FOCUS: INFORMATION SERVICES - Ensuring agencies stay in the know - Targeting the right people is an intrinsic part of good PR and now databases can offer relatively detailed information on journalists’ personal requirements worldwide

Pity the world’s forests - the paperless office it seems is still a distant dream. In the PR world the evidence is in the continuing use of paper-based media directories and distribution of press releases using post and fax.

Pity the world’s forests - the paperless office it seems is still a

distant dream. In the PR world the evidence is in the continuing use of

paper-based media directories and distribution of press releases using

post and fax.



’I think paper-based directories will last for at least ten more years,’

says Gary Zabel, managing director of Hollis Directories which publishes

Willings Press Guide.



Colin Taylor, marketing manager at PiMS, agrees: ’I don’t doubt we’ll be

producing paper directories in five years’ time, and I can easily see us

still doing it in ten years, although maybe not in the same quantity as

now and it might be a different range of more specialised, niche

products.’



Taylor believes that many people still turn to directories because they

find the familiarity reassuring. Ease and speed of access is another

reason.



’It takes ten to 15 seconds to flick through and look up the information

you need. I’ve just been trying to log onto the internet and it’s very

sluggish,’ adds Zabel.



Print directories are also more transportable than a computer. Nick

Elliott, sales manager at Media Information, which publishes the media

guide Editors says: ’Editors sells particularly well because it’s

transportable.



For example, if you only want the nationals you can just take volume one

in your briefcase.’



Amanda Arciero, sales director at Two-Ten Communications says: ’A lot of

consultancies have our on-line directory Targeter and a print directory

they can take to pitches and flick through for category codes.’



Cost, inevitably, also forms part of the equation. For example, the

2-volume Willings Press Guide costs pounds 189 or an annual subscription

to PiMS UK Media Directory with monthly updates costs pounds 365. By

comparison, the entry level price for a CD-ROM version, says Taylor, is

pounds 1,700 while if you were to subscribe to PiMS’ on-line service

prices start at around pounds 3,000.



Cost tends to go hand-in-hand with the issue of technology. PiMS has

looked at areas such as charities and found that they don’t have the

resources to be able to use technology such as CD-ROM.



A widely perceived problem with print directories has been their ability

to provide up-to-date information. Sending a press release to an editor

who left months ago is a recurring nightmare for many in the

industry.



But Taylor claims that print directories need not necessarily be much

more out of date than CD-ROM or even on-line services.



PiMS has a database of 200,000 contacts and a team of 12 media

researchers in the UK and Europe, plus another team of six based in New

York. The company operates a rolling programme of telephone

verification, contacting nationals, leading consumer and big trade and

technical publications at least every eight weeks, and contacting all

titles at least once a year.



Taylor estimates that 10,000 updates a month are made.



Two-Ten also has a 12-strong media research team and contacts nationals

every month, says Arciero, while major trade sectors such as hi-tech and

healthcare are contacted every two months and more specialist trade

titles approximately every six months. Around 7,000 changes a week are

made to the 300,000 contacts on Two-Ten’s media database.



This system of updating may not be perfect and means that information

could be anything from two months’ old for nationals up to a year for

smaller trade titles, but without throwing huge resources at the problem

it seems hard to see how it could be improved. In the future e-mail

updating may provide an answer, but this would put the onus on the media

to supply information about changes.



Therefore, newness of information may not be a sufficient reason for

choosing a CD-ROM or even on-line service rather than a print directory,

especially as some of these are published monthly. The main reason

people opt for CD-ROM or on-line is increased functionality.



An obvious advantage of electronic media databases is the speed and

sophistication of searching. Type in key criteria and within seconds

users can have a tailor-made media list. Packages such as Media

Information’s Mediadisk and Two-Ten’s Targeter also allow users to make

notes about specific media.



Once lists have been compiled it is also easy to print labels or e-mail

them for distribution.



Several companies are now offering media directories on CD-ROM,

including Media Information and PiMS. Hollis Directories is considering

bringing out a CD version next year, providing research proves

demand.



However, some in the industry are questioning CD-ROM’s future. ’We view

CD as a half-way house,’ says Arciero. ’We believe that for clients who

need data that is up-to-date it has to be on-line.’



At the moment clients who choose an on-line service because of the

sophistication of media searching and the integrated distribution it

allows are paying a hefty premium. Two-Ten’s Targeter Gold, for example,

which contains information on more than 15,000 titles with over 50,000

contacts in the UK costs pounds 1,925 for an annual subscription plus a

registration and installation fee of pounds 385.



