TECHNOLOGY : On-Line Advertising Has Potential Despite Pitfalls, O.C. Firms Say

Compiled by Ross Kerber,Times staff writer

Several Orange County advertising and public relations agencies have begun offering their services on-line, and others say they expect to begin using the Internet by the end of the year.

But to succeed, interactive advertising must account for the habits of computer users, advertising and technology executives said at a recent meeting of the Business Marketing Assn.

"The problem with the 'Net is that you don't go out to find your customers; you've got to get them to find you," said David Scott Lewis, the featured speaker at the Feb. 22 event at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Costa Mesa.

Lewis, who edits and publishes an Irvine-based on-line commercial computer magazine, Hot Off the Tree, is also acting president of Presence, a Pasadena company that creates "home pages"--screens of text and graphics, usually advertising--for other firms using the World Wide Web, a graphics-oriented area of the Internet.

Another challenge to Internet advertising has been a backlash spawned last year by an Arizona law firm's aggressive marketing. Users objected to what they saw as improper use of the medium.

Lewis said that Internet-borne advertising can succeed only if it is tailored to individual users as they browse among various sites.

While some local companies, particularly software firms, have had links to the Internet for years, executives said, they are still skeptical of using the service for outright advertising.

"A lot of times the response you can get from a company's Web page is much slower than what you could get by phone," said Kornel Botosan, a Huntington Beach consultant who specializes in managing computer data. "The idea of finding customers on-line is a good one, but I think it's going to be in the experimental stage for a while."

Richard Springer, director of marketing communications at Wyle Electronics Inc. in Irvine, said his company is moving slowly on electronic advertising services so that it will not duplicate the information that the electronics distributor already runs in trade journals.

"Our engineers see a lot of other companies' ads on the 'Net already, but what happens when you express an interest in something is that the company just sends you some printed materials in the mail," Springer said. "A lot of that material is six months old. Somebody's gone to too much trouble to put it up on the 'Net."

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