Web Browser: Association Press Site Sets Information Standard

It's easy enough to build a rich online newsroom when you're a major corporation with megabucks for PR. But associations and nonprofits sometimes flounder when it comes to the Web. Lack of resources - human, IT, financial - can get in the way of a well-done site. And even if your association has deep pockets, tools and resources for members and other important stakeholders sometimes take precedence over those for the media. We found one association, however, whose PR department has put its Web site to excellent use. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a 24,000-member organization of surgeons specializing in the diseases and disorders of the musculoskeletal system, provides continuing medical education to those members. It also runs the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, which is engaged in health policy and advocacy. Sandra Gordon, director of public education and media relations, runs the PR department and has worked to build interest among the public and the media for the work of AAOS members. The Web site, http://www.aaos.org, and the press center feature in-depth information on the Academy, orthopaedic conditions and the patient and physician issues the Association is working to address. We also appreciated one resource we noticed - not geared at journalists, but at members - offering them media relations tools to help improve their own interaction with the press. The site is not perfect (whose is?), but the volume of rich information available to reporters, and the Academy's clear understanding of the importance of the media among its many stakeholders makes this site one to watch. (Contact: Sandra Gordon, 847/384-4030, gordon@aaos.org) Criteria Grade Comments Link from Homepage A+ The press site is linked to the homepage through a prominent link on the left-hand navigation bar. The link also explicitly acknowledges the important fact that audiences other than the media will peruse and use the press site: Users click through to the press site through "Public & Media." Press Release Archive B- The association archives press releases in various categories, including those coming out of its annual meeting (going back to 1996). However, finding the releases is a problem: Instead of clicking on a prominent link on the page of current news releases, reporters must scroll through the various categories of AAOS issues included on the main press site. Under those links, journalists can scroll down to archives of the releases pertaining to the annual meeting, preventing injuries, and other topics. Contact Information A+ The press area features a rich trove of contact information, including names and titles of the entire media relations and public education staff, as well as email addresses and direct phone numbers. Plus, the main address for the association is featured prominently. Timeliness A The site's news was updated this month with information on orthopaedic back-to-school safety. Updating once a month is enough for an association that doesn't release a huge volume of news. Archive of News Coverage F We can't find an archive of coverage on the site, but it may be buried somewhere in the copious information available. Ease of Navigation B The site uses intuitive left-hand navigation bars, and the information you're looking for is usually where you would logically expect it to be. The main page also features a helpful "Table of Contents." Unfortunately, there is also a great deal of information that is not only not geared at the press, but not accessible to the press in the media area. Password-protected areas for AAOS members only can be frustrating to curious reporters. Plus, the organization of archives by category is somewhat confusing. Search Functions A The first link on the left-hand navigation bar is to a search tool allowing reporters and other stakeholders to enter keywords for searches. Although the search function is not specific to the press site, we were able to pull up press releases and other information found on the press site using the main search engine. Company Information A+ The AAOS Web site includes in-depth information not just on the association but on the field of orthopaedics. Click through on the "Company Information" link to find material on the history of the orthopaedic specialty, AAOS' mission and focus, ways that the association is working to shape legislation and patient care, and more. Financial Information N/A Including financial information is not a must for an association, though in today's atmosphere of distrust it might be advisable to include some information (perhaps a PDF of the annual report). Graphics and Other Value-Adds A+ The press site includes fabulous graphics from the Academy's innovative programs, including a traveling art show featuring pieces created by orthopaedic surgeons and patients alike. In addition, the site includes resources and links to a variety of additional information on orthopaedics that could prove extremely helpful for health reporters in particular. News by Email F If the site offers this option, we couldn't find it. An e-newsletter including news and information from the Academy and profiling expert members who could serve as sources might be a great value-add. Overall B This site is an excellent example of how an association or nonprofit can turn a Web site into a useful resource for members, media and other stakeholders alike. Information on orthopaedics abounds, and while that is the site's greatest strength, it can also be a weakness: Sometimes there is so much information to peruse that it's difficult to dig down to the material you need. Juggling multiple audiences from expert orthopaedic surgeons to reporters to patients sometimes makes the site a bit unmanageable. With some tweaks to organization and linking (for example, putting staff information in the "About AAOS" section or linking an overall archive of press releases to the main newsroom homepage), the association could take the site from a great example of online savoir faire to a truly extraordinary resource for the media.

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