Not surprisingly, therefore use is limited to larger agencies and

in-house departments. But the market is growing. Arciero reports that

sales of Targeter are growing by around 40 per cent a year, and says

that financial consultancies have been a particular growth sector.



’On-line is quite a specialist animal,’ admits Taylor. ’Only the very

big consultancies doing quite complex media research and people doing

international and pan-European research, are using it. You’re paying for

bang up-to-date data, and a premium service demands a premium

price.’



But how much longer will on-line be regarded as a premium service?

’Probably the key issue is the internet, it’s almost inevitable we will

be giving people access to data in future via the net,’ says Taylor.



Two-Ten is planning to trial Targeter on the internet in early

summer.



’We haven’t decided how it will work yet in terms of access or

charging.



Probably next year, depending on the results of the trial, we’ll look at

putting full functionality on the web,’ says Bill Leask, research and

development director at Two-Ten.



The internet may also be the medium of the future for press release

distribution, but progress has been slow. PiMS’ recently-released

research showed quite conclusively that journalists still prefer to

receive press releases through the post - with the exception of the

nationals where 80 per cent prefer to receive them by fax. ’Even IT

correspondents have a fairly low level of interest in receiving e-mail;

40 to 60 per cent still prefer the post,’ reports Taylor.



Reasons given for not wanting to receive press releases by e-mail

included: it clogs up the system, you need to remember to look for it,

it’s time-consuming, and there are formatting problems.



Nevertheless there are some sectors which are more receptive to

electronic distribution. Last year Two-Ten launched a trade newswire to

the specialist IT publishing groups at VNU, Ziff Davis, Reed, Future,

Microscope and the IT supplements of the nationals. Now the company is

considering launching a similar service for the financial sector. ’Most

analysts have access to all newsfeeds through their trading systems so

reaching them is relatively easy. Now we’ve got to ask if they want it,’

says Leask.



Two-Ten also hopes to have solved the problem of journalists in other

sectors being swamped with e-mailed press releases. It is about to

relaunch its web site with a new feature - newsdesks aimed at particular

industry sectors. The newsdesks will contain core press releases and

more detailed information.



’We will give journalists the opportunity to build their own web

sites.



The newsdesks will also provide a way for us to get feedback about what

they want and how they want it,’ says Leask.



If the idea takes off it could provide a useful added way to reach

journalists, without risking aggravating them by sending unsolicited

e-mail.



PERSONAL SERVICES: DISCOVERING WHAT JOURNALISTS WANT



PR News, a newsletter for the PR industry in the US, has been running

its Media Insight page for more than a year now. This looks at when and

how editors at major broadcast stations, newspapers, magazines and wire

services in the US like to receive press releases and story pitches, and

has apparently been warmly received by readers.



Due to the success of the venture, PR News has now produced what it

anticipates will be an annual publication, the Media Insight Guide,

available free to its subscribers, which lists the preferences of

editors at more than 100 media outlets. Information for the guide is

gathered by PR News’ team of reporters, but inevitably with an annual

publication there is the danger that details will be out of date. So

just how much use is the guide?



’The feedback we’ve had from subscribers is that they find it very

useful,’ says Matt Rogers of PR News. ’It’s value depends on the

situation, and everyone’s situation is different. Most people aren’t

going to use it as their sole source of information, it’s more of a

guide to where to go,’ he adds.



Two-Ten is currently working on a product called Optima which will

include similar information to the Media Insight Guide, but aims to be

be more comprehensive and sophisticated.



’The first stage of Optima is to find out how journalists want to

receive information,’ explains Two-Ten research and development

director, Bill Leask.



’The next stage is to ask how they want to receive information on

particular days of the week, bearing in mind that an increasing number

of journalists work in different places on different days of the week.

Stage three will be to find out what sort of information they want - for

example, some analysts and financial journalists want to receive

summaries of financial data on the newswire but may want the full annual

report posted.’



Leask admits: ’It’s a simple concept, but an awful lot of work’. In late

March Two-Ten was trialling the idea with journalists, and hoping to

start bulk research in April.



But just how much information about approaching the media do people in

PR want? ’Any PR operator should know the best time to make a move,’

believes Communique PR managing director, Paul Carroll. ’Having said

that the more information people can provide the better.’ Communique

already uses the facility offered by Mediadisk to add personal contact

notes.



’As the media becomes fragmented we need to keep our own bespoke

database.



