Feature: The organisers

PROs are now spoilt for choice in terms of forward-planning tools. Alex Blyth speaks to three service providers.

Introducing the PR industry’s super-planners. Evelyn Timpson, managing director of Advanced Media Information (AMI); Daryl Wilcox, founder and publisher of Daryl Wilcox Publishing; and Nicola Hunt, founder of NHPR (all pictured below), serve PROs with the information they need to schedule their year ahead. Between them they give simple access to useful dates, themes and anniversaries. They are, in fact, united by one common purpose – to make forward-planning easier.

As 2007 kicks off, PROs have an inc-reasing array of planning tools at their disposal. It is a far cry from 1992, when a company called the Profile Group (which first launched a directory for features editors in 1987) unveiled Foresight, a forward-planning service (now known as YearAhead) comprising a database of 20,000 forthcoming events. Today, an array of planning services are vying for PR practitioners’ attention and the Profile Group now has several rivals in event forward planning. Diary Directory and Future Events News Service (FENS) are notable players, as are a number of online services such as Diary Dates, Leisure Opportunities and think-conferences.co.uk.

But it is AMI that in recent months has been making news of its own. Launched in 1999 it originally sold information to the media, but in the past 18 months has offered it to PROs as well. Just before Christmas it struck a deal with Associated Press to provide AP Planner, its forward planning service for PR professionals, corporate communicators and government.

‘It’s no longer good enough to send out a press release on the day and hope to get coverage,’ says Timpson. ‘There’s so much competition, PROs need to know what is happening in advance and plan accordingly.’

The good news is that competition among providers means PROs are being spoilt for choice for the most detailed and accurate information. However, in this growing sector there are the inevitable arguments about the scope and validity of services, and debate among users themselves about what they need. According to Timpson, AMI’s new AP Planner will combine content from both itself and AP to list more than 35,000 future events, including press conferences, award ceremonies, and legislative, governmental and regula-tory activities. In addition, Timpson says AMI has millions of other ‘events’ on its database, of which around 250,000 are live future events that will be of potential interest to PROs.

But Robert Barclay, Profile Group’s founder and CEO, claims providers such as AMI are ‘double counting’ some of their events to boost their databases. He is also concerned that many providers are too preoccupied with the quantity of data rather than the usability of their search engines. He says: ‘We have a team of 40 researchers collecting information in specific groups, and present events in a way that shows their relevance. Few planning services are truly designed with the end-user in mind.

Too much information?
The latter point is certainly not missed by agencies. Alastair Metcalfe, associate consultant at Fishburn Hedges, says planning tools often fail to meet his needs: ‘They can be useful, but I don’t think that any of the sites have managed to pin down the best way for users to navigate content or for the providers to distribute it effectively. It seems that such sites are trying to be too many things and they end up being clunky.’

Tim Gibbon, director at Elemental, an integrated media communications consultancy, goes further: ‘We have not been using a service for the past 12 months, mainly because the cost of around £4,000 per year was not proving a good investment. We also find that PROs can become too reliant on using these forward feature services.’

He continues: ‘It would be easy for a company to assign an intern or account junior to monitor these services. But quite honestly, using them just amounts to administration, and we all know PR is about a hell of a lot more than this. These services do nothing to dispel the myth held by some that PR is just glorified administration.’

Daryl Wilcox takes a different view. He is behind FeaturesExec, which updates editorial contacts and forward features lists of thousands of UK publications. In 2006 he also facilitated more than 5,000 enquiries to around 5,000 PROs through the Response Source service, which allows journalists to email requests for information and comm­entary to subscribed PR people.

Wilcox reports that 20 PROs a day are signing up, while other providers, such as Gorkana, have started to offer similar services.

Wilcox says: ‘Many PROs find these tools useful for forward planning. Some journalists send requests months in advance, while others use them to describe information and commentary they need over the long term. Finally, PROs who take a holistic view of the requests coming through can build up a good picture of media trends.’

Advance Features, from Romeike, also promises information on thousands of future features for £799 plus VAT per year. Kathryn Reid, MD at strategic reputation consultancy Benicate, says fees to providers such as Romeike and Response Source (which she uses) are worth it. ‘Subscription to Response Source is £175 for the year and it enables me to communicate with journalists directly and to meet their needs as and when they need me. This is much better than just randomly phoning them up and hoping what I’ve got to say might fit in with what they’re working on.’

