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WebPromote Internet Marketing Newsletter Archive
April 2000 vol2

What's the Buzz?

Many Internet companies find it difficult to develop accurate expense and cash flow projections, with perilous consequences. Marketing's role in the process was the focus of a panel discussion at last week's Internet World, titled "Marketing and Revenues: Turning Plans into Reality."

What emerged from the Internet marketing and finance veterans wasn't quite a blueprint to follow, but rather a wide-range of pointers gleaned from the group's years of experience with numerous Internet companies.

The landscape has changed dramatically during many of the panelists' tenure. Lisa Crane says that when she helped develop Universal Studios' website, marketing asked for funding without being able to tell finance if or when the money would be earned back.

Crane, who's now CEO of music website SoundBreak.com, says she's since learned a lot about what to expect when marketing a website. "But back then it was all about experimentation. And I don't think that's completely over yet."

Internet marketing still contains so many unknowns that Crane recommends marketers at big corporations "keep everything under the radar." At Universal, she says it was difficult to explain the nascent discipline Internet marketing in terms that finance officers and other executives could understand. "We gave them limited information, and lots of that was comparative information," she says.

Providing Universal execs with comparative information was a way to explain the new practice in terms that fit the corporation's cultural needs. According to Crane, "In L.A., it's important for executives to know how they're doing relative to other studios and other networks."

Fortunately, top executives now have a better understanding of how dynamic the Internet is, says panel moderator Jeff Leibowitz, CEO of The Laredo Group. "They used to not understand that the Internet is a moving target."

Fran Maier, vice president of marketing for K-Mart's new online venture, BlueLight.com, says one way to contain Internet marketing expenses is to identify the most effective and the lowest cost technique, and continue doing that until it's no longer effective. That's what she did at match.com. The company started out using search engine optimization techniques, then moved to public relations, then to affiliate programs.

Bob Heyman, CEO of e-Marketing Partners, also recommends experimentation. "Throw a small amount of money at a number of things and see what works."

Eric Hall, executive vice president and CFO at The Laredo Group, had some sobering advice for Internet marketers and executives executing business plans. "There's two sides to every plan: imagination and reality," says Hall, who has been in finance positions with Yahoo and Women.com. "The best way to do it is to manage expenses. Companies fail because they don't have cash. CDNow is a great idea, but it's running out of cash," he said, referring to the retailer's current funding problems.

As always, last week's Internet World packed a lot of new ideas and products into a crowded space and a short time. Look for more information from Internet World in this week's News Spotlight, as well as in upcoming issues of WebPromote Weekly. Also this week, B.L. Ochman presents a cogent case for redoing the press release format for the Web--an idea, incidentally, echoed by at least one professional writer speaking at Internet World.

Internet Press Releases: New Medium Needs A New Method
The Internet is an instant communication medium, with constant change at rocket speed. So why haven't public relations practitioners changed their methods with the new medium? Why are electronic press releases formatted the same as print press releases?

What's next for online publicity? A new format for a new medium.

Grafting the old press release form onto a new medium makes for an awkward fit. While a release on an 8 1/2 by 11-inch piece of paper can be scanned with a glance, the electronic form of the same release requires tedious scrolling. "I hate having to scroll past contact information and the obligatory company description just to get to the subject of the release," says BusinessWeek marketing reporter Ellen Neuborne. "Who has time to do that all day?"

Press release leads need to be shorter to accommodate online reading. A random sample of releases on Business Wire showed lead paragraphs that were 156, 94, 83 and 97 words long--far too long for reading off a computer screen. Complete releases on BusinessWire.com and PRNewswire.com average about 350 words, presented on three 8 1/2-inch wide, single-spaced screens. That is about 200 words too many!

Smart publicists have always tailored releases to the medium. For example, they know to format releases for radio stations into 30-second scripts.

Similarly, an experienced publicist pitching a story by phone knows he only has a 30-second window of opportunity to grab a journalist's attention. If the pitch interests the reporter, she will ask you to continue.

Why shouldn't an information-overloaded reporter trying, to wade through releases on her computer monitor, be given the same consideration? Internet press releases should be written so that if information on the first screen interests the reporter, she can read more by scrolling.