We’re very keen to get to the stage where we can create e-mail lists for

all our clients and e-mail all our press releases out,’ says

Carroll.



OVERSEAS AID: STEERING INFORMATION TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE



Getting a press release into the international media obviously presents

more questions than tackling the domestic market. Can you do it

adequately using a UK based service, or is it better to use a service

with specialist local knowledge in the countries you’re targeting?



The specialists based in the UK certainly have comprehensive

databases.



Two-Ten’s European Media Directory lists 70,000 contacts in over 27,000

media outlets.



PiMS’ European database contains details of 12,000 newspapers, 5,000

contacts on consumer magazines and 8,000 on trade and technical

publications in 15 countries. Media Information provides PR Planner

Europe, Mediadisk Europe and Bacon’s Media Directories for the US and

Canada.



Effective distribution is heavily dependent on accurate targeting, and

the UK-based services make much of the ability of their media research

teams to speak several languages between them. The PiMS team speaks 12

European languages and the Two-Ten team speaks 11.



PiMS also has a separate media research team in the US. ’The US media is

huge and needs specialist knowledge. Our US newspaper directory alone

has details of 18,000 daily papers and 30,000 contacts,’ says PiMS

marketing manager Colin Taylor.



Approaches to distribution differ, but Two-Ten claims to offer a unique

advantage. For international distribution it recommends using its

newswire service that feeds into more than 5,000 major media in 135

countries.



The company also offers specialist packages for hi-tech and financial

releases. All newswire material is also released simultaneously on

Two-Ten’s web site.



Language differences and the logistical problems of sourcing a reputable

supplier make UK-based distribution services an attractive proposition

for tackling Europe. The huge US market may be a different matter.



’If you’re targeting North America nobody in Europe can compete with the

database and depth of coverage we have,’ claims Don Bates, managing

director of marketing and new media at Media Distribution Services based

in New York. The MDS database has 250,000 contacts at more than 50,000

print and broadcast media.



’We have 25 people working full-time doing updates and we’re the only

company in North America doing daily updates, which is key for our

clients,’ says Bates.



MDS has ten service centres across North America and uses fax and mail

for distribution. ’We’re doing an increasing amount of work for PR

agencies in other countries that want to distribute in North America,’

says Bates.



INTERACTIVE: KEEPING MYLES AHEAD OF THE COMPETITION



UK-PR.Com claims to be the world’s first interactive press release

service. The idea is the brainchild of Myles Communication Group, the PR

agency run by former BBC TV reporter Bruce Myles and ex-Daily Mirror

reporter Pam Myles, which has scooped prizes in the PR Week Awards for

Writing Excellence for the last four years.



The service, found at www.uk-pr.com, is aimed principally at overseas

companies looking to target the UK media. To make it successful Myles

has invested heavily in domain names on the web, including:

uk-public-relations, press-releases, health-pr, financial-pr,

consumer-pr, business-pr, corporate-pr, trade-pr and legal-pr. Any

company that enters a search using these generic names should be

directed to a Myles PR web site.



’We believe impatient people like me will get fed up with the search

engines and just type on their home page what they want to find,’ says

Pam Myles. ’Some of the latest web browsers will automatically add the

http: www and com to the name - so one way or another the majority of

these people will now go straight to a Myles PR site.’ As an extra

safety net, however, Myles is also working hard to get its sites

featured in the main search engines.



Once they have reached the site potential clients will be able to e-mail

the information they wish to be written into a press release, or print

off a standard form and fax back their details. Within 48 hours Myles

promises to send back a press release together with a suggested

distribution list.



The cost of the service has yet to be determined, but Myles insists it

will be cost-effective. ’We’re trying to keep the cost below that of a

traditional service. It’s particularly relevant to people overseas who

want to get into the UK media but don’t have the budget to employ an

international agency,’ says Pam Myles.



As well as producing press releases, Myles will also offer distribution,

using the Mediadisk media database. Distribution, however, will not be

via the internet but using the more traditional method of the fax, and

e-mail where appropriate.



’Newspapers at the moment can’t support e-mail so we’ll use fax to get

to newsdesks. We will use e-mail to get to freelancers who use it,’ says

Pam Myles.



The service is still in the development stages and initial interest has

come mostly from the US, but Myles is confident of success.



’With four wins for Writing Excellence and a team of top former

journalists we feel there is no-one better equipped to offer worldwide

web users a press release service targeting the UK media,’ says Pam

Myles.



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