PR TECHNIQUE: JOURNALIST RESEARCH APPLICATIONS - Tools to track anappropriate hack

With the battle for editorial placement more competitive than ever,

the latest tools to pinpoint journalists and know their pet peeves have

become must-haves for every PR staff. Allen Houston reports.



In today's increasingly fast-paced and competitive business environment,

media relations staffs are under more pressure than ever to get

favorable press coverage for their client or corporation. Making a

successful pitch requires copious amounts of research to pinpoint the

journalist most likely to cover it the best, and, frankly, the clipping

services of old just don't cut it anymore.



Thankfully, the advent of technology has given rise to other

options.



PR firms are turning to software application services that allow them to

delve deeper into the preferences of journalists and thus convey key

messages and establish a brand presence. Big Brother would applaud the

speed with which these tools have evolved since their inception at the

end of the 1980s. Their capabilities to provide journalist bios,

preferences, pet peeves, beats, and other specific information has

become as much a daily part of life to agencies as the internet has.



Much more than news clipping services, these online applications help

agencies prepare contact lists, recognize missed story opportunities,

and send out customized pitches to reporters around the world. They also

help discover trends, tell you how much coverage your rivals are

getting, and evaluate whether coverage is positive or negative.



One of the earliest services was MediaMap, which started out as a PR

agency in 1986. MediaMap quickly changed focus and became known for its

CD-ROM that put background information and other tools to track

journalists into the hands of media-hungry firms.



Ten years later, MediaMap developed into an online software application

that boasts the 20 largest agencies in the world as clients. By

accessing the homepage, users can find journalist bios, work

information, beats covered, pet peeves, and the best way to pitch each

journalist. Using phone interviews, e-mail surveys, and a program called

My Profile, which allows journalists to update their own profiles, the

company has registered more than 200,000 journalists in the

database.



Research tools have the capability to perform very specialized search

functions. For example, using a tool like MediaMap, a user could search

for journalists in a particular city covering a particular beat, and

receive a list of contacts. The user could then customize a press

release so that the journalists on the list receive it through e-mail,

fax, or wire.



MediaMap also allows agencies to check the editorial calendars of print

publications so that they can identify possible story leads. So far, the

application service has collected 100,000 editorial calendars for

2002.



"Forward-thinking agencies will use a journalist research tool to help

journalists filter out unwanted pitches," says Peter Granat, senior VP

of MediaMap.



MediaMap starts at $2,500 per year for a single user.



A similar program is Vocus. This 10-year-old agency started out as

Capital Hill Software, which tracked bills that were passing through

Congress.



In 1996, the group changed its name to Vocus PR, and three years later

relaunched to include the ability to manage press releases, bios, and

other documents. It also includes a campaign management tool, and an

analyzing function so that agencies can manage many of their activities

in one place.



Vocus includes a database of 300,000 US journalists and 150,000

international journalists for agencies to access. Both LexisNexis and

Dow Jones feed into its software. "We give agencies the information to

target the journalists who are best able to represent their products,"

says Kay Bransford, VP of marketing for Vocus. "But we encourage people

to forge relationships with clients, because blindly pitching is a bad

way to reach journalists. Our product is not a direct marketing

tool."



Vocus starts at $5,500 a year, which includes training and

customized software. It also offers an online newsroom service, which

monitors TV channels for mention of a company's name, and gets

information through a closed-caption function.



Both MediaMap and Vocus say the hardest part is making sure they provide

the most up-to-date information on journalists and publications. "The

biggest complaint about research tools is keeping information about the

journalist up to date," says Granat. "What motivates us is making sure

that we have the most accurate information to provide our

customers."



Biz360 started a new service two years ago, with the goal of helping

corporate communications teams improve their media efforts. The San

Mateo, CA-based operation pitches directly to Fortune 1,000 companies,

and while it provides basic research tools, it focuses more on the

analytics of campaigns. It does this by analyzing magazines and grabbing

all articles about your product - and your competitors' - and then

checking if the stories are positive or negative.



Users can find information about their competitors and track the amount

of attention they're receiving in the media, helping pinpoint missed

opportunities where stories mention only your competitors. Biz360 also

includes a basic clipping media service, with information about who

writes for what magazine, where the journalist is located, and every

company and person that the journalist has written about. The company

says this is the kind of information that provides a good relationship

with an author. Agencies can target a list of over 8,000 publications.

"PR firms can really drill and find out why this interested the

journalist," says Keith Goldberg, VP of marketing for Biz360.com.



But remember, all the tools in the world cannot replace good

contacts.



"Technology is great," says Bransford. "But if you pitch to 10

journalists you have a relationship with, then you are going to be more

successful."



TECHNIQUE TIPS

1. Do learn from your interactions using the journalist research tools

2. Do be careful of the power of these services. You can make a lot of

enemies by misusing the information available to you

3. Do use every bit of information to help you refine pitches

1. Don't blindly send press releases to the wrong contacts

2. Don't be intimidated by the number of services that are provided by

these applications

3. Don't fool yourself into thinking that these tools can replace the

importance of making good contacts



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