Marks & Spencer

A British icon reviewed for PR Week Worldwire

How does a company with tremendously loyal, but ageing, customer base and a battered reputation among the fashion conscious and investment analysts use web technologies to communicate its strategies?

If Marks & Spencer is the company in question, the answer is ‘with mixed results’.

The typical customer for M&S’s flagship clothing brand is – if folklore is to be relied upon – female and over 40. The typical Internet user is neither of these. But the company has nonetheless invested in a substantial web presence with an easy to use and attractively designed shopping portal. Oddly, it is not immediately apparent that you can buy food (other than hampers) online. This is especially strange when the food brand has not taken the PR battering that clothing has, and remains profitable.

The corporate website is less effective than the shopping site. Due to a glitch, it only intermittently shows the menu on the right hand side of the content, as it was designed to, and instead it relegates the bulk of the content to the bottom of the screen, leaving a large blank space to the right of the menu.

The press area is less than user friendly, warning journalists that they will need Adobe Acrobat to view press releases. This is not strictly true, as they can be read in html too, but less web savvy journalists could easily be put off. Using Acrobat actually reduces the chance that you will get your messages into the media unamended, as it is not possible for a journalist to simply cut and paste your copy.

If your image is of a company that is a little bit dated, a first class online press room would surely go some way to undoing the damage. The medium is the message. If that is the strategy, M&S needs to focus a little more. The web tends to be more friendly and less formal than other media, but the contact details for the press office, offers anonymous phone numbers for its various brands such as food, menswear, etc. It also doesn’t offer the option of e-mail contact.

Overall, this is a corporate site which does not engage in the way that the shopping site does. Which is a pity, as the company has retained the loyalty of a large customer base. It is journalists and shareholders who have become disillusioned of late.

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