29 August 2005

A public embarrassment

This week, governors from the New England states and premiers from Ontario, Quebec and the four Atlantic provinces are in St. John's for their annual conference.

This is a major international event, with the provinces and states discussing major issues of international trade affecting the northeastern part of the continent.

For this province, it is a chance to showcase what we have to offer and to further strengthen our trading relationships with New England. The premier is about to announce a multi-million dollar contract with a local advertising company to "rebrand" Newfoundland and Labrador. Essentially, he wants to convince our potential trade partners that this is a sophisticated, modern place with which to do business.

That's what makes the government's New England business page, linked from this VOCM web story, such an inexcusable insult to the people and businesses of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Let's walk through the thing and see what we find:

1. Next to a nice smiling picture of Kathy Dunderdale, there is a button that invites us to click it to see the introduction "play".

2. Click it an all you get is a static picture if you use any browser other than Microsoft's own Internet Explorer. Computer programmers will tell you that Explorer is the most common browser out there. Ok. But if I am one of the smart people who uses a browser that hackers can't screw with, why am I getting a second-rate site?

3. There is an instruction on the picture that appears on Firefox that tells you to click the buttons on the left for further information. The buttons are on the right.

4. Click on the button that asks if you are interested in doing business in Newfoundland and Labrador, and you are wisked to a page featuring the smiling face of our own Premier Danny Williams. That's good so far.

5. Click on the button "Your business here", which already looks like a placeholder in a rough draft of the site.

6. Under "Strategic Location and Transportation", you'll find some useful basic information about the province.

7. The first picture in this section appears to be an United States Navy aircraft handling crew from one of its aircraft carriers.

8. The next picture is a fisheries patrol aircraft. That service is supplied by a local company but you won't find a single mention of Provincial Airlines and its subsidiaries anywhere else in the site. Beyond that you won't find any visual proof of our well developed air transportation sector. Nope. Just by looking, I'd think the only way to get here was by small bush plane - a culvert with wings.

9. Under market advantage, the information is ok. Why is there a picture of a defunct Newfoundland stamp and pre-Confederation Newfoundland coins?

10. On the research and development page, try and find mention of the companies like Rutter Technologies, Northstar Network or Northern Radar, all of whom have developed highly competitive, high technology products from their base in Newfoundland and Labrador. They get reduced to a single mention as being "Many local firms..." long after there are extensive paragraphs on publicly owned research facilities.

11. Oh yeah, check out the pictures and see if those don't look like the kind of basic manufacturing you'd find anywhere on the planet.

12. Under "Industrial Infrastructure", there's that carrier deck crew waiting again. The information is generic and the facilities that do exist in the province, like Marystown and Bull Arm don't get a mention or a link. There's just a generic discussion of the fact we have industrial parks...just like you can find anywhere.

13. Under "Communications" , there is a bunch of generic information - nothing to grab your attention - , along with some links to those same public sector outfits mentioned on another page. There is reference to the technology industries association, but nothing on specific achievements. Those are the kinds of things people looking to do business here want to know: what have local companies done - Rutter, Stratos, Northern Radar, GRI Simulations...not a mention.

14. Under "Communications Contacts", you'll find a bunch of associations yet again. Under government contacts, the federal government's Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is listed under "Provincial Government" contacts.

15. On the main menu again, "Business News" takes you to Kathy Dunderdale's department and its own list of news releases. There's no way to find more detailed information on real business news from the province. If you use Firefox to get to this page you get a message that it is "coming soon".

16. Under trade shows and mission, the page on Explorer went suddenly blank while I was checking it out. Under Mozilla it gave me a list of 11 events occurring between May and June 2005. All the specifics were in 2004! As of 4:00 PM Sunday this was suddenly reading "Available Soon!" - but 2005 is half over, people! Mozilla still gives me the 2004 listing for events but the news page goes to the government site..

17. Back to the home page again, and click on the business directories. The petroleum one is from 2002 - grossly out of date. On none of the directories will you find a hotlink to a website or an active hotlinked e-mail address. So much for showing we can use modern technology.

Overall, this site is a public embarrassment. It might be tidied up by Monday and some of the glaring problems fixed, but some of the more substantive ones won't be corrected - it would require major revamping of the website.

Before we spend dollar one on any advertising campaign, the Premier needs to get a grip on his government.

Marketers can claim we are anything they want. The public relations guys will look at actual performance - your reputation and credibility.

If I were to judge by the nlbusiness.ca website, I'd get the idea Newfoundland and Labrador is not a place to do business.

That is far from true - but a half-assed government website that promotes public sector interests at the expense of the private sector won't attract any interest to the province except head-shaking.