The news comes as Ask Jeeves embarks on an aggressive product launch programme, with a raft of new services and enhanced products in the pipeline for 2003.
Ask Jeeves has not retained an agency on an annual basis since dropping incumbent Consolidated Communications last July and has since only used agencies for product launches.
The internet group last month hired London-based Pirate Communications for the launch of its first brand extension, Ask Jeeves Concierge.
Agency talks are being led by Ask Jeeves in-house PR consultant Parool Patel, who was hired on a freelance basis last October. The former director of comms Nick Mason-Pearson was made redundant as part of a decision to cut back its UK corporate PR efforts (PRWeek, 8 November 2002).
Patel confirmed a shortlist of agencies has already been drawn up, but said talks are still ongoing.
He said he was hoping to secure a bank of consumer and media relations agencies to draw on as and when projects arise.
'We're looking to move away from having an expensive heavyweight retained agency on board towards having the expertise in-house with additional ad hoc external support from specialists,' said Patel.
Agencies targeted for the roster are predominantly in the media relations area, but Patel added they are also looking for specialists in other areas, such as tech PR.
Ask Jeeves' decision to assemble a roster of consumer agencies marks the firm's move away from corporate PR.
UK chief executive Adrian Cox told PRWeek last November that corporate communications were no longer a priority for the group following a U-turn on plans to float on the Stock Exchange.