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Online Public Relations Could Solve Industry’s P.R. Problem

An article on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Business section titled “Spinning Frenzy: Bad Press for P.R.” (which is also the lead business story at nytimes.com) brings the Armstrong Williams/Ketchum/Dept. of Education scandal to the attention of a mainstream audience. The story ends with the following quote:

“It’s an opportunity for people in the industry to stand up and say, ‘Here’s the right way to do things, here’s the ethical way to do things, and we’re in a very new media world and we need to map out a new course of action,’ ” said Judy Phair, president of the Public Relations Society of America.

So here’s my stand: Public relations agencies need to start practicing their initiatives with greater transparency, and one of the ways to do that is by integrating the web into PR campaigns.

Rather than resist the adoption of new technologies like online press rooms services that allow non-technical business communicators the necessary tools to take there messages onto the Internet, public relations agencies should be figuring out how the “new media world” Phair refers to is changing the business of public relations.

While the PRSA offers a lot of great benefits to its members (of which I one), their website has drawbacks and usability short comings that would make Jakob Nielsen cry. They use bulletin boards for internal member communications when blogs wopuld be much more effective and list their archived print publications online by date instead of subject matter, which doesn’t make it very easy to find what you’re looking for.

Had Ketchum distributed a simple press release about their deal with Williams, the event would have been firmly on the public record. Instead, even after all the negative media coverage, there is nothing on Ketchum or Omnicom Group’s website acknowledging and apologizing for their lapse in judgment.

On Richard Edelman’s comment…”Every piece of information we put out, in theory, can go directly to the end user without any mediation. But our job today is still to bring to the media a credible story.” I would like add that hyperlinks, which can be easily incorporated into blog entries, are an excellent way to add credibility….

It is the triangulation of information that makes it credible online. By linking keywords and terms in this blog entry to their sources, the reader has the opportunity to verify. At the NewComm Forum last month, keynote speaker Andy Lark suggested the practice of recording and transcribing all interviews between clients and the media and releasing them on the same day the reporter’s story breaks and posting a blog entry that links the story to the transcript, so readers can check for accuracy.

So next time you visit a public relation agency website, and they list online public relations as one of their services, see if they link each on the tactics they plug back to examples of past and current client work. If they say they can set up online pressrooms, see if the term is hyperlinked back to actual examples. If they say they do corporate blogs and there’s no link, ask yourself whether or not you want to finance their online PR education. If they say they write and distribute electronic newsletters, is there experience really just a click away?

One of the great benefits of maintaining online pressrooms is not just that the media has self-service 24/7 access to information, but so does everyone else. Maintaining accurate, up-to-date online public relations programs shows accountability, by putting everyone a click away from a web of information that guarantees greater transparency.

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