FOCUS - NEWS SERVICES: Fast track news - In an ever changing news-led environment, how can PROs ensure they keep one step ahead of the game?

Galloping technology and an ever-expanding media landscape has changed news provision dramatically. With the growth in products based on the internet and increasing emphasis on information for those on the move, PROs need to stay one step ahead of the game. Targeting, relevance and response speed have all taken on new guises.

Galloping technology and an ever-expanding media landscape has changed news provision dramatically. With the growth in products based on the internet and increasing emphasis on information for those on the move, PROs need to stay one step ahead of the game. Targeting, relevance and response speed have all taken on new guises.

In this Under The Spotlight, PR Week asks the news services professionals how PR folk can keep their heads above water.



With so many internet-based news services how can PROs sort the wheat from the chaff?

Many on-line news services are still in their infancy so have not developed a good customer base. According to Daryl Willcox, managing director of the Daryl Group which includes The Source, FeaturesExec and SourceThatJob.com, one way to identify worthwhile services is to demand an audience profile.

'Don't be too easily impressed by substantial hit statistics, these are often works of fiction,' he warns. 'But if a site has a strong following, the people running it will be able to describe their audience in great detail.'

Bill Leaske, PR Newswire Europe (PRN Europe) development director, advocates posing a range of questions from 'Is the service membership-based and thus going to a targeted audience with a real interest in receiving news?' to 'Does the service offer any analysis of news accesses?'

Leaske also recommends checking out whether the internet product is backed by a dedicated team of media relations specialists. And he concludes: 'If the service involves e-mail delivery as well as just web posting, does it work on a permission-based system backed by a profiling process to ensure that journalists are not flooded with information which doesn't match their news profiles?'



What are the best ways for PR people to get their news on your services and how do you like to receive information?

Jonathan Grun, the Press Association (PA) editor, says: 'Make sure that what you are doing really is news and contact us first - if a story gets on the PA wire, it stands a very good chance of being widely used and we are not very keen on following up stories published elsewhere first Speak to the news and picture editors and send a fax or e-mail.'

Reuters also favours fax and e-mail delivery, although Reuters chief correspondent of European equities Alex Smith stresses that some PR people need to update their contact lists.

He adds: 'Press releases need to be clear and to the point. Why should we care about your announcement in particular? We get hundreds in any one day and the ones that are well written, provide ample background and useful details such as direct telephone and mobile numbers for the key players involved make our lives much easier.'

Similarly, the journalists at ITN also like PR people to keep their information straightforward and delivery user-friendly.

'There is no single best answer,' says Jonathan Munro, head of news gathering at ITN News on ITV. 'If PR people are trying to promote a diary item such as a product launch, then the Royal Mail is as good as any other delivery method.'

But for breaking stories Munro recommends telephone contact. 'It's about speed,' he says. 'With a disaster story or a calamity where a company's response is critical, TV News wants somebody right now.'



With PR folk increasingly having specific stories for niche audiences, how can the news service providers help ensure that the right information reaches the right journalists or titles?

In most cases, this is a case of knowing the media landscape and building relations with appropriate journalists.

PRN Europe has two main methods for reaching the right targeted audiences.

Firstly, its database divides the media into over 90 main sections, with hundreds of subsections according to the editorial profile of each media point.

'Using the classification system, either via our directories or MediaManager software, enables accurate pinpointing of niche targets,' says Leaske.

This applies to both the individual journalists and the media they work for.

Secondly, PRN Europe's NEWSdesk product - which covers the hi-tech, healthcare entertainment and transport sectors - features a registered on-line community of over 16,000 journalists, each of whom has created a specific news profile.

In effect, the end user decides which information they want to receive.

Similarly PRnet from Media Information allows journalists to choose stories according to interest.

In addition, the service provides access to a Journalists' Forum, where organisations and their PROs can respond to journalists' specific requests.

Marketing executive Kim Sturgess says her organisation, PiMS, continually researches and verifies journalists' contact details and their speciality subject areas. 'This up-to-date information is stored on a database along with the journalist's preferred method of receiving information to ensure that optimum targeting is achieved,' she says.



In large news organisations how is the information shared across the different services and locations?

According to PA's Grun, if a story is rated by his organisation it will appear on all the PA wire and internet services.

At Reuters, the news staff hold daily editorial planning meetings in each of the key centres - London, New York, Tokyo and Singapore - and share information between pictures, TV, graphics and text.

'We have extensive diaries for each of the services and there is regular communication by electronic mail and phone between the centres, different bureaux within the various geographic regions and between desks within a large bureau such as London,' says Smith. He adds: 'As communications get even faster, we are getting even better at making sure that information is shared between us, although making sure stories don't fall between the cracks will always be an issue.'

Broadcaster ITN is unique in running rival news services on terrestrial TV across ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. 'We're not secretive but ITV, for instance, does regard Channel 4 as a friendly competitor,' says Munro.

This means that the core ITN news agenda is shared by the three channels and the broadcasters new 24-hour service, ITN News Channel. Indeed, every morning the cross-channel editorial teams meet to discuss the day's top stories and decide how to make best use of resources. As Munro says: 'there's no point in us sending two crews to cover the same press conference, featuring the same person.' But with a different audience profile for each service, certain issues are unique to each channel.



