PR TECHNIQUE INFORMATION SERVICES: Cast your client's quote - ProfNet and other online expert-search services effectively and efficiently connect journalists, PR people and their clients. Jennie L Phipps reports on your options.

A host of recently launched and expanded expert-search services are making it easier to offer your client's expertise to reporters and editors.

A host of recently launched and expanded expert-search services are making it easier to offer your client's expertise to reporters and editors.

A host of recently launched and expanded expert-search services are making it easier to offer your client's expertise to reporters and editors.

PRNewswire's ProfNet is the market leader in this category. With more than 7,000 subscribing institutions, ProfNet e-mails nearly 200 reporter queries daily to about 16,000 PR practitioners and PIOs, who can then contact journalists and arrange phone conversations or meetings. ProfNet expects to soon have 70,000 expert profiles in a searchable database.

Annual pricing for the service runs from dollars 420 for a non-profit organization to dollars 2,000 for a PR agency - and that's provided you're a PRNewswire user.

But ProfNet isn't the only fish in the sea, and another service may better meet the needs of your organization. Some competing services are less expensive, and they may be more directly targeted.

One key difference between services is the way in which journalists and PR practitioners connect. Two of the largest competing services reverse the ProfNet process and let journalists make contact.

USNewsWire's Washington DC-based Source Link has 8,000 public policy news sources in its database. When a journalist submits a query - fewer than 50 a week come in - USNewsWire sends relevant names and contact information from its database to the journalist. Taylor says USNewsWire, which launched earlier this year in conjunction with The National Press Club, works this way because it is how the journalists say they want the service to operate.

'Journalists know that when they use this service their name or media affiliation is not going to be given to anybody,' says Brian Taylor, director of marketing communications for USNewsWire, which is a division of MediaLink Worldwide. 'So they don't have to worry about someone releasing information about what they're working on and what the deadline is.'

BusinessWire's expert leads service, Expert Source, operates in a similar fashion. A staff member in Chicago reviews all submitted requests and judges which available sources are most likely to be suitable. Journalists are then offered a few industry sources and a couple of academic ones to contact directly.

Daniel Savio, PR manager of BusinessWire, says one of the service's strengths is its flexibility. The dollars 100 per year basic BusinessWire membership fee affords a company the right to register as many experts as it wishes. Currently, there are 4,000 industry experts and 3,000 academic experts registered, and Savio says that number can grow as much as users want.

'You don't have to pick and choose among the management team,' he says.

'You can register them all. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.'

The newest entry in the experts business, SourceNet offered by MediaMap Press Network, operates in an even more hands-off fashion. Erin Mitchell, program manager, says both queries and responses are handled anonymously.

Journalists post a query minus a name or media affiliation. PR practitioners are notified via e-mail when new queries arrive. If the PR person wants to respond, they inform MediaMap, which then e-mails journalists that their query has been answered and provides contact information.

While the contact process appears somewhat Byzantine, key parts of the process are conducted in the open - other journalists can read queries, but they cannot respond to them. Mitchell is working on a feature that will allow journalists to hide queries.

Right now, PR practitioners can participate for free, but Mitchell expects MediaMap will charge a modest fee by the end of the year. So far, 6,500 PR practitioners and 25,000 journalists have registered. 'We're not looking to put anyone out of business,' Mitchell says. 'We saw that there was room to provide this service in a different way that we hope will work well or better for both sides of the equation.'

Operating on still another model is the venerable Yearbook of Experts, Authorities & Spokespersons, which is now available online at Yearbook.com and Lexis-Nexis. Mitchell Davis, editor and publisher, launched the book in 1984 before there was an Internet. He insists that having the information available in a big, red book is an unbeatable advantage. 'People can take us wherever they need us.'

The book features 1,400 experts and is distributed free to an average of 12,000 journalists annually. A 50-word text listing costs dollars 695; a half-page is dollars 995; and a full-page, which will accommodate numerous experts, goes for dollars 1,695.

Finally, there is Lorilyn Bailey's GuestFinder.com, a Web site that connects authors who are promoting their books with TV and radio media people that have time slots to fill. For dollars 199 a year, Bailey will devote a full Web page to a book and a brief biography of its author. Once a month, she notifies 1,000 media people, via fax or e-mail, about which authors are available on the site. Media recipients take it from there. Bailey doesn't check success rate, but she says the renewal rate among her 200 clients is high.

Melissa Perdue, an associate at the employee-owned PR firm Carter Ryley Thomas in Richmond, VA, uses expert-search services regularly.

'I think ProfNet could be used as a benchmark,' Perdue says. 'It caters to subscribers by e-mailing quality leads several times a day. There are no log-ins or passwords to reply to queries; you e-mail responses directly to the individual posting the lead.

'Other media services, like SourceNet, have a lot of potential, but they need to become more subscriber-friendly and increase the scope of their media base. The leads are good, but they still don't have the universe ProfNet has.'

EXPERT-SEARCH SERVICES

Web                  Service           Price           Number Queries

Address              Provided          Per Year        of PR

                                                       Users

www.BusinessWire.com Expert database

                     e-mail queries    dollars 100     7,000  70/wk

                     and leads

www.Direct-PR.com    E-mail queries    Free            3,500  3 or 4 a day

www.Guestfinder.com  Expert database   dollars 199     200    NA

www.MediaMap.com     E-mail queries    Free            6,500  20/day

www.newswise.com     Expert queries    dollars 350/yr

                                       & dollars 50    450    NA

                                       per release

www.Profnet.com      Expert database

                     e-mail queries    dollars 420-    16,000 175/day

                     and leads         dollars 2,000+

www.USNewsWire.com   E-mail queries    dollars 1,000   8,000  50/wk

www.Yearbook.com     Expert database

                     and print         dollars 695-    1,400  NA

                     publication       dollars 1,695+





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