Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Plug into a World of Information

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Plug into a World of Information

Article excerpt

Technology makes delivering messages and monitoring their impact on target audiences faster, easier and better. Today's practitioners have a variety of new tools to choose from, many of which have only come on-line in the past year. Let Vice President Al Gore talk about the information superhighway all he wants. Thanks to recent technological advances, the thoroughly modern public relations professional is already riding a highway loaded with electronic means of delivering messages and monitoring their effects.

For example, James L. Horton, APR, president of the communications division of New York City-based Slater Hanft Martin Inc., subscribes to four on-line databases. To monitor general news, law and federal regulations, he punches up NEXIS. For tidbits on arcane scientific topics, he turns to DIALOG. Newspapers? DataTimes provides access to 110 of them. And for electronic mail, he dials up CompuServe.

"Who has time to go to the library for this stuff?" said Horton, who chairs PRSA's Communications Technology Committee. "I'm chained to my desk, servicing my clients."

Horton is not alone. Buffeted by staff cutbacks, tumbling budgets and media that are being sliced into finer and finer shards, many public relations practitioners are relying on technology to pick up the slack. They're sloughing off tasks like media list maintenance and clip collection to an array of electronic gadgetry. The reason: Almost anything can be done faster, more easily, and more accurately by flicking a modem switch or pressing a fax machine button. Some even say these new tools are as cheap or cheaper than the older mailing, clipping and monitoring methods, especially if savings in staff time is factored into the equation.

Broadcast fax catching on

Take press release distribution. An increasingly popular alternative to sending releases through the mail is broadcast fax, in which a single document is simultaneously transmitted to hundreds of recipients. Several vendors, including PR Newswire and Media Distribution Services (MDS), both in New York City, and SNET FaxWorks in Washington, DC, now offer such services. The transmissions, with personalized cover sheets, can usually be initiated from the sender's phone using automated telephone commands. Letterhead, photos, and media lists are stored electronically, ready to be called up in an instant. For small numbers of releases, broadcast fax is only a little more expensive than mail, according to MDS President Dan Cantelmo, Jr. For example, faxing a two-page release to 100 people costs $200, he said. To mail the releases would cost $/40, which includes printing, folding, stuffing, addressing and postage but not the cost of letterhead and envelopes.

When you're talking big quantities, the price gap widens, Cantelmo said. Faxing a two-page release to 1,000 people would cost $1,700. Mailing would only cost $750. People rarely fax large numbers of releases, the MDS executive said. "In general, broadcast fax is for smaller, targeted audiences of 50 to 300 recipients." His company's broadcast fax business is growing rapidly and now accounts for 20% to 25% of its overall business, Cantelmo reported. Broadcast fax isn't only for press releases. News USA, a publicity distribution service in Alexandria, VA, recently rolled out its "Blast Fax" service, in which press releases are reformatted into ready-to-use radio scripts and then faxed to news directors and producers at stations nationwide. Target stations can be sliced any number of ways, including the top 1,000, 2,000, or 3,000 markets, or any one state or region. The transmission includes a reply card on which recipients indicate whether they will use the material, which is faxed back to News USA. Within a week, the client receives a report documenting usage. Fax on demand, yet another version of the one fax/many recipients formula, is also gathering steam. Fax on demand enables callers to dial an 800 number, request information by touch-tone phone, and receive a document on their fax machine within minutes. …

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