O’Keefe, S (2002) Complete Guide to Internet Publicity, John Wiley and Sons, New York.
This is the sequel to O’Keefe’s best selling Publicity on the Internet. My principal reason for reviewing it, was to find out whether or not I had missed something which ought to be included in GBdirect’s "Web Therapy" services or in our web training courses. Whilst I discovered little which we have not considered, it did throw new light on some techniques or tactics which we may have previously under-estimated.
O’Keefe doesn’t actually tell us the precise audience he has in mind for the book nor is it clear whether he has any overarching perspective on his chosen field. He merely explains that his ‘prequel’ was motivated by self-defence, i.e. he was a professional publicist at a time when prevailing wisdom had it that the Internet would eliminate every intermediary between companies and their individual customers, especially marketing and public relations specialists. He justifies the current work in less material, but similarly existential, terms - as something he just had to do.
Whatever the intended target, it will (as the book’s subtitle, Creating and Launching Successful Online Campaigns, suggests) be of most interest to those who run, or wish to run, online publicity campaigns. It is emphatically not a complete guide to Internet publicity, but it is both extensive and substantive - notably more substantive than most of the fluff on Internet marketing bookshelves.
The nearest O’Keefe comes to a unifying perspective is the set of principles he outlines in the introductory chapter, derived from his reading of the Internet’s promise and its problems in delivery over the last seven years. The first two substantive chapters then dive straight into the intentional nitty-gritty which characterises the rest of the book. In this case he details how best to send out email press releases and how to set up online newsrooms.
Chapters four and five explain more than most people will want to know about posting to online newsgroups and direct marketing (including newsletters). The central chapters cover online chat, seminars and workshops. All three, but chat in particular, are obviously highly regarded and widely used by O’Keefe in his professional work. The same cannot be said of the following chapter on site registration and linkage, where he seeks (unconvincingly) to demolish both the bogus and legitimate claims of search engine optimization.
Chapter 9 deals with online usage of contests, games, quizzes and similar offline favourites. It is followed by a chapter on syndicating promotions, which fortunately leads into a more widely useful discussion of the benefits and practice of syndicating news and subject specialist content. The details in the final chapter, on building an in-house publicity operation, may only be relevant to larger companies, but his argument for having some in-house capability should be heard by companies of any size.
On balance, O’Keefe’s strengths outweigh his weaknesses. Almost every chapter is crammed full of detailed instruction on how to perform online publicity tasks well, and well-structured explanations of why a particular approach is best suited to Internet conditions. If nothing else, his admittedly limited knowledge of the technically possible, lifts his advice head and shoulders above the cyber-tosh which passes for gospel in much ‘new media’ marketing.
For the most part, O’Keefe has the good sense to stick to what he knows and avoids straying into areas where his knowledge is merely theoretical. Whilst he is good at drawing out generally applicable lessons from lots of cases, his writing is almost always rooted in direct professional experience. The insights which most impressed me were those he teased out of case studies in which his own campaigns had gone seriously wrong.
This ability to learn from his own mistakes is mirrored by his unusually good grasp of how set up, and then how to manage, the feedback loops in publicity campaigns. Despite his strong emphasis on the importance of feedback, however, he is constantly at pains to point out that the costs of managing unqualified website traffic and feedback can completely swamp any benefits they might produce.
Having complimented him on his attention to practical detail, there are occasions on which you wish O’Keefe had taken a slightly wider view of the marketing context in which publicity takes place. For example, I would really like to see how he deals with client executives with their sights set upon the full streaming sound and video nonsense proposed by competitor Ad men in off-line PowerPoint presentations.
Another consequence of O’Keefe sticking to what he knows, is rather too much concentration on tactics and strategies which are not available to small companies. Sadly, it is also smaller companies who have most to lose from two areas in which O’Keefe demonstrates woeful ignorance of his subject, i.e. software tools and search engine positioning.
Although he never claims expertise, and he does demonstrate greater awareness than most non-technical people in the field, his knowledge of relevant software is obviously limited to the kind of shrink-wrapped boxes you can buy at Staples. One consequence is that he occasionally suggests hugely expensive tactics, leaving you dependent on other companies, when the same thing could be done for pennies using freely available open source software in-house. Similarly, he frequently advises use of tiresomely slow and inefficient web tools, for jobs which could be highly automated with only a modicum of in-house technical skill.
Ignorance is also in evidence when he discusses search engine ranking techniques. He sensibly attributes much of what he knows on the subject to Danny Sullivan, but his claim that search engine optimisation is poor value for money in comparison to laborious hand-crafted linkage campaigns is clearly an unwarranted generalisation from his own personal exprience. Campaigns for search engine position and for in-bound links can both be implemented badly. My own company’s experience is precisely the reverse of O’Keefe’s. Around 80 percent of our first contact with new customers comes through search engine click-throughs, the other 20 percent divides roughly equally between personal referrals (online and offline) and click throughs from other sites. What is more, the unit cost of acquiring those search engine click-throughs was a fraction of what it takes to engineer a good link from a high-traffic site.
This book is a ‘must read’ for any Internet publicist who is not already practising what O’Keefe preaches. It will prove especially valuable to those who have come up through conventional media, advertising or PR career paths and are, therefore, largely ignorant of the technological and commercial mess they have left all over the web.
Even those who have long operated along similar lines to O’Keefe will find this book a worthwhile read. It will help most to structure their thoughts and should prove a handy reference when drawing up campaign checklists.
This could become one of the half dozen books that any self-proclaimed Internet strategist should have read. It won’t, however, tell any commercially savvy techie (they do exist, honest) much that they didn’t already know.