New Britannica PR push to show the best things in life aren'talways free

CHICAGO: has launched a new PR campaign to support

its plan to start charging a monthly fee for access to the site.

It's a dramatic about-face for Britannica, which in 1999 launched a free

site with news and information from its massive database, hoping to

create a new business model based on advertising revenue to replace the

generations-old publishing model. Britannica now plans to print its

first new edition of the encyclopedias since 1998. has also hired East Coast education technology PR firm

Wheeler Baird for a $10,000-a-month retainer to promote


com, a new fee-based Web site aimed at teachers and students, grades K

through 12, said Tom Panelas, corporate communications director with, unveiled in June, is one of several new products

the company is launching to broaden its reach across the Web, print, CD,

and DVD offerings, he said.

The failure of the free site became apparent in March, when the company

scaled back due to a lack of ad revenues, and dropped its PR agency

Middleberg Associates and a new PR staffer.

Panelas said his new PR strategy to support the fee-based site will

focus on distinguishing Britannica from the rash of other Web sites that

are now switching from free to fee. "We were never a pure-play Internet

company," he said. "We have a great brand that people still value."

Panelas has been using media relations, notification on the site, and

e-mail to regular site users to explain the reasons for the new


"I think the word has gotten out," he said, pointing to an AP story and

coverage in The New York Times and on The Wall Street Journal's Web


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