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The Internet—superhighway or roadblock?

As the year 2000 approaches, companies are relying more and more on technology—both in the products they produce and the services they provide—as well as in the way they produce these products and provide these services. Computers have become an integral part of businesses around the world. Modems and servers can connect city to city and country to country via the Internet, and e-mail can turn ordinary telephone wires into a global post office.

This worldwide network is often called the "information superhighway"—and with good reason. The Internet—especially through its newsgroups and the World Wide Web—provides an abundance of information on almost every conceivable topic. It is a superhighway with plenty of detours, rest stops, billboards, and newsstands. It branches off in all directions, sometimes providing a serious intonation and sometimes entertaining the traveler with music, illustrations, photos, or even movies. Susan Fry Bovet (1994, February), editor of Public Relations Journal, explained:

The availability of specific information on organizations, topics, issues and people is staggering, thanks to today’s technology. Finding one’s way through the information glut at reasonable cost and for maximum benefit presents a critical challenge to the modern practitioner. (p. 2) 1
In truth, it can be overwhelming—especially for a public relations practitioner trying to decide the best way to use the Internet to disseminate information. Almost anyone with a connection to a server can post a Web page; how can a public relations company possibly hope to attract potential customers to their clients’ sites amid all this other "noise"?

The answer does not lie within the Internet alone. Although the World Wide Web grows exponentially every few months, it is not the only "hot" medium—or the only hi-tech one. For example, Debbi Ballard suggested:

Utilizing high technology resources in your business can allow you to expedite the flow of communication, streamline operations, gain and manage information better. Tap into databases using a modem, gaining access to sales and marketing research information. This can also allow you to secure training online, and it can serve as another tool for you to create new sales by making your offering available through online shopping services. Your opportunity can be offered through online bulletin boards and forums. 2
Technology can either be a barrier or an opportunity. The public relations practitioner must decide for himself or herself whether it will be a roadblock or a smooth highway. However, Ballard warns that a practitioner should not "utilize high technology just to give the appearance that you are on the cutting edge" 3. Posting a web site for a client will do little good without market research or web site promotion. If they do not know about the web site, potential customers will not benefit from its information—no matter how carefully constructed or detailed that information may be.

Technology is changing the ways in which public relations managers plan image-enhancing campaigns for their clients; it is also changing the profession of public relations. Instead of spending hours in a library doing research, public relations professionals can use their computers to find information stored in databases such as LEXIS/NEXIS and read international newspapers via the Internet. Betsy Wiesendanger (1994) reported:

Buffeted by staff cutbacks, tumbling budgets and media that are being sliced into finer and finer shards, many public relations practitioners are relying on technology to pick up the slack. They’re sloughing off tasks like media list maintenance and clip collection to an array of electronic gadgetry. The reason: Almost anything can be done faster, more easily, and more accurately by flicking a modem switch or pressing a fax machine button. Some even say these new tools are as cheap or cheaper than the older mailing, clipping and monitoring methods, especially if savings in staff time is factored into the equation. 4
Using technology every day has another benefit—the public relations manager and his staff become familiar with the most effective ways to disperse information. They become comfortable with developing technologically-based campaigns, and they can monitor the results of these campaigns on their computer screens. Campaign effectiveness can be evaluated more quickly through electronic clipping services. If a message is not having its desired impact, public relations managers can recognize this through their database results—and adjust the campaign accordingly. Because companies introducing hi-tech products often focus on a certain niche in the population, electronic media services are often the best way to determine whether campaign strategies are working. Time is crucial. If the niche ignores or misunderstands the company’s message, time and money are wasted. Therefore, technology should be a part of the public relations campaign as both a publicity tool and a cost-effective strategy.

With all the tools available to public relations practitioners, their only limits are the ones they perceive. Ballard wrote; "The biggest gains are made by those who see no barriers but go forward with vision, making use of all the creativity they find within themselves" 5.

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The Internet—introduction | Using the Internet effectively | Print media use study
Making Web pages better | Technology marketing models | Conclusions
References