Public Relations: Netting benefits

Richard Rotman, former publisher of Toronto arts weekly Metropolis, is an independent public relations consultant.The Internet itch burns strong in the hearts of marketers, as a dream of direct, uninterrupted, unfiltered, uncluttered communication.But before scratching, perhaps one should think, in the...

Richard Rotman, former publisher of Toronto arts weekly Metropolis, is an independent public relations consultant.

The Internet itch burns strong in the hearts of marketers, as a dream of direct, uninterrupted, unfiltered, uncluttered communication.

But before scratching, perhaps one should think, in the words of Leiber and Stoller’s The Coasters, now the subject of a Broadway review: ‘It’ll get you in Dutch, you can look but you better not touch.’

Right now, the Internet is highly overrated as a marketing vehicle – but it may very well be good public relations.

Good public relations is good marketing strategy yet, in this instance, it may not sell anything.

So what does one do? Internet or not?

‘Canadian business sites on Internet mainly public relations gestures,’ read a recent headline in The Toronto Star that really mixed up the idea of what public relations is all about.

The article was written by Net guru Jim Carroll, author of the Canadian Internet Handbook, a thick bestseller that is, in my opinion, an inflated information source.

‘The Royal Bank site serves up a little bit of information, most of it public relations fluff, including a way to obtain their small business planning software,’ Caroll writes.

Then, he takes the bank to task by saying, ‘It’s time for businesses to recognize that the Internet is the first standard, computer-based information appliance, and that users of the network expect real applications, not just public relations.’

The Internet is anything but standard, and anything but an appliance, except for sophisticated computer users.

It’s not a refrigerator nor a toaster that you can plug in, and neither is it a Mac nor Windows.

It is incredibly unreliable, as anyone knows who has tried to wade through the World Wide Web, the Internet’s most advanced section.

The sheer numbers of missed connections with the Web, searches that stop inexplicably and false starts, just underscore how non-standard and amateurish the Net can be, when compared with commercial services.

No corporate information provider could have gotten away with selling anything so unreliable and slow.

Wait for a gif (a visual image) on the Web? Forget it! I value my time more than the romantic ideal of anarchy inherent on the Net.

Saying, as Carroll does, that he encounters only fluff is the anarchic culture at its worst: the hackers, nerds and lonely guys who populate the Net think that anything that is not up to their standards is just pr, as though pr is a negative in and of itself.

StatsCan says that only 25% of Canadian homes have home computers – not a bad number. But how many have modems and Internet addresses? A fraction, for sure.

Despite all the glowing projections for Internet penetration, and the rates of growth that hookup services are experiencing, the audience on the Internet is as follows:

- Overwhelmingly male, with a mere smattering of adult women 25-49.

- Students (encouragingly, there are many young women in this group, as Canadian universities have made freenets available to students; this will influence future Net usage.)

- International and primarily u.s.-based.

A recent Forbes magazine story entitled: ‘Where’s the money?’ repeats a vast litany of failed Internet efforts, and an industry devoted to hyping the Internet that is almost as big as the Internet itself.

Forbes’ warning: ‘Any business that ignores cyberspace ignores the future, but the smart ones aren’t yet putting big bets on it.’

Business leaders surveyed in the article charge the Net with being a productivity waster, because of the propensity of people to use work hours to check out erotic locations and sexually oriented news groups.

The Forbes big business types fail to find any good business strategy except e-mail.

It took almost 30 years after computers were invented for an Apple to come along and put the machines in the hands of consumers.

The Net has been around for some time, but by those standards of general adoption and mass use, its real adolescence has yet to begin.

In the meantime, use e-mail, the real Killer App, and send someone a letter the next time you see their e-mail address.

No postage, no envelope, very quick.

That’s why you can reach me at drama@showcase.ca. I use it all the time.