Pick a Pro: Rivals Play Media Match Game

Kate Manfull, a publicist in St. Louis, recently hit pay dirt for her client, Kathryn Sansone. An author, consultant and mother of 10, Sansone, who runs the Web site shapeup mom.com, was featured in an Associated Press story about applying business-management principles to the running of households that appeared in dozens of newspapers. But the publicist didn’t land the story by sending a press release to the reporter, Mercedes M. Cardona.

Rather, Manfull contacted Cardona after seeing a description of her article, then in progress, on a new service, Help A Reporter Out (HARO), where reporters detail assignments to line up sources. Unlike ProfNet, the15-year-old service owned by PR Newswire, which e-mails journalists’ queries to prospective sources, and charges firms annual subscription fees as high as $3,500, HARO is free.

Manfull subscribes to ProfNet, but says she will not renew her $950 yearly subscription (the independent contractor rate) when it comes due soon.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Manfull says. “HARO is giving me what I need without having to pay.”

Writing in the comment section of thestandard.com in July, Peter Shankman, founder of both HARO and the PR firm The Geek Factory, asked how PR Newswire would continue to justify its “exorbitant fees. I can produce the same quality and quantity, armed with nothing more than a Tassimo [coffee] machine, a Mac, two big-boned cats and one Twitter account.”

Shankman claims he has heard from more than 50 publicists who, like Manfull, say they have cancelled ProfNet subscriptions or plan to do so. But Dave Armon, president of PR Newswire, says his company has seen no dip in subscriptions. So far this year, he notes, the service’s renewal rate is 93 percent, the same as in 2007.

ProfNet still is “best of breed,” says Armon. “It’s hard to argue with free, but there’s just a different level of customization and credentials that comes with a paid service as opposed to one that has potential conflicts of interest — such as being run by a PR firm.”

While the rival services duke it out, the ultimate winners could well be marketers whose publicists use both services, doubling their chances of landing clients in the media.

John Moore, an Atlanta-based senior media strategist with Edelman who follows both services, says the corresponding publicity complements advertising by establishing a company as an “authority” as well as heightening name recognition and “building goodwill.”

Add into the mix journalists increasingly seeking sources through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, and it would seem publicists can now cast a wider net than ever.

“The hardest thing in media relations is we’re not omniscient,” says Flatiron Communications founder Peter Himler, who is president of the Publicity Club of New York and pens a blog, The Flack. “We don’t know what every journalist is working on at any given moment.”

Say hello to HARO

On the bright morning of Aug. 6, his 36th birthday, Shankman, a consummate schmoozer, social-media maven and skydiver who, instead of business cards, hands out poker chips with his contact info, is sitting on the couch in his Manhattan apartment overlooking the Hudson River. Barefoot, wearing jeans and an untucked dress shirt, Shankman fields questions while assembling that afternoon’s HARO queries list on his laptop, when there is a knock at the door.

Shankman answers the door and returns, beaming, with a chocolate truffle cake, one of several gifts sent that day by people he has never met: appreciative publicists who have used HARO to get clients mentioned in newspaper articles, and small business owners who subscribe to the service themselves and have landed in articles. (Journalists tend to send Shankman appreciative e-mails, not gifts.)