DEVELOPMENTS: The hi-tech tide of change is sweeping through virtually
all means of obtaining information
CUTTINGS SERVICES: Electronic cuttings services are forcing the NLA to
look at new licensing agreements
TRADITIONAL METHODS: Databases and directories remain popular but cannot
resist hi-tech enhancement
As the need for receiving up-to-the-minute data grows, PR operators will increasingly have to embrace new electronic formats.
Tom Dawn reports
‘We’re not very good at information systems,’ admits Sir Tim Bell,
chairman of Lowe Bell Communications. ‘We prefer to rely on gossip.’
Apart from admiring Sir Tim for his frankness, you might also agree with
his implicit disdain for computers, the inevitable association with
‘systems’. But can anyone in PR resist the tide of change towards
Count the number of times you turn to different sources for information;
for getting company and market information to research pitches;
researching background information for projects; checking diaries of
events, or editorial programmes; putting together mailing lists; or
collecting press cuttings. Look at the commercial suppliers of these
sorts of information. If they aren’t already moving to electronic
formats, then most of them have plans to do so.
If the harbingers of the technocratic age in PR are chiefly hi-tech
agencies, that’s mainly because they are the first to face the reality
of modern global communications.
Ken Deeks, managing director of Arrow PR, points out: ‘70 per cent of
clients with any company in this industry will be subsidiaries of US
companies. A lot of information hits the US first, so it’s important
that we can access that information.’
Similarly there is a growing need for PR operators to communicate on a
European basis, for organising campaigns and keeping tabs on
developments in the European Union.
Here too, electronic information sources are proving popular. The EU’s
free Internet-based database of news, policies and developments in the
Research and Technological Development - Cordis - is massively
oversubscribed and increasingly difficult to access. Comprehensive
information about the EU’s activities is also available on CD-ROM from
Context including separate titles for official press releases, the
Official Journal ‘C’ series, and the official database of treaties and
One of the biggest problems, however, is filtering information. Claire
Walker, director of Firefly Communications, says: ‘There’s a ton of
information services, you really have to look at it from the quality
point of view.’
Firefly handles the PR for Reuters Business Briefing, and also pays for
the service, which it uses to track media coverage of its clients. For
up-to-the-minute information on what the Financial Times has covered,
Firefly also subscribes to FT Profile, and uses Tel-Me as a ‘good
business administration back-up’.
Reuters Business Information launched the Reuters Advertising and Media
Briefing in March. Managing director Tim Dennis describes it as covering
the ‘near-time marketplace’ - that is the day-by-day news and
information about the media industry worldwide. The service also
includes company and EU information and costs pounds 490 a month for 20
hours of access.
Financial Times Information is probably best-known for its pay-as-you-go
Profile service, heavily used by journalists and by eight out of ten
large PR companies, according to Phil Callan, marketing executive for
Profile and a new product FT Discovery.
The company introduced Discovery at the end of last year, targeting
people who want information, but are not necessarily information
professionals versed in arcane search methods. It is an amalgamation of
company, country and industry information with legislation and business
news, and news feeds from two newswires. Discovery is currently being
re-packaged for PR and other media users, based on fixed-price licenses
starting at pounds 99 each.
The new contender in this category of information services is Profound,
delivered on the Internet. Profound, and some other services, have a
facility to break down their billing to help pass on costs of research.
This raises the possibility of PRs acting as well-informed information
brokers for their clients.
‘I may be a hardened old cynic, but I’m becoming an enthusiastic devotee
of Profound,’ says Sally Costerton managing director of Argyll PR. ‘It
gives you instant information at any level of detail you want. You
search the marketspace and maybe get the top line information from one
or two Euromonitor reports in a nice easy-to-use format. That makes you
look tremendous when you go in to see a client. You can go from 0-60 in
half an hour.’
News delivery is certainly being changed by the Internet, which provides
an easy way of piping information into offices as an alternative to a
satellite dish installation. Several e-mail and World Wide Web services
were named in PR Week’s Internet feature (PR Week, March 29 1996) and on
its web page hotlist (http://www.zynet.co.uk/theready/PRWeek.htm). Two-
Ten’s Web-based newswire is one of the best. If you have a constant
Internet connection, the newswire Web page will be updated continually
Launched this month is Channel 11, an Internet-based news and
information service aimed at marketing and PR professionals. Food and
drink is the first industry sector it tackles, followed by transport.
