PR TECHNIQUE: INFORMATION SERVICES - Beeline to target media. Can media information suppliers help you run the perfect press campaign? Jan Jaben-Eilon discusses the pros and cons of PR pros seeking specialist support

Once, media information services simply provided thick directories of contacts or extensive mailing lists. Now thanks to the growth of technology, directories are evolving into vast electronic databases and press releases into ’blast’ e-mails and online press kits.

Once, media information services simply provided thick directories of contacts or extensive mailing lists. Now thanks to the growth of technology, directories are evolving into vast electronic databases and press releases into ’blast’ e-mails and online press kits.

Once, media information services simply provided thick directories

of contacts or extensive mailing lists. Now thanks to the growth of

technology, directories are evolving into vast electronic databases and

press releases into ’blast’ e-mails and online press kits.



But do PR pros really need these services? If you’ve been working in the

same sector for some time, the answer is probably no. By now, you should

have close relationships with the key journalists on your beat, so you

can fax or phone them with a story. Even Don Bates, managing

director/marketing and new media at Media Distribution Services, admits

that the average mail-out is less than 300 releases.



However, there’s no doubt that media information services can help you

polish your mailing list and hone your media plan. It’s unlikely that

any one agency has as many media contacts on its books as the average

information vendor. MDS, for example, has a database of 200,000. These

are updated daily by 25 full-time staff making 7 to 8,000 phone calls a

month. Burrelle’s provides directories and CD-ROMs and generates mailing

lists from a database of more than 300,000 contacts.



These services can also take the headache out of a mailer. MDS charges

around a dollar per page to print and fax press releases to a set list

of journalists. They’re happy to provide advice, too. Bates says: ’Say

you’re promoting a drug that helps physically disabled people. You’re

going to want to target the national news outlets and the trade

press.



But you should also identify web sites dealing with this area and gain

access to newsletters and discussion platforms. And how about mailing

the hospitals themselves?’



Even so, many PR agencies don’t feel any one vendor fulfills all their

needs. Many of them use more than one service and incorporate their own

privately generated information into the databases provided.

Golin/Harris bought database software from MediaMap, through which it

received information from Bacon’s Online, and then combined its own

information into the program.



Senior media manager Jennifer Baker-Asiddao describes it as ’the

backbone of our media relations,’ with more than 26,000 contacts. ’We

run lists and keep it updated. It doesn’t replace personal Rolodexes,

but it can.’



In order to get the best quality as well as the best possible price, G/H

centralizes its vendors - most people within the agency use the chosen

companies. But not all agencies work that way. At Edelman, Michael

Schiferl, VP of media services, says vendors are chosen based on

clients’ requests or the preference of individual offices or divisions.

Here, too, Edelman’s proprietary databases are merged with those

purchased from its vendors.



Ketchum turns to information services during crunch times. But in

general, says VP Tom Jones, ’nothing works better than getting to know a

journalist one-on-one. If you spend your time building databases, you

take the relationships out of PR.’



Still, the vendors are obviously meeting a demand. Companies such as

Burrelle’s not only help PR execs identify the best audiences, but also

provide clip services of clients’ competitors for purposes of

’commercial intelligence,’ explains EVP Michael Israel.



Public Access of Boston, sells Press Flash, a weekly e-mail newsletter

filled with information such as upcoming editorial deadlines.



Believing that it must offer clients something more in its hard copy

directories, Public Access provides detailed studies of subjects such as

Y2K and non-disclosure for online media. Rochelle Nemrow, the service’s

VP and founder says, ’This information isn’t as time- sensitive, but

more contextual, which electronic delivery isn’t as good for.’



Electronic delivery



Probably the newest trend in information services, though, is the move

toward electronic delivery of information. Don Bates of MDS says that

currently, journalists prefer to receive press releases via traditional

mail or fax. But Bates believes they are happy to be e-mailed by pros

who know them and are providing relevant information. ’We now have the

ability to send out blast e-mails - electronic press releases - and we

expect them to be used more and more,’ he says. Electronic press kits

are also likely to emerge in the near future.



Electronic directories are also becoming more popular. ’We can do more

planning and management of information with electronic media,’ says

Michael Buxbaum, director of business development at Bacon’s Information

in Chicago.



Even so, he says pros still use traditional directories. ’We thought

five years ago that everything would be electronic, that it would

cannibalize our books.’ But sales of Bacon’s hard copy directories are

up. ’Part of it is ease of use. You use directories for quick look-ups

like a phone book.’



DOs AND DON’Ts



DO



1. Feel free to use more than one service. Don’t feel tied down by one

supplier if it is not meeting your needs.



2. Continue to develop relationships with journalists. Close links with

media contacts beat anonymous press releases every time.



3. Work closely with the service if you are using it for a mailer. Make

sure your mailing list is as small and targeted as possible.



4. Do your own homework wherever possible. Read around your subject and

identify media that you may need to contact.



DON’T



1. Feel you have to rely on media information services. Experience and

even gut instinct still have their place.



2. Assume that information services will catch everything. They are a

tool, not a crutch.



3. Hand your own mailing list to a service without taking advice. These

people are aware of a wide range of media and can point out useful

additional contacts.



4. Get blinded by science. Surveys indicate that journalists still

prefer to receive releases via traditional mail and fax, rather than

electronically.



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