net.wars: Worst PR sites of 2004

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 06 August 2004

This week, Wendy examines the art of spin. The professionals at spin, she discovers, aren't any good at it. Not if you judge by what they do for themselves on their web pages. Perhaps we aren't meant to look at them ... ?

Wendy M Grossman

PR people hate journalists, we know this. Well, wouldn't you, in their shoes? We are rude, arrogant, and we never return their phone calls. (We can't. We have to stay one-up.)

This may explain PR Web sites. There are only three classes of people who use PR Web sites: rival PRs, prospective clients, and journalists. Rival PRs and prospective clients you want to impress with how cool and hip you are. Journalists you want to alienate. It's arguable that today's crop of Web sites do just that very effectively.

Disclaimer: not all Web sites work the same in all browsers. I am running Mozilla on Windows 2000. It may be that a site I complain about here works perfectly fine for you in Internet Explorer on Linux. I can only say I hope you'll be very happy together.

Second disclaimer: following the links noted here may lead to severe physical illness. It is not my fault.

Item: seeing Red. They've taken it down, but the one they had before we attacked them was baffling. It was a huge blob of red, with little white squares. You might not guess this offhand, but those little white squares are elements to click for more information. The one on the far right brought up a page of contact information. I was particularly enchanted by the fact that it was not possible to copy and paste the company's address and telephone number because it's in a graphic format. The site gave no inkling of who their clients might be or what projects they might have completed successfully, but I can tell you they represent Nokia. Last contact with company: about a year ago, when they said they were planning to redesign it. Result: none. Does everything look green to you now?

Item: Bite me with your teeny-tiny type and your cute stripes. This site did get redesigned. Now you can copy and paste the contact information. But anyone's guess who works there or who they represent? Two points! to the folks who guessed Apple.

Item: Useless front pages 'r' Cohn and Wolfe. Who are our clients? We won't say. But "wherever we go we leave a lasting impression." Uh-huh.

Item: Oh, look! More useless front page nonsense! Text100 was originally famous for representing Microsoft, which eventually made the agency so big it broke up into several pieces. Curiously, the Textlets have less useless pages.

Item: Workers Education Association. OK, not strictly PR. But admire the way the regional contact information vanishes when you roll your mouse away from the small-font regional list. Admire the way you cannot copy or paste it, or have it read to you if you are partially sighted or blind.

Is it any wonder journalists are cranky when they have to look at this stuff all day? A friend of mine who worked in PR for a few years before coming to her senses and fleeing back to journalism says the explanation is simple: "Preoccupation with appearance: something looks good it must be good. Surface and first impression is the essence of PR, function is ultimately not (as) important." Or, more simply, "Because PR people love Flash." In both senses of the word.

Item: OK, you read the scrolling banner at Redstone. Must be part of that "new and exciting ethos" it talks about on its careers page.

Item: I'm sure Tim Henman's brother Richard does something in his PR consultancy, but I'm not sure what it is. And "Who are we" doesn't tell you who actually works at the company. Another example of uncopyable contact information, too.

Item: I'm not blaming Dynamic Solutions, whose fledgling business I've written about for the Telegraph recently, for what happens when you click on the Enter button because I know what happened to them. They made the mistake of telling a designer they wanted "dynamic" content. They meant informative. But you know what dynamic means to a designer -

Item: special mention has to go to the mother of all bad Web sites, Iiyama's UK site, even though again, it's not a PR site. But wouldn't you think a technology company, especially one specialising in things that display pretty computer pictures, would have some idea that their Web site needed to show those products off? I'm sure someone can get information about Iiyama's products from that site; but in my experience if you click on "Products" you can sit there forever waiting for data to transfer.

But of course, no round-up would be complete without a swipe against a tennis Web site -

Item: the site for the LA women's tennis tournament. All Flash, all the time. No results, scores, photographs, player profiles, or news. If you have Flash disabled, you get nuttin'. The question of what sports - in this case, tennis - Web sites are for is an amusing one, and you could spend hours on it. Fans believe it's to give us information. But this tournament and the year-end championships site, clearly designed by the same folks, obviously have been bewitched into thinking it's more important to produce a corporate brochure for prospective sponsors.

Always remember, kids, PR is as much about hiding information as it is about disseminating it.

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Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).