “It would be charitable to characterize the use of the Internet for public relations as in its infancy. In fact, the profession’s use of the Internet can be better described as embryonic.”

So why is web PR so slow to develop its business model? Maybe it’s because most PR practitioners have traditionally been technophobic journalists. But the times are changing fast, and if PR hopes to play a pivotal role in the greatest communications advance in history, it must adopt a more techno-friendly and innovative posture Fast.

The basic weakness of online PR today is its treatment of the web as just another channel for one-way, top-down corporate news release publishing. Another weakness is that online PR is not yet strategic, measurable, or targeted toward specific audiences or constituencies.

Holtz points out that PR on web sites too often consists of a simple press release archive (a digital file cabinet), accessible by clicking something like, “In the News.” Slowly, some companies are making progress, adding speeches, white papers, and providing resources of interest to influential constituencies. But they still represent a tiny minority, and this is but a tiny step forward.

Worse, most PR departments still leave the online work to technical staff, outsource it, or ignore their corporate web sites altogether. Nearly all PR departments see the web or the corporate Intranet as something distinct from their day-to-day public relations work. With important audiences already online, this simply will not do.

New Models For Online Communications

Holtz’s approach to online PR is predicated on his analysis of four new communications models, which have been created by the information economy and facilitated by the World Wide Web.

The old few-to-many publishing model has been obliterated by the web, which is replacing it with a many-to-many communications model. “The exclusive ability to publish once held by organizations has been redistributed to the masses,” he says, since virtually anyone has the means to publish on the web.

Information Pull Vs. Push

Receiver-driven communications, what Holtz calls the, “I want what I want when I want it,” model, is taking hold on the Internet where information overload is the key concern. As a result, communicators find it becoming less effective to “push” information at audiences. Instead, people seek out and pull the information they need when they feel the need. The job of the new age publicist is to make all the relevant information readily available on the web. “If they know where you are, they will find you,” is how the new paradigm shift works.

Access-driven communications represents a third emerging mode, which demands that institutions better make sure their constituencies have access to the information they want. If the information is buried somewhere and isn’t readily accessible, it may as well not exist. Information must be placed where audiences will most likely go looking for it.

Attracting The Market Sample Of One

Targeting demographic groups was a key precept of the old market economy. However, in the information age, demographics mean less and less. An environment that encourages individuals to pull the information they desire requires a new approach. The new goal is not to distribute information to every possible member of a given group, but to entice each individual, one at a time, to visit your site.

Holtz concludes by exploding the myth that two kinds of PR practitioners will persist side by side in the “Web PR Age.” Some think there is a place for those who practice online communications, and a place for those who hold to traditional tools, but nothing could be further from the truth.

“Communicators will be expected to integrate all of the tools to achieve measurable results. Integration requires a solid, complete understanding of the new communications models and how to use them in tandem with traditional tools,” says Holtz.

With the millennium at hand, it is time that we PR types take a long, hard look at the needs of PR in cyberspace and begin the process of adapting our craft to the new communications paradigms, rather than simply tacking on web and banner development to our services menu.

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