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New Media Contacts

The Internet was built to facilitate communications, so it always surprises me how difficult it is to find basic information for new media contacts: names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. The hype is that the net lets you communicate easily with anyone, anywhere, but the interface doesn't do you any good if the people you want to reach are hiding behind a wall of anonymity.

A Typical Scenario

Follow me for a minute. Let's say you work for a pharmaceutical company that just developed a powerful new anti-impotence drug and people are hungry for information about it. You decide to put a spokesperson on live chat to answer questions from your target audience. Your research shows that "TechTime Productions" runs the "Men's Health" forum on America Online. They have a large audience and live chat facilities -- a perfect fit. Now, try finding the name of the person in charge of booking Men's Health chats.

First you look around the site. You find a link to "Meet the Staff." You click on it and get a list of over 100 screen names like "TechTimeTed" and "MHMartha" with no job titles. You start working your way through the list one at a time, hoping to find a chat host. Most of the staff profiles are vague; they usually contain only the person's first name, never a phone number.

Time for Plan B. Let's see if we can find a phone number for TechTime Productions. If you're smart, you'll head straight to the section of the forum called "how to advertise with us" -- it's likely to have the only contact information on the site. Maybe you can find a number for TechTime in an online phone directory? You call and ask to speak with the chat coordinator for Men's Health on America Online. You get bounced a few times, put on hold a few times, and finally dropped into a voicemail box (if you're lucky).

Who Are the New Media?

New media contacts are critical to the success of online public relations and marketing. Important contacts include:

  • Moderators
    These people run special-interest discussion groups called "newsgroups" and "mailing lists." There are over 20,000 newsgroups and 25,000 mailing lists available through the Internet.

  • E-Zine Editors
    E-zines are newsletters delivered to subscribers via e-mail. They are often archived on the web as well. They usually deal with niche subjects rather than general issues.

  • Forum Hosts
    These people run forums on America Online, CompuServe, and other online services. They are sometimes called "sysops" or "wizops," though these terms are quickly giving way to more familiar titles such as "editor" or "producer."

  • Chat Hosts
    These are the people who schedule live online appearances. Sometimes called Chat Coordinators, they are usually responsible for promoting and moderating the chats as well.

  • Webmasters
    These are the people who manage web sites. On smaller sites, they may make content decisions and accept news releases. Larger sites might have news directors or editors who will be your primary contacts.

Finding Contact Information for the New Media

The first rule of PR is that you're only as good as your contact list. To be successful at online media relations, you have to get close to the people who can make your stories come alive online. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent in the online world to directories like "Bacon's" or "Gale's." For the most part, you have to find these contacts yourself, slowly building your own database. Here are some hard-earned tips for breaking through the wall of anonymity surrounding online media contacts:

  1. Go to phone as quickly as possible. It's harder to give you the brush-off on the phone. Resist the temptation to rely on e-mail to reach new media contacts.

  2. Go through the ad sales department. When looking for webmasters or other web site media, forget about using the "feedback" or "contact us" links on a web site -- if you ever do get a reply, it will likely be form mail that is of no help at all.

  3. To find chat hosts, stay away from staff boxes and look for transcripts of old chats. You can usually find the screen name of the right person to contact a lot faster from transcripts than you can from "about us" sections.

  4. On CompuServe, every forum has a "Sysop Roster" and you can usually find the full names and e-mail addresses of forum hosts and chat hosts there. It's a little tricky to find the roster: enter the forum, go to the "welcome" section, go into the "announcements" sub section, and there you'll see a link to "sysop roster."

  5. To find moderators of mailing lists and newsgroups, try some of the resource links below. First, search them by subject to find groups related to specific topics. Then drill down until you get a description of the group that includes a moderator's name and e-mail address.

It's not easy finding new media contacts, but it's worth the effort. For people serious about developing online media relations, it's important to start building a good database of these contacts. It will help you immensely in distributing news about your company, and could save your assets if you find yourself in crisis communications mode.

STEVE O'KEEFE is author of the books Publicity on the Internet (John Wiley & Sons, 1997), and The Complete Guide to Internet Publicity(John Wiley & Sons, 2002). You can reach him by e-mail at OnlinePublicity@yahoo.com.

Resources: Finding New Media Contacts

Stunningly good resource for finding mailing lists.

Searches through 9000 Listserv mailing lists.

Sunsite Search for Groups
The absolute best way to search for newsgroups.

Nifty service for finding both newsgroups and mailing lists.

Online Publicity Resources
Companion site to Steve O'Keefe's book, The Complete Guide to Internet Publicity.

STEVE O'KEEFE is author of the books Publicity on the Internet (John Wiley & Sons, 1997), and The Complete Guide to Internet Publicity(John Wiley & Sons, 2002). You can reach him by e-mail at info@PatronSaintPR.com.

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