One challenge for forward planning providers is ensuring that information is up to date. Joe Winters, consultant at 3 Monkeys Communications, says: ‘Forward planning services are often a good starting point, but publications aren’t sticking as rigidly to their forward feature lists as they used to. Quite a few don’t produce one any more and those that do will frequently change it as their news focus shifts. If the search engine isn’t constantly retrieving revised lists from features editors, the service becomes redundant.’

Improved service
Complaints from PROs is partly why NHPR founder Nicola Hunt branched out to tackle the problem herself. Hunt is behind Management Issues (www.management-issues.com). Focusing on the world of workplace, HR and management, it originally launched as an information portal for journalists, taking press releases and reports from PROs as well as spokespeople’s contact details. Since last week, the site has enabled PR execs to distribute feature ideas to its registered journalists via an RSS feed, which tells PROs in which subjects journalists are interested.

Hunt says: ‘Journalists were saying that they’d like sensible dialogue rather than dozens of emails. So, we take ideas from PROs and send the good ones out to the subscribing journalists.’

She adds: ‘If PR agencies are serious about their 2007 strategy they can’t aff-ord to ignore good planning. Our site enables PROs to position clients as thought leaders and to get ideas out to around 1,000 journalists globally, of whom 500 are in the UK. However, so far only about a dozen of the larger PR firms have joined, which surprises me.’

But with some agencies yet to invest fully in planning services, there are signs this mini-industry will continue to grow. And attempts are being made to promote more focused planning services to PR practitioners. Metrica for one is expecting a lot of interest in its lifestyle research product, Consumer Pulse, which is to publish its latest data this month. Consumer Pulse is an annual consumer survey asking respondents to detail their socio-economic group, age, the papers they read and gadgets they use. For the past three years it has polled 2,000 people , but the 2007 survey is increasing this sample to 13,000. It does not produce traditional planning data, but Metrica director of analysis Paul Hender says: ‘It means PROs can see, for example, which non-users of mobile phones take which media, and use that information to build their media planning list.’

Hender sees it fulfilling the role that TGI serves for the advertising industry, a major difference being that TGI costs up to £20,000, and Consumer Pulse around £2,000. He says: ‘Around 20 per cent of PROs use lifestyle tools when planning, but this has to change as PR becomes more closely linked to business objectives.’

Looking ahead
There is certainly much to be excited about in the forward-planning industry. Providers are becoming highly adept at delivering a wide range of timely, accurate information about future developments.

PROs will make their own judgements on what information they will use, but as the saying goes, forewarned is fore-armed.

However, the future for providers will not be without its challenges. Every day, traditional media outlets face increasing competition from new channels. Consumers are looking to social media for their information, and so that is where brand owners want their PROs to be.

The challenge will be to build a service that can help PR professionals plan for developments in the unpredictable world of social media.

SOME KEY EVENTS IN ’07

JAN -
18th Oxford Media Convention. Speakers include Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan, and Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards. For more information call T 0870 765 7488.
24-25th
The Event Show. For organisers, managers and promoters of public, corporate, sporting & charitable events. Olympia, London. For details call Marina Efstathiou, Spotlight PR: T 01252 795657.

FEB -
27th PR and the Media conference. Speakers include The Independent editor-in-chief Simon Kelner. Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, London. For details call Haymarket conferences on T 020 8267 4011.

MAR -
26-27th Chartered Institute of Public Relations Academic conference. For details call Mark Ramsdale, CIPR, on T 020 7766 3333.

APR -
25th Fundraising, PR & Communications Excellence. Contact Haymarket Events on T 020 8267 4011 or conferences@haymarket.com.

MAY -
9-12th Communication Directors’ Forum, Southampton. Call Gill Law, Richmond Events, on T 020 8487 2214.

JUN -
3rd World Association of Newspapers World Newspaper Congress and Info Services Expo + World Editors Forum. Cape Town, South Africa. For details call Larry Kilman, WAN press office: T + 33 1 47 42 85 00.
4th Chartered Institute of Public Relations Internal Communications Conference . For details call Sarah Ion, CIPR, on T 020 7766 3333.

AUG -
24-26th MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. For details call T 020 7278 9515.

SEP -
6-10th International Broadcasting Convention. Contact James Burns on T 020 7611 7500 or E show@ibc.org.

