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PR Strategies: Remember, the web has no memory!

November 2001, by Zsolt Kerekes, editor STORAGEsearch

See also:- article:- Aspects of Web Advertising,
article:- Web Advertising Strategies: choosing the wrong portal,
news etc on MarketingViews,

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Dear Reader

It's only when you need to find something that you realise it's lost. If you're a PR person who often amazes your boss by the way in which you extract valuable data for the company in-house magazine, or investor reports, taken from piles of old magazines or brochures, here's a reason for you to worry. Information on the web is transient. That wonderful article which said nice things about your company on a leading portal last week has disappeared. (So has the portal...) But there's worse still to come.
Can you remember what your home page looked like back in 1996?

Maybe you think that's not important right now. Like global warming, you know there could be some problems accumulating somewhere because of all this web stuff, but it's only when your house gets flooded, you really start to belive in it.

Back to your home page circa 1996... If you really did need to reproduce it for publicity purposes, maybe to commemorate your company's 10th anniversiversary as a dotcom (sometime in 2006) you would find the task nearly impossible for 2 reasons.
  • first, because chances are that no-one has got a copy of those original files anymore, and
  • second, even if they did have a copy, then it will still be difficult to recreate a faithful facsimile, because a whole lot of technical things have changed since then, including.... monitor sizes back then were only 640 pixels, so the screen will look different, oh yes, and can you still lay your hands on a 1996 version of Netscape? IE was only a gleam in Bill Gate's eyes back then. By the way can you remember the default fonts and sizes? Because that was what determined your page look and feel, before "designers" started using fancy fonts and graphics a few years later.
Looking to the future problems of recreating today's home page in 5 years time, the technical problems will be so enormous that you'd better forget it.

Having the source code for your home page won't be enough, because chances are that it uses other technologies, and fires up all kinds of external code to run banners, extract images and text from an online database. So the only way you're going to solve that problem is to do a screen grab of your home page, and save it as a JPEG image. JPEG, originally created for photographs, and used as the output format of all digital cameras is a sufficiently durable standard, so that no matter what the web browser actually does in 2006, you'll still be able to publish a picture which looks like your home page today.

Phew! That's a lot simpler than messing about with the other options.

But you're a busy person and probably won't even be working in your present company in 5 years' time, so why should you care?

Here's another reason. You've got a marketing program in your company to recruit another 100 resellers. As part of the lead generation efforts, your advertising manager last month ran 5 million impressions of various banner ads on a bunch of leading portals. How are you going to prove it? Apart from showing prospective VARs copies of the invoices for the ads... "We spent XXX thousand dollars on XX leading portals"... that's going to create a big yawn. But it was an expensive campaign, and you might have to wait another 3 months before you do something on a similar scale again.

In a traditional print ad campaign, or mailshot, you'd keep sample copies of the magazine or mailer to send out with your VAR information or the digital equivalent in Powerpoint. Your electronic ad campaign ended last week, and it would be nice to have visuals. On a couple of days some of those portals were even running news items about your company... and when your banner appeared on the same page, it was VERY impressive.

If you didn't make screen dumps at the time, then sure, your graphics department can mock up those web sites, but they won't be convincing. The home page on a good portal changes every day, sometimes many times a day. All the other information will look wrong. The VARs will know that it's a fix, and your credibility will be low.

So here's what you need to do. Once or twice a month do a screen grab and JPEG conversion of your company's own home page, and whenever your advertising department runs an ad, ask them to make a copy of your ad running on the targeted portal. Then, next time you want to include some of these collaterals in a future article or partner presentation your life will be a lot easier. You should also include screen grabs of the datasheets for your most significant products, because most products nowadays don't have any paper collaterals. So, if in 10 years time a publisher wants to run an article on the history of similar products, then they'll have to give yours a miss (even if it was the first, or the fastest, or the one which changed everything that followed.)

I have to confess that in my own case, it's easy to find an image of our publication way back in 1992, because it was hard copy and we can photograph any of the bits we like the look of. But there's no record whatsover of our home pages for the first 5 1/2 years as a dotcom. So we'll just have to feature shots of the mice and our changing logos in any future retrospectives.

You have been warned!
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