It’s been almost a year since I was active as a journalist, so I was surprised when a former colleague emailed me and asked me if I had a public relations contact at Amazon.com.
“I can’t figure out who to call [at Amazon.com], and I’m on deadline. Can you help me?” my friend asked.
After a few minutes of digging through old notebooks, I found an appropriate contact and sent the information off to my friend. By this point, however, I wondered why my friend – generally a smart person – couldn’t find a PR contact for one of the most well-known companies in America. Then I went to Amazon.com’s website, and it all made sense.
Amazon.com’s PR page is quite possibly one of the worst I’ve ever seen produced by a public company. The PR area of the company’s website is consolidated with the investor relations page, and there’s a minimal amount of information – far less than what most public companies provide. Worst of all, Amazon.com does not provide members of the media with a list of PR contacts, or have a searchable press release database. For a company so important to the emergence of the Internet, it’s also rather stunning that there is very little corporate history or relevant background information about the company.
Yahoo!, on the other hand, has a decent PR area, though there are a number of problems with it. While the company offers up some good background information, the press releases are not searchable, which is odd considering Yahoo! is one of the leaders in online search. Yahoo! also does not provide direct PR contact information, just a hotline number for members of the media to call. The company does score points for its handy FAQ, but overall, the PR area could be improved.
Moving on to Google’s PR page, I found a much a better experience, though once again, Google’s press releases are not searchable. Unlike Yahoo!, however, Google provides the option for journalists to sign up for email alerts. Unlike Yahoo!, however, Google does not offer a RSS feed for its press releases (again, amazing, considering Google owns Blogger). If nothing else, Google offers up a list of PR contacts, making its PR page much more useful than Yahoo’s or Amazon.com’s.
My next stop was eBay, which has an even worse press area than Amazon.com. The company provides virtually no contact information, its press releases are not searchable, and the press releases appear in various formats (some as HTML documents, some as PDF documents). Worst of all, other than a press release announcing the deal, I would never know that eBay owns Rent.com, as the property isn’t even mentioned in the company overview. When you pay $415 million in cash for a company, it stands to reason you would want to let people know you own it.
The last stop on the first leg of my online PR Page Tour was at InterActiveCorp (“IAC”), which owns, among other companies, Expedia, Citysearch, Match.com, Hotels.com and LendingTree. IAC’s entire website is basically an information portal about the company – not surprising considering the IAC brand is basically just used to describe a holding company. Nonetheless, IAC provides solid information, a searchable press release database, links to all of its subsidiaries and a very useful corporate history.
The five companies on the first leg of my online PR Page Tour represent the cream of the Internet crop. They are the largest and most important Internet companies – the Five Horsemen of the Internet (Apocalypse) – and thus, one would think, they understand how to communicate with the media through the web. Yahoo!, Google and IAC understand this to a degree, but each PR page suffers some shortfalls. Meanwhile, Amazon.com and eBay provide so little information that, looking back to when I was a journalist, I’m not surprised that my dealings with the PR department at each company was usually a miserable experience.
An online press area is a simple concept. Companies should provide journalists with easy access to company information, including press releases, a corporate history, bios of key executives, direct contact information for PR representatives, and an environment that allows journalists to retrieve specific information easily. Offering an option to receive press releases via email or RSS should be a given by now, as should easy access to the press area via a front page link.
To find an example of not just a good but an excellent online press area, I actually had to turn to one of the worst-run industries in the world: the airline industry.
Southwest Airlines’ media website is comprehensive, impressive and a joy for any journalist who covers the company. The site provides so much information that a journalist could write an entire story on the company without speaking to a company representative. (This could be good, or bad, depending on the story.) One of the best pages on the site is the Glossary of Airline Terms, and though some of the ancillary information on the site is outdated, Southwest Airlines’ PR site is one of the best I’ve found. It’s no wonder the company is the only airline to post a profit consistently.
Examples of other good PR press pages can be found at Apple Computer, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and Ford.
You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to have a good online press area, but you do have to have a basic understanding of what the media is looking for – information and convenience. Considering that online press areas are often the first stop for journalists interested in writing about a company, it pays to make a good first impression.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.