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Editorial: Open Letter to AIP

Dear Association of Internet Professionals:

While I understand the reasoning behind your effort announced last week to clean up the media’s portrayal of the Internet industry with a $10 million public relations campaign, I implore you to scuttle the effort.

Frankly, it will not have the intended effect, and its conception is a result of exactly the kind of thinking that got the industry into this mess to begin with.

“[Our goal is] when [the media] is writing a story about layoffs,” said Harriet Held, associate director at the AIP, New York, “it will have a representative from the Association of Internet Professionals who says, ‘Yes, but the Internet still employs 5 million people.’ “

Think about that goal in real-world terms.

Take late March, for example, when 24/7 Media reported in a conference call that losses were $779.9 million for 2000 and then abruptly ended the call without taking analysts’ questions. Imagine being the reporter who makes $40,000, $50,000, maybe $60,000 a year sitting in on that call and digesting that figure after the receiver goes dead.

What are the chances his first thought would be, “Better call the AIP. Don’t want to go too negative on this one”?

In reality, the reaction was something closer to “Oh. My. God.”

What’s more, if the reporter included a line such as, “Yes, but the Internet still employs 5 million people,” I would edit it out and explain nicely that we are not cheerleaders. We are here to chronicle current events. If he continued to add lines such as that one, I’d explain to him that maybe he’d be better off at a public relations firm as I was showing him the door.

We’re reporting layoffs because people are getting laid off.

And, frankly, AIP, your effort is just one more shot of stupid money that fails to address the real issues: wacky, unworkable business models and inexperienced managers who thought the rules of the market didn’t apply to them.

Rather than waste $10 million on a public relations blitz that does nothing more than validate what a lot of people are thinking – that too many Internet folks are babies – how about putting the money toward workshops and seminars on solid business fundamentals? Or how about telling your membership to keep the money so they stand a better chance of learning how to use the medium to make more of it than they spend? Now there’s a novel approach.

And believe it or not, current negative coverage is a classic case of “be careful what you wish for.”

It seems like only yesterday that fresh-faced 20-something CEOs were bounding through iMarketing News’ editorial offices like golden retriever puppies every day barking, “Write about me! Write about me! Write about me!”

Given that there were days when I could have used a slobber shield, I can only imagine what it was like in the offices of bigger publications such as The Industry Standard.

One young CEO of a well-known firm even took the time for a special visit because he thought we hadn’t given him the front-page treatment he deserved. “I’m not here to take you to task for not writing about us, but …,” he said and then proceeded to take me to task while clicking through a seemingly endless PowerPoint presentation.

Since the “I’m-not-here-to-take-you-to-task” visit, we’ve written about that firm quite a bit. In fact, we covered its layoffs, too. Then we reported that the young CEO was stepping aside so an adult could come in and run the place.

I don’t mean to sound cold, but it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than a $10 million PR campaign to clean up the Internet industry’s image and stop negative coverage.

Images of smug little Internet czars telling seasoned businesspeople they should step aside are too indelibly etched in people’s minds to get wiped away so easily.

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