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There's good PR bunnies and crap PR bunnies. Lewis PR has sent out an HILARIOUS release with pix of different-sized beards illustrating which beard size relates to specific IT abilities.

How we laughed.

But thoughtful Rainier UK sent us the results of this year's survey into how major corporations use the wacky world wide web.

The report claims that more than 40 per cent of leading UK and US public companies are failing to take the Web seriously as a communication channel and are not using it as a direct communication medium with customers, investors and other target audiences. Some are even in the precarious position of failing to deliver on basic promises they make on their sites to customers and investors.

Rainier claims that the results demonstrate a clear need for large corporates to adjust their global Internet strategies to ensure that their public Web response capabilities are at the very least as effective as telephoning, faxing or writing to their national or international headquarters.

The Rainier Web-Index study found that in Britain only 71 of the FTSE 100 companies could be contacted by e-mail via their Web site and of these more than 20 per cent including, National Grid, P&O and Telewest failed to respond to multiple requests for basic investor information after a wait of three months.

A total of 29 of the FTSE 100 companies including Bass, Marks & Spencer and Thames Water could not be reached by e-mail via their Web site or did not have a Web site.

By comparison, 77 of the Fortune 100 companies in the US could be contacted by e-mail and of these a third, including American Express, Motorola and Walt Disney failed to respond to a request for basic investor information after a wait of three months.

Additionally, 23 of the Fortune 100 companies including GTE, Hewlett-Packard and Intel and could not be reached by e-mail via their Web sites.

The Rainier Web-Index study found that UK companies were marginally better than their US counterparts for the fastest responses, with 20 FTSE 100 companies responding to a request for basic investor information within two hours, compared to only 3 from Fortune 100 companies.

All companies in the Rainier Web-Index study were contacted initially at the beginning of March, with a follow-up attempt made mid-March if a company failed to respond. E-mails were sent at the middle of the UK and US working day for the FTSE and Fortune companies respectively to overcome time zone issues.

Of the FTSE companies, 45 responded within two days, compared with 38 Fortune 100 companies, 11 FTSE compared with 19 Fortune companies took more than two days and 15 FTSE companies failed to respond to multiple requests via their Web site, compared with 20 Fortune 100 companies.

The Rainier Web-Index is a metric developed by Rainier marketing executives to measure the effectiveness of an organisation’s Internet communication strategy.

"However you choose to cut the data, this situation is a shock and quite appalling. Corporate UK and US are out of touch. You would think that by now the world’s largest companies would have developed an effective Internet communication strategy," said Stephen Waddington, managing director of Rainier in London.

"All too often companies focus on the content and look and feel of a site without considering its integration with existing customer contact systems. The result is that two in every five of the Fortune 100 and FTSE 100 Web sites are little more than corporate wallpaper," claimed Waddington.

The Rainier Web-Index study showed that companies who published clear contact details for different areas of the organisation were able to respond more quickly than those who simply offered a single online form to submit. It also highlighted the importance of setting workable response times.

"Large companies need a straightforward strategy for ensuring that their main web site is as effective a public communication mechanism as their main switchboard number at headquarters. They need dedicated resources for answering ‘company’ emails 24 hours a day, with a clear process for satisfying the question or request at a departmental or geographical level if the central communication team cannot do so immediately," added Waddington.

Two companies promised to respond promptly to e-mails sent via their Web site, but failed to respond on the first attempt. In the UK, Royal Bank of Scotland says that it will respond to emails sent via its Web site "within a few days", while in the US, Costco claims that "we will try to respond to your e-mail within one business day".

Ironically, amongst the slow responders and non-responders were a number of the world’s biggest names in communication. Colt Telecom took 27 days to respond and Dell computer took 23 days. Energis, Telewest, IBM and Motorola were amongst the companies that failed to respond at all.

So how has this changed since last year?
The first Rainier Web-Index focussed only on FTSE 100 companies. The standard of Web communication amongst these companies has improved little over the intervening 12 months. In fact the situation has got worse in many instances.

The number of FTSE sites with general contact details has improved. Last year six sites had no contact information at all compared to just two this year. On the downside the number of sites without online contact methods has risen from 16 last year to 23 this year.

The response times mirror last year’s results: 20 took less than two hours, 25 took between two hours and two days, 11 took more than two days to respond. The response rate was up from 71 per cent last year to almost 80 per cent this year.

Most responsive

Of the 56 FTSE 100 companies that responded to queries via their Web site in this year’s Rainier Web Index study, the ten most responsive companies were: National Power (4 mins); Sema Group (8 mins); Scottish and Newcastle (9 mins); Woolwich (10 mins); Astrazeneca (12 mins); Kingston Communications (12 mins); Glaxo Wellcome (14 mins); Barclays Bank (18 mins); Royal & Sun Alliance (18 mins); and Whitbread (21 mins).

Of the 57 top 100 Fortune companies that responded to queries via their Web site in this year’s Rainier Web-Index study, the ten most responsive companies were United Parcel Service (5mins); Home Depot (34 mins); USX (1 hr 23 mins); Mobil (2 hrs 8 mins); PG&E (2 hrs 12 mins); Procter & Gamble (2 hrs 28 mins); Aetna (2 hrs 33 mins); Morgan Stanley Dean Witter (2 hrs 58 mins); ConAgra (2 hrs 58 mins); and Lucent Technologies (3 hrs 3 mins).

Least responsive

Of the 56 FTSE 100 companies that responded to queries via their Web site in this year’s Rainier Web-Index study, the ten least responsive companies were Colt Telecom (27 days 17 mins); Abbey National (14 days 1 hr 37 mins); Old Mutual (12 days 42 mins); Wolseley (8 days 4 hrs 34 mins); BG Group (6 days 2 hours); Unilever (5 days 4 hrs 21 mins); British Telecom (5 days 4 hrs 12 mins); BAA (5 days 3 hrs 27 mins); Sainsbury (5 days 1 hr 49 mins); and Logica (4 days 11 hrs 51 mins).

Of the 57 top 100 Fortune companies that responded to queries via their Web site in this year’s Rainier Web Index study, the ten least responsive companies were SBC Communications (25 days 1 hr 25 mins); Dell Computer (23 days 5 hrs 50mins); Sears Roebuck (16 days 22 hrs 48 mins); UAL (14 days 1hr 46mins); Allied Signal (13 days 5 hrs); Sprint (13 days 4 hrs 2 mins); TIAA-CREF (11 days 5hrs 12mins); Coca-Cola (8 days 19 hrs 55 mins); Columbia/HCA Healthcare (7 days 2hrs 33mins) and Cardinal Health (7 days 1 hr 13 mins).

There was no mechanism to e-mail a basic query to 29 out of the FTSE 100 companies. The reasons were as follows: no online contact method (23); no corporate Web site (1); no contact details at all (2); and online forms/sites that crashed or wouldn’t load (3).

There was no mechanism to e-mail a query to 23 out of the top 100 Fortune companies. The reasons were as follows: no online contact method (15); no corporate Web site (2); no contact details at all (2); sites that couldn’t handle questions (3); and online forms that were for customers only (1).

In conducting the study, a research analyst from Rainier visited the Web sites of each of the FTSE 100 companies and each of the Fortune 100. Each of the Web sites was reviewed in detail to locate address, telephone and e-mail contact information.

Where e-mail contacts could be found, Rainier sent an e-mail requesting basic investor information about the company. The time and date the e-mail was sent was recorded and if the company responded, the time and date of response was also recorded. Where companies failed to respond after 14 days, a repeat e-mail was sent.

For full details of the Rainier Web Index study and its findings, check out Rainier's website.

They promise to reply. Honest. ®

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