Subscriptions will be pounds 20 a month.
Two kinds of diaries that PR operators will probably find useful are
editorial calendars, and diaries of events that are going to attract the
press and those you may want to avoid clashing with.
Ken Deeks remembers a press launch which clashed with the World Cup
semi-finals six years ago. ‘The client said ‘England won’t reach the
semi-finals, will they, ho, ho?’ In the event, it was England against
Germany and they could only drag the press corps out by shipping in lots
of TVs to the launch so that they could watch the match.
If you want to avoid a similar situation or want to know where the press
will be, there are numerous services which offer diary information.
Two-Ten managing director Paul McFarland says: ‘We are experimenting
with an e-mailed diary briefing, based on the Press Association’s four-
week diary format. This will be a software package that helps readers
search for events by category or date.’ A paper version was also
launched last week.
Two other diary services have found themselves in a head-to-head battle
for subscribers. Agenda, backed by Romeike Group Services, has launched
a future events database that it automatically updates by modem link.
Managing director Paul Johnstone claims its strengths will be
reliability - thanks to regular updating of information - and breadth of
information. ‘I think the choice of direct modem-to-modem updates is
more reliable than either the net or CD,’ he says. Subscription rates
for the weekly service start at pounds 3,000 a year.
While the Agenda service was still in the pipeline, Thomas Arms launched
the Internet version of the FENS diary listing that has been paper-based
‘Since we went onto the Internet in November, our subscriber base has
grown by more than a third,’ says Arms. The Internet service comprises
UK, World and Business reports, and can be searched by category, date
and keyword. Subscribers are billed depending on the number of entries
they access, ranging from pounds 150 a quarter for one report, up to
a pound pounds 1,500 a quarter, with a facility for easy recharge of
searches to clients.
If the prospect of surfing the net every day sets Sir Tim swivelling on
his chair, then the way many PR companies are organising their internal
information systems should send him drilling down to the basement.
Sally Costerton got her call into PR Week with ten minutes to spare,
thanks to her contact management database, into which a colleague had
plugged our deadline. Such systems are increasingly common, and can come
as off-the-shelf packages.
Jonathan Simnett, director of A Plus, believes that the whole PR
business revolves around automated information systems. The agency
currently spends six figures a year on internal information systems. It
is installing a new management information system where employees have
to be focused on or around computers for most of their day-to-day work,
but the reward is in cohesion, and the flow of information to senior
That process mirrors the changes that are dominating the way most
corporates are organising themselves, and PRs who avoid it risk being
‘The PR industry is changing,’ says Claire Walker, ‘and it’s changing
really fast because of the speed at which information can travel.’
Media contacts: Directories do the business
Judging by sales of Benn’s Media Directory, the market for paper-based
media information is continuing to grow.
Sales of the full set of three volumes which cost pounds 265, and
include 47,000 entries for the UK, Europe and World’s media, have
increased by 20 per cent over the last two years.
According to Craig Curtis senior marketing executive of Benn’s publisher
Miller Freeman Information Services: ‘A lot of UK people are now taking
the whole set, and more and more European and US companies are wanting
UK media information.’
He also admits that an electronic version of the directory is almost
inevitable and is in the offing. ‘It has to go down that line but the
benefit of the printed format is that it’s easy to get to an entry.
We’ll never lose that benefit.’
Electronic formats require the same maintenance as any information
service. But regular updating and searches are easier, as is marking
titles to receive information.
PIMS has produced the P-180 CD-ROM with 180,000 media contacts, Two-
Ten’s UK and European media database is also updated electronically,
allowing immediate access to new information.
PR Newslink produces Mediadisk, which names 40,000 journalists on 15,000
UK titles. The information on the computer is updated daily by direct
modem link from PR Newslink. The Editors Media Directory and PR Planner
are in electronic format, but PR Planner Europe and Financial Press
Facts UK and Europe remain as hard copy only through lack of demand for
the electronic product.
So if you want to send a press release to every title circulated in
Leeds, or to all aviation correspondents, it is pretty easy to earmark
them on a database. If you want these companies to do the distribution
for you, you can then download the press release together with the
mailing list. Many public relations operators now use this method
Mediatel, which launched Internet-based delivery of its media database
last December, (http://www.mediatel.co.uk/) is developing its site
further with the launch of a television database in June. The database
will replace its teletext service, and will include weekly and monthly
viewing figures, top programmes, audience profiles, impacts,
revenue/figures, and commercial minutiae. The advantage of the move from
Teletext to Internet, as director Derek Jones points out, is that it
becomes so much more interactive.
