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Aug 21, 2000

HSR B-to-B 's Richard Segal on What Works for "Blue Chip" Companies Marketing Online

SUMMARY: Last week we were psyched to meet Richard Segal, CEO HSR Business to Business Inc. HSR helps “blue chip” clients including General Electric and Xerox figure out what they’re doing online.
Q: How has the Internet changed PR strategies for the big guys?

Segal: The universe of eligible editorial venues has increased exponentially several orders of magnitude in past few years. For every trade publication you had three years ago, there are 10 if not 50 online editorial venues where you can peddle your content.

There’s no Bacon’s directory to point you to these, so a new discipline of searching and mining is required to find relevant online venues. Given the rate at which the web constantly changing, that is a process that requires constant refreshment.

Q: A lot of people don’t take “digital ink” all that seriously yet. Do you think getting stories in online-only publications is worth the work?

Segal: We have found that work is more productive for B-to-B markets than the banner ads we’re doing! Historically if you go back and survey buyers and specifiers, the number one source they rely on is contact from a sales rep; the second has always been editorial mentions in respected trade editorial venues. So, it will work if you can succeed in getting it into these online editorial environments.

But you need to do due diligence. Design is not always the best criteria to judge by, there are some really nicely designed sites that aren’t good and some really ugly ones that are excellent venues because their content’s so rich.

Q: What other things have you done with content online that have been successful?

Segal: Definitely affinity sites. For instance we may co-brand some content online with a leading consultant in a client’s industry, which we did for Hobart Corp.

Online seminars have also been especially good. We had about 250 participants show up for a seminar with streaming video we did for Synchrony Communications. It featured roundtable discussions with experts in the field.

With this new technology you can have mini-seminars going on almost all the time, they are much more efficient than old fashioned trade magazine bingo cards. You can do shorter 15 minute programs in infomercial kind of formats. Get aggressive about archiving them so if customers missed out they can get back to it. You can craft streaming seminars around tightly defined prospective customer profiles for just 15-20 people at a time. This solves one of the problems with offline seminars, to make them work you have to appeal to large audience to justify travel expenses.

You can devise online seminars around smaller audiences --target around a class of trade, vertical industries, account size, etc. Costs are cascading there. It was easily a $20,000 drill and now we’ve gotten that down to the $5,000 range.

Q: Can you describe one of the most effective online B-to-B campaigns you’ve executed?

Segal: Sure, Cincinnati Bell has a host of solutions for today’s remote worker, mobile communications, mobile data communications, etc. We created a “Cincinnati Telecommuters Association” Web site for them that aggregated lots of content about effective telecommuting from lots of sites including Screaming Media. We drove traffic with a public relations effort. There’s all this stadium construction going on downtown so we focused on the difficulty getting in and out of downtown with that going on. It ran for 90 days, it had that event flavor.

Q: Email newsletters are a great corporate communications and sales tool, what recommendations do you have on them?

Segal: Opt-in is the first fundamental. There’s an awful lot of spam newsletters moving around out there. To get started collecting opt-in names you may be able to use trade association or trade magazine lists. Beyond that it’s just good fundamental promotion on your Web site. The sign up form’s gotta be conspicuous not only on your home page but present on every page of your site.

Q: How much should medium-big businesses be budgeting for online marketing these days?

Segal: That is such a variable situation. We work from requirements backwards. Start building a set of requirements; what will move the meter, demand creation, reduction of distribution expenses, etc.

It’s very difficult to accomplish anything meaningful with a budget less than a million dollar for major company. You’re going to spend $250,000-$500,000 on professional services fees before you even get into hardware and software and things like that.

Q: Which B-to-B ad agencies are doing a great job online?

Segal: Regrettably for the most part most old-line ad agencies have been slow to switch on this stuff. On the other hand a lot of the IT and systems integration firms know very little about promotion and brands. And purchase decision cycles are terra incognita to them.

Q: Most really big companies are multinational. How do you recommend companies handle an international Web presence?

Segal: English has emerged as international language of ecommerce so I’m not sure if web site has to be in a dozen different languages for starters. Instead the major issues may be distribution and currency exchange.

The trend we’re seeing is US based companies having a strong Web presence at the center that’s supported by satellite web presences at periphery. The mother site is made in US with a host of regional sites closer to their people in respective regions in the world.
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