The rocky road to media section heaven

The arrival of 'media asset databases' in two corporate sites gave David Bowen great hope. Until he tried to use them.

 

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece headed ‘What to do with the poor old media section?’, pointing out that as press officers rarely know who they are serving any more, it is not surprising press areas are also confused. Are they for ‘journalists’ in the old fashioned sense, for anyone who writes anything on the internet, or perhaps for everyone? But I did say it is important to have a service for media professionals who need to find something quickly: how to spell the CFO’s name, what brands the company owned, a photo of a factory. That sort of thing.

At the time the fashion was for ‘social media dashboards’ – where companies could display all their latest tweets and the like. I couldn’t (and can’t) see the point of these: journalists can set up their own social media monitoring, and the last thing they want is a selection sanitised by the company they are covering.

But one company was doing it right. Siemens has for several years had a press section that is a searchable database of ‘assets’ – press releases, photos, background materials and the like. Here, you can choose the bit(s) of Siemens you are interested in – or select them all – then do a search using a keyword and/or date range. It worked, and works, well. So it was with joy that I discovered that two sites I was reviewing last week have adopted the same idea. Vale, the Brazilian mining giant, and Philip Morris International, now have press sections that are asset databases. Unfortunately my joy diminished as I tested them out: they have the theory, but for the moment they are just annoying.

Vale is the better of the two, and in some ways works well. You can for example click Environment, and see all relevant assets listed on the page. Or you can put the CFO’s name in the search box, press return, see a list of assets, then refine them by theme, type or date.

But if you do not do what the mechanism wants you to do, you are undone. Put the  CFO’s name in and click ‘search’ rather than hit return, and nothing happens. The main filter list (‘Type’) does not include press releases. To see them you have to click something else, such as Photos, then click to get a much bigger set of filters. Still no press release option here, but click ‘All’ and you will finally see some.

These are just a few of the hurdles I hit while trying to use the site. What should be a massively powerful system is instead massively irritating. It needs a thorough assault by usability testers; then it will be indeed massively powerful.

If Vale’s database is over-complex, PMI’s is just baffling. It appears to have a search box at the top, but it is not one – rather it is a category selection menu, but with only one option: ‘All categories’. So you can’t search or filter the database. A set of ‘tags’ at the top appears to offer a filter option, but does not – if you click one of them, the page scrolls quickly down to a panel on the page. Try that with ‘News’ and you get to press releases – but there is no way to search or filter them. In one way this has the opposite problem to Vale: it is not sophisticated enough. But it shares another: it does not work well.

I’m not suggesting that Vale or PMI should drop these mechanisms. They should just make them work better. Then other companies should follow their examples but avoiding the birth pains. Siemens has been getting it right for ages. Why can’t others?

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If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.