Companies also need a new, more cost-effective way to disseminate press releases on the Internet. Now, companies spend anywhere from $150 to $1,000 to have news distribution services like Business Wire and PR Newswire send out an electronic press release. The results? On such distribution services, their one-line headlines are buried among hundreds of others, listed by time of transmission.

The shortcomings of Business Wire and PR Newswire stem from their origins. They were created for print releases. Both companies have simply moved their traditional print distribution businesses to the Internet.

However, one online press release distribution service, XpressPress News Service, lets marketers use a nontraditional format that is more suited for the Internet. With XpressPress News, you can send out a pitch letter, or a memo format that contains only who, what, where, when and why paragraphs, plus contact information.

Made-for-print press releases distributed online ignore the two chief constraints of reporters and editors: lack of time and the fact that they must read your information from a computer screen.

What's needed is a made-for-the-Internet press release format. Think of the electronic news release as a teaser to get a reporter or editor to your website for additional information. Here's how the Internet-ready news release should work:

  • The lead paragraph of a release should state its point in 40 words or less. Of those 40 words, no more than six words should be used to describe what the company does.
  • Additional material about the company that is not directly related to the point of the story can be compiled in a separate paragraph below the lead or at the bottom of the page.
  • Writing style? Think of how you'd describe the story to a friend on a 30-second elevator ride. Pay attention to the way the stories on the nightly news are described during a 10-second commercial break on an earlier show. Listen carefully to the way radio news broadcasts relate the top stories of the day.
  • The lead should stand on its own as a description of the story. To learn how, study the home page of the online New York Times, page one of the interactive Journal, or Yahoo! News Alerts. They all manage to tell what each story is about in a sentence or two. So can you.
  • Make your entire release a maximum of 200 words or less, in no more than five short paragraphs, and two or three short sentences in each paragraph.
  • Use these bulleted points as paragraph headings where appropriate: who, what, where, when and why.
  • Write only two to three short sentences in each of the five paragraphs.
  • Above the headline or at the bottom of the release, be sure to provide a contact name, phone number, email address and URL for additional information.
  • If you have compiled your own media list, consider not using a press release at all, , but rather a three-paragraph email pitch or memo with short sentences.

Want to win coverage? Start by throwing out the tattered old print press release. Write like you have 10 seconds to make a point. Because online, you do.

By B.L. Ochman

B.L. Ochman's company, whatsnextonline.com, builds global traffic and sales for Internet businesses (212.385.2200). Sign up for her marketing tactics newsletter, What's Next Online, at http://www.whatsnextonline.com

Future ecommerce will include more Net-savvy consumers using pervasive, and wireless technology, with ecommerce enabling technologies separated from the ecommerce websites, according to a panel of soothsayers at last week's Internet World. Their projections:

  • Ecommerce will be driven by business-to-business sales, says Joseph Pyne, senior vice president for marketing at UPS. This will be driven in part by a workforce more comfortable with technology than today's workforce, 45% of which, Pyne points out, is still not computer literate. Online business buying will drive reductions in sales forces and purchasing staffs. Companies will build relationships with other companies, not with salespeople, so companies will retain the business when salespeople leave.
  • The online customer base will include next generation kids who do not adopt the Internet, but internalize it, says Dean DeBiase, chairman/CEO for Autoweb.com. "They'll essentially demand to punch up some options on their wireless device, and order goods like they order a pizza," DeBiase says. "They will not be impressed with technology; they'll only use it to enhance their lives."
  • Wireless platforms will allow the Internet to be integrated into consumers' lives in new ways, says Mark Kozhin, president of Internet marketing services firm iMaestro.com. "A consumer will walk by a store, which will tell the consumer via his wireless device that it has something he's interested in buying."
  • Ecommerce enabling technologies, such as shopping cart systems, will become separated from websites and consolidated, allowing consumers to shop from many merchants at once and merchants to focus on retailing, Kozhin says.
  • Ecommerce will incorporate new, more efficient forms of payment that will replace credit cards, Kozhin says. "Credit cards are an old system on new technology."

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