While electronic developments are making information more
sophisticated and widely available, they are not necessarily making life
As more companies do global business, information providers are under
greater pressure to access international sources.
In September, to meet this growing demand, competitors Financial Times
Information, Dow Jones Interactive Publishing and Knight-Ridder
Information joined forces to launch World Reporter, a new online
database. Through the respective services each company provides, this
offers users access to news and business information from around the
world that previously was not available online or in electronic
At the World Reporter Data Collection Centre in London a team of skilled
linguists translate and summarise articles from international
newspapers, newswires and business magazines and within hours the news
is available in English on the database.
But as the wealth of information sources grows, so does the danger of
information overload for users. So, increasingly, providers are looking
to tailor their services.
In September, Reuters’ charitable arm, the Reuters Foundation, launched
its new web service AlertNet to advise relief agencies on sudden
disasters and humanitarian emergencies. The site carries constantly
updated Reuters news stories and a reference section of over 65 country
profiles with key information on communications and travel. A major
asset is a password protected zone providing vital confidentiality.
Here, relief agencies can safely swap advice and information. They can
also coordinate the practicalities of relief operations, such as sharing
Kim Tomkins, marketing manager at FT Information, says her company is
constantly looking for ways to develop technologies that push the
information to the user. At the Online Exhibition at Earls Court in
December, visitors will be able to preview FT’s web-based NewsAlert
service. Tomkins says: ’This will allow you to set up portfolios of
interests, and when a relevant news item comes in, a message will flash
up on your screen.’
She also thinks that, increasingly, companies will access information
through intranets. This is a view shared by Reuters director of media
relations, Peter Thomas. He says this is a key growth area across the
industry. He points out the cost benefits to users and says: ’An
intranet means an organisation can overcome current internet problems
such as performance and security.’
Jonathan Shepherd, marketing director of press cuttings agency Durrants,
says: ’We would love to be able to deliver cuttings on intranets, but we
are still prevented by the law.’ As the company specialises in early
morning services to City clients, electronic delivery would be
He says the company has all the systems in place to offer such a
service, but the current NLA licence forbids on-line distribution. The
NLA says it is close to launching a scheme to allow electronic
distribution, pending a publishers’ mandate.
He dismisses the argument that electronic distribution of news cuttings
would sound the death-knell for traditional newspapers, by pointing to
their ability to stand alongside the likes of Teletext. ’Rather than
abolish newspapers, we want to put a small targeted number of cuttings
on intranets as an efficiency measure,’ he says.
However, he sees the internet as offering huge expansion opportunities
for Durrants. His company is currently testing internet monitoring with
selected clients, and plans to offer a comprehensive service by the end
of the year.
The Romeike Group already offers such a service through its subsidiary
net.cut launched at the beginning of the year. This monitors thousands
of UK web sites including over 200 newsgroups and more than 400 internet
editions of newspapers and magazines. In May it launched PRINT -
Publications to Read on The Internet. This is a list of all UK
publications which have both a printed and online version. At the same
time it also launched its PuRe award scheme to help identify quality
PA News new media director, Mark Hird says: ’The internet now forms the
largest part of our business.’ He sees the development of new technology
and services as simply broadening the market his company reaches.
PA supplies and manages content for a host of services including
Kellogg’s Better Breakfast Briefing e-mail and the Nationwide Building
Society web site. In addition, at the end of September, PA became a Gold
Channel provider for Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer 4.0 - a mechanism
that runs on a desktop and browses the internet for priority
While increasing internet growth presents an opportunity for PA, Hird
sees it as a danger to others. He says: ’The traditional media has to
face the threat that brands are now able to reach out directly to the
end user.’ He points to the popularity of branded services such as the
FA Carling Premiership site, which features the latest football
information with an area for fans to ’chat’.
Colin Taylor, marketing manager of marketing communications agency PiMS,
says that technological developments place ever greater demands on his
company. As there is no single preferred format for receiving
information, each new technology just adds another layer.