So how can PR people track where their story has gone?

It's rare for a PRO to grumble that their news has travelled too far but, for evaluation purposes, it's useful to know exactly who has seen what.

Aside from the question of audience profile, the nature of the off-line and on-line worlds feeding into each other means it can be hard to draw an accurate map. This picture is muddied further, by the growth in news aggregators such as NewsHub and NewsNow

'The only way to see how far stories are travelling on other sites is to ask the original source about syndication deals,' Willcox says.

The PA offers its NewsFile service, which tells PR people if their story has gone to every major newsroom in the UK, as well as hundreds of corporate subscribers and a variety of web sites. Similarly, PRnet allows contributors to monitor and evaluate the success of their information among the journalists who receive it, and include assessments of the accuracy of sector targeting.



How can PR people help news services and providers deal with the 24-hour news culture?

'It would be interesting to know if we are sufficiently up to speed and performance for the newswires and the web-based news services,' says Harvard PR director Gareth Zundel. 'Are there any frustrations at the pace we do things?

Or perhaps they don't want us to do things that the client could more easily do themselves,' he adds.

Grun says: 'PA has been in a 24-hour news culture for over a century.

PR agencies should be aware that by releasing stories at certain times of the day, or on particular days of the week, they can hugely improve their chance of being used. For example, a good Sunday for Monday story can still be a talking point on the following weekend.'

'Forward planning is probably the best way firms can help us to cope with the 24-hour culture,' says Smith, who highlights that here every second counts.

If possible, Reuters likes to receive information under embargo, so that the right journalist can digest its content, decide on its newsworthiness, and arrange for photographers, TV camera crews or live feeds.



How are news service providers addressing increased globalisation?

Reuters, the PA and PR Newswire have been operating on a global basis through the international newswires for years. Undoubtedly, the internet has accelerated the move to global information availability but, Willcox says: 'I think we're a bit bored of that now. What people really want is greater localisation -geographically or by region.'

In addition, he thinks it is important to realise that news has to be relevant. 'I'm all for greater access to big foreign news but this needs to be selective,' he says. 'The net may be global, but its real

advantage is the ability to provide specialist information services at a low infrastructure cost to the provider.



How can news aggregator sites help PROs identify what is being said about a company or client and how much will it cost?

With the sheer volume of breaking news spewing out of newswires and on-line news services, keeping track is more than a full time job. London-based NewsNow.co.uk combines news from 1,000 global sources - updated as often as every five minutes - and is the market leader for UK and European news aggregation.

According to its managing director Struan Bartlett, NewsNowDirect's service provides sales, marketing and PR departments with tailored news on both themselves, competitors and industry issues, either to a corporate website or to an intranet. And Bartlett claims that it need not cost the earth: 'To get the latest headlines from any news category, subject area or market sector of your choice integrated into your website, costs from pounds 30 a month for each topic, depending on maintenance required.



What impact will WAP technology have and what are news service providers doing to address the issues?

Currently news providers are falling over themselves to sign agreements with providers of mobile devices.

For example, at the end of June, 'technology firestarter' The451.com announced distribution agreements with both OracleMobile and BT's mobile internet service, Genie. From the end of this month, ITN's News Channel will be available as an audio service with supporting text and web-style pages direct to the latest Psion laptops.

As a news wholesaler, PA already provides content to a number of WAP services and other digital platforms. But Grun says: 'We are also investigating the potential for making the NewsFile service available via WAP, so that PR professionals can review pertinent news on the move at any time.'

At Reuters, Smith says that the variety of news his organisation can deliver using WAP is likely to increase in the near future: 'Mobile internet access, particularly web broadcasts and the ability to send documents via mobile equipment, will also change the way we work as reporters, enabling us to be more flexible and allowing PR companies to communicate more than just text messages to individual reporters while they are on the move.'

However, Willcox believes that WAP is not going to live up to the hype.

'If you are going to connect to the net via your mobile phone, with that tiny little screen and pathetically slow connection - and believe me, many won't - then you will want exactly the information you are looking for straight away,' he says.



GOOD NEWS RELATIONS GUIDE

The 60-second guide to building good relationships with news service suppliers.

- To avoid disappointment on either side, request an audience profile

- Discuss ideas. As the professionals, suppliers are likely to have a wealth of experience in making information more newsworthy or better targeted

- If possible, deal with suppliers in writing or issue clear instructions, so that if difficulties arise, everybody knows where they stand

- Identify suppliers' customer service procedures and clarify what happens when your account handler is not available

- By return, give suppliers a clear idea of decision-makers within your organisation, and who to contact out of hours

- Check that suppliers have recipients' permission to send them information and that these contact details are regularly updated

- Provide input, so that suppliers can draw up a meaningful distribution analysis and evaluation

- Keep press releases clear and to the point

- Ensure press releases contain a range of contact details - mobiles, pager numbers - plus sources for background information

- When crises hit, make sure that the appropriate spokespeople are available.

News won't wait for a managing director who is out of mobile phone contact.



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