Book Reviews

Public Relations

Public Relations on the Net: Winning Strategies to Inform and Influence the Media,the Investment Community

Author: Shel Holtz
Publisher AMACOM
Publication Date: June 2002

Reviewer:Andy Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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Having worked with firms developing the Internet since the technology's prepubescent period when it was called the NSFNet (National Science Foundation Network) we've read thousands of articles and perhaps a hundred books on how to effectively use the Net and Web to your organization's advantage. But contrary to most, this book's subtitle "Winning Strategies to Inform and Influence the Media, the Investment Community, the Government, the Public and More!" does deliver on its claim.

With technology evolving in Internet time one of the most difficult tasks in attempting to deliver a useful roadmap to help public relations people reach their new global audiences is that by the time the book is complete, the landscape has changed. However, Mr. Holtz has done a very credible job of showing people in the profession - new and seasoned - how they can use the new medium to conduct research, monitor events and activities, tell the clients' story and handle crises.

Internet Isn't PR-Centric

Unlike too many Internet books written by and for public relations people, Mr. Holtz doesn't start with the ridiculous assumption that the Internet and Web were developed solely to serve the communications person. At the same time he admonishes the industry right from the outset for doing such an abominable job of learning about and using the technology.

It's often difficult for people to understand that the Internet isn't simply a network people use to send and receive documents, data and images but instead a network of networks that has no management head or true controlling body. While the technology is immature by many conventional standards (really less than 10 years old) it has opened up new communications avenues and changed the way organizations and individuals work and interact.

The Changing Enterprise

The very purpose of organizations has been turned on their ear. No part of the organization has been spared. From the boardroom to the factory floor and beyond public and private institutions are looking at new ways of working in today's global economy. The new organization encompasses the entire organization including the supplier's supplier and the customer's customer. All of these individuals and organizations are public relations audiences.

As we move to a technology-driven and knowledge-based economy, corporate management and PR people are struggling with the new information communications and management infrastructure to help their firms redefine and reshape their roles. One of the shortcomings of Mr. Holtz book is that is that it is so PR-centric that it will probably never be read by senior management who must come to grips with and manage the new virtual organization. Hopefully some people will buy several copies -- one for the PR staff and one or more for managers they must work with and support.

To help the reader overcome his or her shortcomings Mr. Holtz strips away our old concepts of what communications is and how it should be used. He helps you appreciate the new world order and how it will impact and influence public and private organizations. He lays out the facts of the new world economy and new global communications standard. Rather than justify or rationalize the new wave he tells the reader very simply "deal with it!"

Delivers On Promises

His matter of fact approach gives the reader a lot of confidence right at the outset that the author knows what he is talking about. Fortunately, he delivers. Mr. Holtz does an excellent job of explaining the one-to-many and one-to-one communications uses of the technology which are not only important for PR people to understand and use but are in fact going to become increasingly shape to their futures.

Without using the technical phrases, he explains the differences between collaborative filtering and rules-based Web personalization.

Collaborative filtering works best when you know very little about the visitor coming to your site because it allows you to do thinks like use the fact that they saw two particular pages to infer that they are interested in the subject matter on those pages.

Rules based systems are simpler to use but require that the visitor provide information before data can be delivered. Perhaps the simplest use of rules-based personalization is to include specific text only for people with specific interest.

Understanding the Foundation

Too many readers - Internet neophytes and experts - may skip part one of the book - Communications on the Internet - as they rush forward to find out how they can use the Net to their advantage.

That's a major mistake.

While we have been writing about, reading about and using the Internet for years we read part one…twice. This is perhaps the most important contribution Mr. Holtz makes to Web-based PR and there are good reminders located in this section that will aid even jaded veterans.

Publishers around the globe have squandered -- and continue to squander -- millions of dollars because they fail to heed his one fundamental guideline - writing for the Web is different from paper communications. Fortunately Mr. Holtz doesn't simply make this statement once but it becomes a constant theme throughout the book and readers get very concrete examples of how forcing ourselves to change our writing approaches and habits can enhance our ability to reach, inform, educate and persuade target markets and audiences.

If people learn nothing more from Mr. Holtz's book they have gained an edge that will help them and their clients in the new millenium.

First You Circulate

Because the Internet puts so much power and reach in the hands of an individual, Mr. Holtz also serves up another valuable lesson that we hope everyone will heed and that is the danger of jumping into the center of every user community to promote or defend specific products or concepts. He advises us to stay on the fringes of these groups to monitor and observe before entering into discussions.

The author doesn't spend much time advising people not to spam (sending tons of emails across the Net). He probably knows that: a) professional PR people understand the weakness of this approach from their paper communications practice and b) weak PR people will continue the practice regardless of what they are told.

Part two - audiences and measurement - is a very good workbook for readers. By showing specific Web sites as examples he helps readers understand that a Web site is not a singular place for company news and information but rather a virtual solution with many facets.

Multiple-Site Solutions

We found the idea of developing multiple sites for a company an interesting idea that actually makes a lot of sense. Members of the media, investors, governmental officials and people in the local communities all have different informational wants and needs. The idea that "one size fits all" doesn't work for a company's other communications efforts so why should a single Web site be effective.

Mr. Holtz did a cautiously good job of covering activism and crisis communications on the Internet. Because of the global reach of the Internet PR people have to approach these areas with caution. What is said in St. Louis may play well in the hometown but it can produce an adverse reaction in Singapore, Munich or Ottawa. Public relations people have to keep in mind that with the Internet there are no city limits or country borders.

Your Contacts Change

Simply because our email address is listed as the public relations contact for clients we have seen an increasing volume of our communications efforts shift for clients from the one-to-many mode to one-to-one contact. In talking with other senior people in the industry we know we're not unique as we deal with:

  • coordinating distribution discussions between clients and prospective representatives in other countries
  • fielding customer support, customer service questions when people don't feel the service organization is reacting fast enough for the customer
  • irate people who either didn't get the product/service they wanted
  • brokers who want to know why an announcement for a publicly held company wasn't posted on the DJ Newswire
  • developing strategic alliances between clients and firms that have complimentary products and/or services
  • helping reporters and editors find the right person to talk with in another division of a multi-division, multi-national client

After awhile you begin to realize that what you put out over the Net or Web can have a profound positive or negative effect on the client.

Understand Your Tools

What PR people have to understand is that:

  • Developing and putting up a Web site is not a one-time project. It is work that never ends. For the information to be of use to your various audiences information has to be changed…frequently
  • communications doesn't revolve around the English language and that organizations must have multi-lingual sites if they are to be effective
  • today there are an estimated 50 million people on line and that by the year 2000 users will grow to more than 180 million
  • in the industrialized countries of the world the majority of employees aren't working in production or manufacturing, they are in data services - gathering, processing, retrieving, analyzing and disseminating information

The winners five years from now will be people who can move quickly and take advantage of the new technology and the new opportunities.

No technology in history as grown as quickly as the Internet. Network traffic has grown by a factor of 10 easy year for the past five years and industry analysts see no easing of this trend. Peter Drucker in Post-Capitalism Society noted that nearly 2/3 of the employees in the US are employed to develop, handle and manage knowledge.

PR people who are going to play major roles in their organizations' communications efforts and activities will have to have a good understanding of the power, capabilities and reach of the Net. Mr. Holtz book is a good starting point and a good refresher course.