He says: ’It’s a question of finding an acceptable form of delivery.’
Depending on usage, some clients access PiMS media database information
online, while others receive a monthly updated CD-ROM or use the
He says: ’There are still people who prefer a simple paper
He also highlights the dangers of information delivery by e-mail. He
points out that many people still view it as a very personal form of
communication, so find electronic press releases an unacceptable
intrusion. This is a problem that PR companies are currently
Many PR agencies have recently conducted research on how its audiences
like to receive information. Findings across the board indicate a fairly
clear cut division, with hi-tech journalists happy to receive e-mail,
while others still tend to prefer hard copy.
Gareth Zundel, Harvard group PR director, says: ’The PR business is
about relationships, so it is the role of the PR person to deliver
information in a sensitive way.’ He also thinks it is important not to
lose sight of the need for creativity when using new technology.
Last month, his company launched a mini video camera for Augur
Industries which works in conjunction with a PC for recording video
e-mail or v-mail (where video files are sent over the e-mail system). As
part of the launch the agency sent a v-mail to 50 selected journalists
with PCs, which resulted in considerable interest from Sky News and 50
product reviews in the specialist and lifestyle press.
Head of Text 100’s personal technology unit, Sophie Brooks, thinks that
it is tempting for companies to adopt technology without looking at the
need first. She says: ’As a hi-tech service provider, we have to show
good practice and use new technology responsibly.’
She highlights the communications opportunities the internet offers, but
also thinks the medium has changed Text’s role. She says that in the
past news was used as a bargaining tool with the media. But as a growing
number of clients post news on the internet, she says the agency is more
involved in adding value - providing opinion rather than fact.
Andrew Smith, A Plus head of new media services, says: ’Technology can
make certain activities more efficient, but ultimately it is there to
serve us, not the other way round.’ He points to the growth of the
internet as a valuable research tool and also as another medium for PR
to reach audiences unfiltered by the traditional media.
However, he sees no threat to his agency’s role from clients’ ability to
access more news and data. He says: ’Gathering information is one thing,
knowing what to do with it is another. What will never go away is our
added value of interpretation and advice on how to act.’
Instant access: Telecom providers branch out
As traditional office working patterns change, telecom service providers
are looking to meet the information needs of people on the move. Last
October, BT introduced its Touchpoint interactive multimedia kiosks at
selected sites in the London area.
Users have access by touch-screen technology to the latest information
on sport, news, weather, leisure and entertainment.
BT worked closely with brand leaders, such as British Airways, the
Guardian, Halifax and Interflora to tie the content in with the high
street. The information is free to browse, while some in-depth
information and print-outs such as local street maps require a small
charge. In addition to competitions and special offers, users can book
flights and holidays, order tickets to a range of events and buy
flowers, wine and gifts.
In July, research conducted by BMRB International showed that there are
now an estimated 400,000 users each month. Over 80 per cent are in the
15-34 age group, with the majority using the service to access
entertainment and leisure information.
This September Cellnet launched Genie, a service that combines the
internet with the convenience and reach of a mobile phone. Users can
access up-to-date news and information from the Genie web site delivered
free of charge, direct to their Cellnet digital mobile phone via text
messages or to any e-mail address.
The Genie web site brings together up-to-date information on news and
current affairs, sport, finance, entertainment and careers. Information
providers currently include the Press Association, ICV, Reuters and
The Sharewatch service gives regular updates of the FTSE-100 value, top
ten movers, and values of any UK listed share. Entertainment features
include Night and Day, a national weekly entertainment listing, giving
details of cinema, theatre, comedy dance and music, and a full national
TV and radio guide.
The advantage of this service is that you can request to be alerted to
the information that you want, from specific share movement details to
when tickets for your favourite band go on sale.
In the coming months, Cellnet plans to extend this personalised alert
service to cover football, rugby, Formula 1 racing information, UK news,
jobs and travel. It also plans to launch a ’radio on demand’ service,
which will allow access to personalised news and sports voice
Football fans for instance will be able to hear recorded reports about
their team’s latest signings or injury worries.