NOV -
14-15th IPRA Annual PR Summit. Click here to register.
8th
Chartered Institute of Public Relations National Conference, London. Call Elspeth Graham, CIPR Events, on T 020 7766 3333.

SERVICES UPDATE

MANAGEMENT ISSUES (Nicola Hunt)

Date launched
2001.
Overview of what’s offered
Online source of information about the world of work.
How it works
This month, Management Issues launched an RSS feed, which collates story ideas from PROs and its own research, and sends them to journalists who have registered to receive them.
Number of PROs joined
Around a dozen large PR firms.
Cost structure
£150 per month for full membership of the website.

RESPONSE SOURCE (Daryl Wilcox)

Date launched
2001.
Overview of what’s offered
E-mailed requests from journalists for input on articles they are currently writing.
How it works
Journalists complete an online form, indicating which sectors are relevant; that is then forwarded, complete with journalist contact details, to PROs who have subscribed in those sectors.
Number of PROs joined
Over 5,000
Cost structure
Depends on size and number of sectors subscribed to, but on average £2,500 per year.


ADVANCED MEDIA INFORMATION (Evelyn Timpson)

Date launched 2004.
Overview of what’s offered
Database of events taking place in the next 12 months.
How it works
AMI lists millions of events, in 30 categories in sectors such as healthcare and utilities. Users can search and find events that are relevant to them.
Number of PROs joined
Over 1,000
Cost structure
Depends on amount of content and number of users, but between £1,000 and £10,000, and usually about £4,500.

’07: SOME MEDIA HOOKS

JAN -
11th Fifth anniversary of the first Afghan prisoner arriving at Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba. US Defense Dept press office: 1 703 697 5131.

FEB -
2nd Groundhog Day in the US, Canada and Switzerland. If a groundhog sees his shadow we have six more weeks of winter. If not, an early spring.

MAR -
23rd Tenth anniversary of the TV premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

APR -
6th
World Marbles Championship to be held at the Greyhound Pub, Tinsley Green, West Sussex. Call Sam McCarthy-Fox, The Marble Museum, on T 01403 730602, or T 07855 677795.

MAY -
28th Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling, Brockworth, Gloucestershire. Contestants chase cheeses down a 300-yard slope. Injuries expected. Richard Jefferies, press officer: T 01452 862560

JUN -
9th Man v Horse Marathon, Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales. Up to 300 runners try to outrun 30 horses and riders over a 22-mile course. Debbie Harniman, Green Events: T 01591 610 265.

JUL -
7th
Declaration of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Stonehenge is the only UK attraction in 21 finalists.
28th Ben & Jerry’s World Toe Wrestling Championships, Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Call Bentley Brook Inn, T 01335 350278, or the Ashbourne Tourist Office, T 01335 343 666.

AUG -
1st The 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Scouting Movement. Scout Association press office: T 020 8433 7211.

SEP -
16th Egremont Crab Fair World Gurning Championships. An ugly face pulling competition in Cumbria. Mr Clements, Egremont Crab Fair: T 01946 821 554.

OCT -
1st
25th anniversary of the first compact disc player going on sale.
5-14th
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The most photographed event on the planet.

NOV -
5th The tenth anniversary of the launch of BBC News 24.

HOW TO PLAN CAMPAIGNS

Anna MITCHELL, Account manager, Manning Selvage & Lee ‘Forward planning services have strengths in specific areas and can assist PROs when planning an event or pro-active campaign. But this is only the first step and just one aspect of the planning process. While they provide the basic information, they are no substitute for knowing the news agenda, publications and target audience, and for developing strong news and ideas for journalists.’

Stephen WADDINGTON, MD, Rainier PR ‘Forward planning can really make or break an agency’s reputation. PR is becoming more and more strategic and it’s vital that no opportunity is missed. Because of deadlines, there are no second chances, and so we use all of the forward planning services available.’

Ailsa MACFARLANE, PR senior consultant, IncrediBull Ideas ‘We pay £500 a year for Foresight and find it invaluable for forward planning. We chose it because we already use other Profile Group services, Entertainment News and The Red Pages for our talent division. We also use Count Me In Calendar for our charity clients. All of these planning services allow us to show our clients what’s coming up, and this makes us look like we’re one step ahead of the game.’

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