The PR Industry’s Webophobia

MasterCard’s Centers of Commerce Index has been getting a lot of press today (it’s London 1, New York 2, just like last year). So I wanted to check it out, and to see just what

MasterCard’s Michael Goldberg meant, in quantitative terms, when he said that "London towers over other cities not only in narrow financial terms but in a broader sense as well". So I went to the website. Which (a) plays annoying music which can’t be turned off, and (b) is a full year out of date.

I don’t mean to pick on MasterCard here, necessarily. But pretty much every day I get press releases about some new report or index, and very occasionally the release itself actually contains interesting information which is worth linking to. In my experience about 60% of the time the press release isn’t online, and about 90% of the time the referenced report or index isn’t online.

I do not understand why institutions hire PR companies at great expense to publicise their research, and then refuse to make that research public. Invariably, if I reply to a press release with a note saying that it looks interesting and where can I link to the research, I’m offered instead an interview with the lead researcher. Which means that my readers, unable to judge for themselves, will have to go simply on what I choose to tell them. And oftentimes the people in question won’t even email me the research report, I have to go only on a flimsy executive summary or somesuch.

Worst of all, however, is when I’m pitched stories about research which doesn’t exist. In November 2007, I got a press release headlined "Groundbreaking research reveals a high number of entrepreneurs suffer from dyslexia", which put forward the fascinating hypothesis that dyslexia is actually a very good thing if you’re an entrepeneur: it helps with things like oral communications, problem-solving, delegation, and spatial awareness. When I asked for more information, I was emailed an 800-word executive summary, and told that "the

report of the study hasn’t been published and is still in the works". In other words, the summary was of a nonexistent report. Clever.

At this point, seven months later, there’s still no sign (online, at least) of the report, or even the 2007 press release. (There is an older 2004 press release, maybe we’re meant to make do with that.) I find it quite astonishing that even as the media has decided to embrace the Web, the PR industry is still stuck in a world where journalists have no interest in being able to link to anything.

If you want to publicise your Centers of Commerce Index, say, wouldn’t it make sense to make sure it was online first, and to put a link to it in all the materials you send out? That way you get not only the old media but also lots of potential links from Digg and Reddit and the blogosphere and Facebook and people emailing each other and so on and so forth. What’s the downside to that, especially if you’re going to put it all online pretty soon anyway?

(Update: It’s online now.)

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