On-line navigation: The human factor
With the explosive growth of the web and the vast quantity of data
available, finding the right information can often be a hit and miss
According to Andrew Smith, A Plus head of new media services, rather
than use search engines, his group has begun to use intelligent agent
package Agentware, developed by Cambridge based company, AutoNomy. This
product does the surfing for you and then reports back.
Smith says: ’It provides sophisticated monitoring, as rather than input
simple keywords, you can ask it questions.’ What’s more, it refines its
search as it goes along. An advantage is that depending on your
viewpoint, it emulates human behaviour by actually ’learning’ from its
However, it seems that while intelligence software is becoming more
sophisticated, it is still not as clever as the average human being. The
Romeike Group’s net.cut internet monitoring service uses purpose-built
agent software to identify possible press cuttings. But the software
alone is not enough.
To check that cuttings are appropriate, it also uses real people -
trained readers - to double-check selections against client
Ralph Averbuch, producer of internet media company Yahoo!, thinks that
it is this personal touch that makes his company so popular. ’We have a
thin veneer of technology with humans on either side,’ he says.
offers a range of service options, including the personalised My
and brings together content about everything from sport and news to
weather and personal finance. At the end of October, it also launched a
continuous stock market news and data service. However, its listing of
almost one million worldwide web sites provides a popular search tool
Unlike search engines, which automatically sift through all internet
pages, listing every instance of every word of every web site,
classifies sites submitted by users of the service in a unique hierarchy
of over 180,000 categories. By starting with 14 key categories, it
enables a logical search process and provides ease of use.
Averbuch says that it is a common misconception to classify the site as
a search engine, and is very keen to stress that it is, in fact an
’online navigational Internet guide’. The key difference is that
catalogues web sites using a team of real people. In other words, for a
new site to be listed by Yahoo!, its team of professional surfers has to
know about it and review its value, rather than any software programme
randomly picking it up.
Case study: Streamlining the paperwork
Two years ago, VNU Business Publications was being swamped by a large
volume of press information from the IT industry in various different
formats. Multiple copies of the same news releases and press packs were
arriving by post and fax. Some were addressed to the wrong person and
others to people who no longer worked there.
In a fit of desperation, the company sent out a universal request to
receive information electronically, with a list of acceptable formats
and addresses. This had little impact. With over 320 hi-tech journalists
working on 14 different titles, VNU needed to solve the problem.
At the end of last year, PA-owned communications company Two-Ten wanted
to improve its provision to hi-tech PR executives by extending its wire
facilities into the magazine market. So it offered VNU a unique,
free-of-charge IT dedicated news wire called the Universal News Service,
designed to reduce information overload.
At the time, the publisher was in the process of spending over pounds 1
million updating its central IT system to Lotus Notes. So, rather than
provide a bolt on service, Two-Ten was able to integrate its service
into VNU’s new editorial network.
According to Bill Leask, Two-Ten’s research and development director,
the service launched in February is ’real-time’. After electronic
receipt of a release from a client, his company standardises the format
and coding and transmits the copy on the hi-tech wire. Journalists at
VNU are then able to access the information through a desktop icon
within ten minutes.
All releases with a contact e-mail address have a click-back box
enabling direct communication back to the originator. In addition, all
releases are text searchable and archived on VNU’s press information
system each night, so their lifespan is extended to provide background
material for researchers and feature writers.
The editors of the IT supplements of the Times, the Telegraph, the
Financial Times and the Independent also receive wire copy into their
editorial systems via PA’s satellite network.
Over the past nine months, the service has expanded to include
transmission by preferred e-mail address to other relevant, hi-tech
journalists at Dennis, Ziff Davis, Future and Reed Business
Publications. At present, Two-Ten is in negotiations with other
publishing houses in the UK and Europe, and hopes to add them to its
e-mail circuit soon.