The 5 W's for Direct-to-Web Public Relations

Copyright Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

"You have to be market-centered and user-centered," was the conclusion of Mike Cole, VP of Cahners Business Information, describing the focus of his organization's 115 web sites. In an article in Business Marketing, which also interviewed other publishers of approximately 700 business-to-business publication web sites, Cole was remarking on the difference between print publications and the requirements of the web. He summarized: "Basic recycled magazine content doesn't work."

Not surprisingly, basic recycled public relations materials don't work on the web either, but you would be hard pressed to tell that from most of what is posted to company web sites.

The failure of conventionally-prepared public relations materials is often due to the lack of understanding of how business 'web cruisers' use the web, and how they want their information served up. An analogy would be to compare an old 1950's television series to some of the latest offerings: viewers now expect quick cuts, good story lines, tight editing, a tie-in to current events and issues and well-planned dialogue. By comparison, the 1950's series will bore you to death, unless you're a real fan of them.

Most public relations materials are like the 1950's television series. They are still formatted and written the same way since Edward Bernays created the concept of public relations around the turn of the century. In the past, public relations releases, backgrounders and white papers were targeted at the publication editors, who in the slower Eisenhower era would review and interpret the information and translate the ideas into a feature story that would appeal to their readers. However, when your materials go direct-to-web, there isn't this filtering mechanism, and you have to know how to appeal directly to the end user, just as Mike Cole observed. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Just cruise the wire service web sites (either or and you'll quickly see how boring most of the material is. SEC disclosure requirements aside, (which motivate many of the more mundane earnings and product announcements) almost all of the releases read the same: filled with features and jargon known only to industry experts, along with some executive quotes that really don't say anything, even if you want to find out what that company actually does for its customers.

There is another factor that is often completely overlooked, especially by technology companies. Technology is now so pervasive in all businesses that many decision-makers who do not have a technical backgrounds often find themselves making commitments to technology that they really don't understand, or even feel comfortable with (just ask the person next to you what a frame relay is.) Years ago this was expressed as "Nobody ever lost their job by specifying IBM." Now it's "Nobody ever lost their job by specifying Microsoft." As a buyer, if you don't understand the technology - then you really can't make a case for anything other than the market leader. This in part explains Microsoft's dominate share - certainly not their technical superiority. The flip side is that if a prospect can clearly explain the business case for your technology (and in the words of your best customers) you have just given your sales prospects the ammunition they need to sponsor a purchase decision in your favor.

How can you prepare direct-to-web public relations materials? Here's some guidelines, which are the direct-to-web 5W's (the conventional 5W's are who, what, when, where, and why.)

Why should I read this?

This is the number one criteria - and a killer. You had better say it all in the first paragraph of your direct-to-web release, or you have lost the business web cruiser. Compare the leads from feature stories in your favorite magazines to the leads on most press releases - you'll see a noticeable difference. That's why you read one and not the other.

Why do their customers buy from them?

This is the question that your potential sales prospects or strategic partners what to know. They really don't want to read your hype or spin - just tell me what your customers say - and show some of the reservations they had, and how they resolved them. No one is perfect, and this disclosure (in your favor, of course) adds tremendous credibility.

What role does their technology play?

Everything is integrated with other applications or technology - how does yours integrate? What role does it play, and why is it needed? What business problem does it solve? Don't let me guess or fill in the blanks - because I'll just click on to the next web site.

What is their competitive distinction?

Nothing exists in a vacuum. How do you stack up? Don't tell me that you are "totally unique" or "insanely great" - that's not credible, and leads me to believe that you really don't understand what you are offering, or how it works, or why someone should buy it. Good bye - I'm not a test pilot.

Who cares?

The wrap up killer question - one that can stop any communication in its tracks. Another way to express this is: "Who are the best prospects for this product or service?" And I don't mean a laundry list like you see on seminar promotional fliers (Who should attend?....) But rather at the conclusion of reading your direct-to-web materials, the reader could say to themselves, "If I knew someone who had responsibility for (the business problem that your technology solves) they would probably be interested in this."

Direct-to-web public relations requires a market-centered and customer-centered focus. Take a look at what your company puts on its web site. Does it meet the 5W's for direct-to-web public relations? If not - then you have just lost out - to a mouse click to your competitor's site.

Copyright Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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