PR TECHNIQUE: EXPERT SEARCH SERVICES - Converting client expertiseinto column inches

When a reporter has questions and your client can answer them

better than anyone, you have a hot ticket for coverage. Robin Londner

looks at the services available for bringing the two parties


A staffer with Nails magazine was recently working on a story about dry,

cracked cuticles and hangnails. She wanted to find a dermatologist who

could give her expert comment. At the same time, a reporter from New

Jersey Monthly was looking for statistics on American soup consumption

between 1996 and 2001. Both writers took their requests to an expert

search service - in these instances, the recently relaunched


No matter how seemingly strange the request, somewhere a PR pro is

representing a client with the answers. And while there are journalists

with stories to write, and PR people with stories to sell, "matchmaking"

information services like ProfNet, ExpertSource, and SourceNet will

continue to be valuable resources.

"For a minimal investment, you can strike gold in terms of leads," says

Raoul Mowatt, a features writer at the Chicago Tribune, who recently

posted a ProfNet request for a story on video game wars. He also uses

ExpertSource. "Sometimes, of course, it's a dry well, and you might have

to wade through spam responses. But usually there are enough bona fide

hits to make it worthwhile."

ProfNet, created in 1992 and purchased by PR Newswire in 1996, offers

three main services, the most well-known being ProfNet Search, which

allows reporters to send queries by broadcast e-mail to PR pros in North

America and Europe. ProfNet Database holds profiles of PR people,

searchable by reporters, who can then send targeted queries. ProfNet

Leads offers sources on timely subjects and is linked to expert profiles

in ProfNet Database.

"We compiled an inventory of 700 experts in three days following

September 11," says Dan Forbush, president of ProfNet, and architect of

its recent overhaul. "And we plan to add new features to ProfNet

Database, including high-resolution photos and video."

ProfNet's chief competitor is Business Wire's ExpertSource, launched in


"We go beyond the database in our efforts to assist journalists," says

Laura Sturaitis, Business Wire's director of new media development.

"If we don't have an expert, our information services group, staffed by

professional librarians, works with the journalists and provides

references, background information, and other insights."

Unlike ProfNet, which e-mails queries to PR people, ExpertSource posts

journalist queries to a searchable website. Its other sites include

Expert-Source NewsSource Center, a bulletin board for journalists to

which PR people can submit 100-word abstracts of surveys and studies; a

searchable database of potential experts; and a company overview web

page, called Corporate Profile, which is posted on

Both Forbush and Sturaitis claim use of their services is up since

September 11. Potential reasons, they say, are because journalists may

be working slightly different beats to focus on terrorism, and PR

clients may be changing their expert profiles to position themselves as

possible sources.

Also, cuts in both media and PR budgets may mean that both sides have

less time to develop stories.

The September 11 impact has prompted MediaMap's Source-Net service to

create a free resources listing of experts specific to issues connected

with the terrorist attacks.

Launched last year, SourceNet is the new kid on the block. To remain

fresh, MediaMap is looking into new ways to deliver information from

journalists to PR people, such as integrating queries into a desktop


For now, it uses the e-mail model to alert PR people to queries.

MediaMap also plans to launch SourceNet Experts, a free listing of

experts for journalists.

Erin Mitchell, director of media services for MediaMap, says PR people

can maximize the efficiency of expert search services by adhering

closely to specific journalist requests.

"Journalists asking for information specifically on the color of widgets

will likely not appreciate information on the founder of a gadget

company," she explains. "Likewise, when a journalist posts a query on

SourceNet, they are not looking for a phone call, unless they

specifically request it. The journalist has chosen the service and its

features, and PR pros need to respect that choice."

Lesser known, perhaps, is Broadcast Interview Source (BIS). Operating

since 1984, BIS publishes the print directory Yearbook of Experts,

Authorities, & Spokespersons, along with a searchable electronic

version. BIS also offers an expert internet profile and links to client

and publicist websites.

This month, BIS plans to launch Expert-Click, which will allow

journalists to submit queries to PR people in the ProfNet, Expert-Source

and SourceNet styles.

Other services do not aim to relay specific queries, but instead give PR

people overall information. Vocus, for example, offers a database of

journalists and over 100,000 editorial calendars searchable by key

words, issue date, journalist, outlet, and subject. LexisNexis offers

profiles of media, journalists, and editorial calendars, as well as

weekly e-mails of editorial changes and opportunities.

NewsBuzz has GuestFinder. com, a directory of experts and authors

available for media interviews. It recently bought GreatGuests Fax Alert

and, a weekly fax of available experts sent to radio

hosts and producers. CEO Larilyn Bailey says the NewsBuzz plans to

launch additional services in 2002.

Dabney Oliver, an SAE with the Loomis Group in Austin, TX, believes the

benefits of search services far outweigh the time spent sifting through


"If I get my client one quality placement, the time that I spend opening

and deleting ProfNet e-mails isn't wasted," says Oliver, who says she

scores a media hit for one in 10 queries to which she replies. "I look

at these services as a bonus to make my job easier. If it works out,

then great. If it doesn't, not too much time has been spent on a



NAME: ExpertSource

SERVICES: Journalists post queries or use database ExpertSource

NewsSource Center: PR people can post abstracts from studies

SurveySource: Editors survey business communities, BW offers database of

experts to provide context

COST: BW members and registered journalists, free


NAME: SourceNet

SERVICES: Journalist queries e-mailed to PR people

COST: Registration, daily e-mails of queries, access

to details, free; response subscription, $995


NAME: ProfNet Search

SERVICES: Journalist queries e-mailed to PR people

ProfNet Database: Reporters can search for experts

ProfNet Leads: PR people can spotlight leads, link to database profiles

in e-mail to 5,000 reporters

COST: $2,400 (PR agencies) to $5,000 (nonprofits)


NAME: ExpertClick

SERVICES: Allows journalists to submit queries to PR pros

COST: $495


NAME: Press Flash

SERVICES: Weekly e-mails of editorial changes and opportunities

Press Files and PRAnywhere: Profiles of media, writers, and editorial


COST: From $1,995, includes other LexisNexis services



SERVICES: Directory of experts available for interviews

GreatGuests Newsletter and Fax Alert: Experts and interview sources

faxed to radio hosts

COST: $249 per year per expert listed

Newsletter, $125 per ad; Fax Alert $175

complete, $275 if NewsBuzz provides copy


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