Interactive PR can deliver measurable results

David Bradfield is manager, marketing communications, with Toronto-based Lasso Communications, where he specializes in interactive public relations. Business today is driven by relationships. From the boardroom to the newsroom, relationships influence results. And right now, we are witnessing the growth...

David Bradfield is manager, marketing communications, with Toronto-based Lasso Communications, where he specializes in interactive public relations.

Business today is driven by relationships.

From the boardroom to the newsroom, relationships influence results. And right now, we are witnessing the growth of one of the most powerful relationship tools ever conceived: the Internet. As a medium, it is capable of connecting us with people all around the world who share similar interests.

The development of the Internet, however, has reached a crossroads that demands the finesse and understanding of skilled public relations professionals. Simply put, the quantity of content on-line has out-paced the quality of communication in the medium. The question is, how well are public relations professionals prepared to rise to this challenge?

Successful public relations positively influences attitudes and behavior. It also generates feedback from the target audience, which in turn helps shape an organization’s offering to meet customer needs.

What interactive public relations activities can do is solicit direct feedback in real time, through the connections and relationships generated in on-line communities.

The use of interactive media can help solve one of the traditional challenges encountered in public relations – namely, evaluation. Public relations influences audiences in many ways that are often hard to measure. Whether your public relations activity targets the media, investors, government agencies, constituents or consumers, interactive media will deliver more measurable and immediate results.

For many organizations, interactive communication is about one-to-one relationships and greater message control. While traditional public relations offers greater breadth in terms of message dissemination, it can lack the control of direct connections. To take full advantage of the potential for direct connection that interactive media offer, pr professionals must learn new approaches.

Interactive public relations serves to link communicators with their target audience directly, without relying on the media as a conduit. Public relations strategies that integrate both interactive and traditional public relations enable professionals to build trust and credibility by combining direct communication and editorial placements.

In June 1998, for example, Lasso Communications developed an interactive public relations program for the Ontario Centres of Excellence (oce) and the Centre for Research in Earth and Space Technology (CRESTech). The centres were co-hosting a news conference in Toronto for the recently completed Neurolab space shuttle mission. We set out to extend the life span of the event by developing a comprehensive on-line resource. The Web site, themed ‘Astronauts in Cyberspace,’ offered current information related to the mission, and links to Neurolab pages around the world.

For on-line communication to be effective, of course, your audience needs to be able to find the message location. In the case of oce and CRESTech, we distributed concise e-mail notices, posted advisories in space-related newsgroups and requested community sites to post announcements – all pointing potential visitors to a teaser site (http://www.lasso.net/astronauts). The teaser site, launched one week prior to the event, encouraged those interested in viewing the debriefing to download the necessary plug-ins beforehand.

Approximately 20 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, the ‘Neurolab NewsRoom Online’ was uploaded. It included a link to the Webcast, plus the news release, digital photos, video and audio clips from the mission, a list of media contacts and a series of targeted links designed to deliver comprehensive information on the mission.

The site attracted approximately 400 targeted visitors from within the space and science community (including media) over the course of the week, with a 50% return rate on the day of the event. While it was targeted primarily at people unable to attend the event, the site also served as an excellent resource for those in attendance, enabling them to access further information on the briefing.

In the end, it all comes down to communication. What is your message and how will you get it out? Who is your audience and where do you want to reach them? How will you measure your success? These are key issues in any public relations campaign, whether you’re using a traditional approach or interactive media.

Smart companies today are using both. Mass communication paired with direct customer connections on-line will ensure greater awareness, stronger relationships and valuable feedback.

So are you up for the challenge?

Also in this report:

- Putting on a local face: Canadians might look the same and talk the same as Americans, but our values are profoundly different. It’s something U.S. multinationals would do well to keep in mind when crossing the 49th parallel, say Canadian PR experts p.27

- Who’s minding the corporate image? Strategy profiles the Canadian PR agencies that help shape public opinion of seven leading global brands p.27

- Packaged goods PR requires different wrapping p.34