Mediatel is also host to the Internet pages for the Institute of
Practitioners in Advertising and the Periodical Publishers Association.
Several parts of the Internet service are available to non-subscribers,
including the daily media news service. Subscriptions depend on the size
of your company, but are roughly pounds 7,000 a year.
Cuttings: Electronics force the NLA issue
In a recent feature on Max Clifford, the Guardian made a ‘conservative’
estimate that half the stories in the UK broadsheets are initiated by
PR (Outlook, 18 May 1996 ).
So it is hardly surprising that the PR industry feels hard done by over
the Newspaper Licensing Agency’s tax on press clippings (see the
exchange of letters in PR Week, between the PRCA’s former chairman
Quentin Bell and the NLA during March). Cuttings agencies are the target
for the NLA, which has imposed a two pence per photocopy charge on
newspapers represented by the NLA.
The same issue is currently holding up progress on electronic
transmission of cuttings - the NLA is discussing the possibility of
imposing the same sort of charge, but is still thinking up ways of
estimating how many electronic copies people make of scanned-in
cuttings. NLA chairman Anthony Rentoul believes that a solution is about
three months away, when some kind of licensing arrangement should be
agreed for electronic copying. Rentoul correctly points out that the
newspapers are working within the copyright law, and suggests that PR
companies can easily pass on the cost of clippings to their customers.
When an electronic copying licensing system is worked out it will free
cuttings agencies to use document imaging systems to deliver clippings.
One agency hoping to use this system is EDS (Web site at http://www.
hubcom.com/edsnews - which includes an energy industry news service).
EDS is interested in delivering clippings electronically. The advantages
are, of course, the speed of delivery and the ease with which cuttings
can be stored and searched for.
Romeike and Curtice managing director Simon Lanyon is also looking at an
Internet-based ‘cuttings’ service, but with the emphasis on finding out
what has been said about you on the Internet, in newsgroups, in e-zines
(electronic magazines) or on Web sites.
You can of course, get a flavour of what’s being said by using the
Internet search engines, but these are not comprehensive, usually trail
several days behind events, and cannot distinguish a trivial mention of
a name from something of substance. Lanyon hopes to trial the new
service with established customers in the near future.
The appearance of an article, and its position on the page are often
things that people prefer to see in the flesh, so itwould seem unlikely
that press cuttings will wholly go down the of electronic systems path.
Celebrities: Tracking who’s who and who’s where
Keeping tabs on the rich and famous is becoming less to do with your
personal connections, and more about computer connections. If you want
ideas for famous or important people to boost an event, or if you want
to make sure the press know about them, the means are increasingly
So should you want to find a TV personality in Surrey who likes golf,
the search would take about five minutes with the Debrett’s People of
Today CD-ROM, throwing up 12 candidates, including Bruce Forsyth and Val
Doonican. There are also several musicians, a journalist, TV producer,
and a sprinkling of executives.
It is certainly a lot quicker than phoning the club chairman, let alone
leafing through the 34,000 entries in the paper edition. Sad to say, the
editor Jonathan Parker is not saying how many people have subscribed to
the electronic version, which was launched in March, but the pounds 199
basic subscription is not prohibitive.
So much for who’s who, if you want to keep tabs on who’s where, the two
competing services are Celebrity Bulletin and London At Large. Both
companies churn out regular updates of information on celebrities’
itineraries - liberal use of the fax has improved their speed of
response to last-minute news and changes.
Diane Oliver managing director of Celebrity Bulletin says their two
pages of arrivals is very selective, and their international partners in
LA, Paris, New York, Rome and Australia make them the best connected
source. The bulletin also includes a diary of events where big names
will appear as well as important biographies.
On the other hand, Robin Duff, managing director of London At Large
churns out more pages, and is experimenting with the Internet for
delivery. The Internet version does not contain all the information from
the paper version, but concentrates on late changes or additions. ‘It is
quite a huge operation if you go into the Internet on a paid-for basis,’
Despite the number of national newspapers and broadcasters who are
nominally on the Internet, Robin reports that relatively few journalists
actually have e-mail on their desktops (or laptops), although he thinks
this won’t last long. So the fax continues to reign for the time being.
The London At Large Web site is, at the time of going to press, almost,
but not quite, up and running.