If you work in PR, chances are you’ve spent countless hours building a media list hoping that you have found the best contacts in a targeted outlet that would be interested in your client/product/service. Well, in ’92, a group of geniuses founded ProfNet. ProfNet is an online community of communications professionals made to provide reporters access to expert sources (Wikipedia). I, like many PR professionals, receive daily e-mails from ProfNet, with queries from journalists looking for experts or a specific service that I may be able to help them with. Now, this seems like a simple process, but I’ve always wondered what actually goes behind their closed doors. So this week, with the help of Maria Perez, director of news operations at ProfNet, we gain a little insight in to the ProfNet world and her position.
What paths in your career led you to your role at ProfNet?
I started at PR Newswire right after college, and worked in the editorial department for several years. When I was looking to make a change, my manager suggested I talk to Dan Forbush at ProfNet, which had, by then, become a division of PR Newswire. Though it entailed moving from New Jersey to Long Island, I made the move — and have been thanking my lucky stars every day.
What experiences prepared you for your role?
Looking back, I was completely unprepared! While I did have some editorial experience under my belt, my new role at ProfNet exposed me to so many other areas and skill sets. Thankfully, I had a completely supportive manager in Dan, who fully involved me in major projects and patiently talked me through every decision he made. I can’t thank him enough for everything he taught me. And, of course, I’m still learning! I could never have imagined that I’d be on Twitter, much less enjoying it. I’ve gone from working quietly behind the scenes to interacting with reporters and PR professionals every day. Talk about being out of my comfort zone! But everyone’s been so welcoming, so professional. I’ve loved every second of it.
How do you facilitate the role between journalists and PR professionals?
The beauty of ProfNet is its simplicity. We simply provide a way for journalists and PR professionals to connect, and hopefully that connection will benefit both parties. In the editorial group, specifically, we review every single query we send out. We don’t just check for typos and grammatical errors, we also ask some key questions of every query: Is this from a legitimate journalist? Does the query provide a benefit to our members? Do we need to make any changes to the query to make it clearer, or to make sure the reporter gets the answers she/he needs? Is it something our members will find useful? Does it provide some sort of publicity benefit?
The bottom line is: We’ve been doing this for over 17 years. We take the trust that journalists and members put in us very seriously, and it goes into every decision we make.
Do queries get rejected? If so, why/who makes the decision?
We do reject queries, though not lightly. As mentioned in my answer to the previous question, we look at each and every query and judge it on its own merits. Most often, we’ll reject a query if it’s asking for something that’s easily accessible online. For example, if someone is looking for the media contact for a specific company or celebrity, we’ll first try to locate that information ourselves. If we can, we’ll forward it to the reporter. If not, then we’ll send the query out. We also do get queries that are quite, um, explicit. We don’t reject those outright, but we do suggest alternate phrasing to make it less objectionable.
Oh, boy. I might get in trouble for this, but. . . . We once ran a query from a reporter looking for people who [ahem] “entertained” themselves in their cars while driving. (Hey, we don’t write them…)
We don’t really try to judge the nature of the request. If a reporter needs to find an expert source, we’ll help them, whatever that topic may be. We would rather send the query out than deprive someone of an opportunity for publicity.
How did you become the face of ProfNet on Twitter?
In all honesty, I came to Twitter kicking and screaming — as my manager, Ted Skinner, will attest.
PR Newswire’s then-president Dave Armon, my own personal social-media guru, thought Twitter would not only help us be more connected with members, but would also be a great way for us to help reporters who needed to connect with sources very quickly. Even though we do send queries out to our members every half hour, we thought it would be a nice option to offer to reporters. At the time, we had maybe 100 followers. Within a week of posting queries, we had over 1,000. Since then, it’s grown steadily, and we’re now at nearly 9,000 followers. Of course, I like to chalk it up to my sparkling personality, though I’m sure the queries have something to do with it.
In what ways has your Twitter presence impacted ProfNet?
I think its had a positive impact, in several ways. First, its made it easier for reporters on deadline to find sources. That was one of the main reasons for our presence on Twitter, and it seems to have paid off. The feedback from both reporters and PR pros has been really positive. Second, it’s allowed us to put a human face behind the ProfNet brand. Yes, we’re a business, but we honestly care about every one of our members, and we are always striving to improve our service and offerings. Speaking personally, its been great to connect with people I never would have otherwise. It’s certainly made my day more interesting and rewarding.
Is there any problem discussing/tweeting personal things (articles you’re reading, events attending, etc.) while using the ProfNet moniker?
At first, I wasn’t sure how much of my “personality” (such as it is) to let through. After all, I am representing ProfNet with every tweet. Should I only post queries? Can I talk about non-PR/media stuff? If I may humbly say, I think I’ve found a good balance. I try to make it as interesting as possible, stay positive, and not insult anyone or anything. Every once in a while, I may get a little too free with the chocolate and Snuggie tweets, but it all comes from a good place, and I hope that’s represented by everything I do.
Do you ever hear from the journalists when their queries are mocked on Twitter (or elsewhere)?
Thankfully, that hasn’t happened much. I think most journalists know that it’s one of the drawbacks of living in a connected world. If a reporter wants us to intervene, and we can, we will.
If you could play any other role in the world of communications, what would it be?
I can’t think of anything I would enjoy more than what I’m doing now. Then again, the role of “lottery winner who reads her newspaper every morning while lounging on the balcony of her beach house” doesn’t sound too bad…
I urge you to join our coffee talk and add to the questions/comments. If you have any additional questions/comments for Maria post them below and we’ll see if she can spare a few more minutes for some answers.