A call for crowdsourced media research for public relations

August 4, 2010

News arrived this week that ProfNet and HARO, two public relations media matching services that connect a reporter’s need for sources and information with public relations professionals, has a new competitor.

NewsBasis seeks to connect reporters working on timely stories with the opinions and input of publicists, cleverly left as comments embedded in online stories.

It’s an interesting idea, although I wonder what these comments might look like if the service catches on, and an onslaught of hyper-competitive publicists start hawking client messaging on as many stories as possible. Still, I like the concept, and think it plays well to skilled PR professionals who survive off their ability to construct a convincing argument, rather than just pitch a story to the media.

I also applaud any effort that seeks to use technology to wring costs of out of the PR process and allow us to do more for less for clients. In a blog post I wrote earlier in the year, I called out a number of public relations providers that showed no mercy during the recession. Instead of innovating their way to cost reductions, they simply increased fees while providing no greater value or service.

I took some heat for that criticism, with a number of our suppliers calling me offline to argue their cases. (Notice they didn’t comment on the post for fear other agencies might realize the unwarranted cost increases.) NewBasis is taking a different approach all together, and deserves our support for it.

Which brings me to my latest idea: a crowdsourced media app that offers tighter user controls on how to appropriately contact the media. I have been noodling on this idea for the past few months with some of our people and clients, and call it “PRCrowdSource.com.”

The concept is simple. For too long, the PR industry has been overly reliant on a handful of costly media list providers that make their software all too easy for publicists to spam media with story pitches by e-mail. This hurts everyone in the industry by polluting the channels of communications with incessant, off-topic story pitches that only make legitimate story topics more difficult to surface.

The PRCrowdSource app allows public relations agencies to share media information between one another, adding comments and intelligence about media contacts that can be edited by the group as a whole, and updated instantaneously as media contacts, beats, and areas of interest change.

Best of all, the app does not allow for group e-mail spamming of thousands of media with the tap of an Enter key. Rather, e-mails must be composed individually, and recipients chosen based on the beats they cover, past stories they have produced, and relevance to the topic.

To make this concept work, participating firms agree to contribute a set number of validated media contacts to the app, say 1,000. They also agree to correct and update contacts — their own as well as those of others — when errors become apparent.

Users can share comments and insights with the group as a whole, or they can choose to keep them private to themselves or within their firm. Returned e-mails trigger an alert to the entry’s owner, suggesting that the reporter or producer has left or moved to a new media position and needs to be updated.

The wiki-like app is licensed at a nominal fee per seat license, say about $100, which is significantly less than what software providers currently charge for their spam-generating products. Now that’s using innovation to reduce costs! Even better, PRCrowdSource would rely on the wisdom of the PR industry as a whole. Once it achieves critical mass, it would hold the most up-to-date media list on the planet.

Lastly, by restricting spamming, it overcomes the media’s greatest beef with the public relations industry: mass e-mails that serve no purpose but to provide lazy account executives a way to justify their existence.

Let me know what you think about the concept. I realize it’s disruptive — not unlike NewsBasis. PR agencies are not used to working collaboratively, especially when it comes to sharing their prized media contacts.

But the reality is that agencies already share their media contacts by working from the same limited sources of media lists. Crowdsourcing these lists is one way to embrace of the power of social media to gain greater accuracy; improve efficiency; and eliminate old, tired ways of working without better serving clients.

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