Feb 03, 2011

A day in the life of a ProfNet query

Profnet experts database and media placement

Have you ever wondered what happens to a ProfNet query from the time a reporter sends it to ProfNet to the time it gets to your e-mail inbox? The answer, for most queries, is: quite a bit.

ProfNet has an experienced editorial staff that reviews every reporter query. We look at a variety of things: Is the query from a legitimate journalist/news outlet? Does the query make sense? Do the URLs listed in the query work? Are there any typos? Is the reporter sending the query to all the appropriate places?

I thought it might be interesting to remove the veil, if you will, and show you the steps we take to get ProfNet queries to you.

Step 1: Verify the Sender

All journalists and bloggers who use ProfNet to find sources are entered into a registration system shared by PR Newswire for Journalists. When a query comes in, we check the registration system to see whether the sender has used ProfNet before. For first-time users, we confirm their credentials: Do they have an on-staff e-mail address? If a freelancer, have they been published before? If not, do they have an assignment we can verify with the publication’s editor?

For bloggers, we check that the blog has been live for six months. If the blogger is requesting products, we look to see whether the blog covers the type of products they’re asking for (e.g., if a beauty blogger is requesting cell phones to review, we’ll question that). We also confirm the blog complies with the FTC guidelines for bloggers, and that they do not charge fees of any kind in order to review products.

Step 2: Review Query Content

Once we have confirmed the sender’s info, we move on to reviewing the query itself. Does the reporter provide enough information about the publication? Do the URLs listed in the query work? Is the content appropriate? Are there any typos or misspellings?

We try not to judge the content itself, or edit it too much, in order to keep the reporter’s voice. For the most part, we’ll mostly check for typos and change the text according to Associated Press style, which provides uniformity and makes queries easier to read.

You may also have noticed some queries include “I’m a freelancer.” We add that to queries from freelancers to provide another level of information to subscribers, as well as to prevent the publication from receiving unwanted direct calls.

Step 3: Review Distribution Options

After reviewing the query content, we check the reporter’s distribution instructions. For example, if the reporter is interested only in respondents from the Northeast, we include a note to that effect at the beginning of the query (“Limited to the Northeast”). This way, if you or your expert are not in the Northeast, you know right away that you can skip the query.

We also look at the institution types the reporter has chosen. Journalists can send queries to any of 14 institution types: activists; analysts; authors, speakers and consultants; bloggers; CSR officers; colleges and universities; corporations; government agencies and laboratories; hospitals and medical centers; legislative offices; media and broadcast companies (the PR officers at those institutions – not other journalists); nonprofit organizations; public relations agencies; and small businesses.

If a reporter is looking for authors of environmental books, for example, and have only chosen the query to be sent to the Authors, Speakers and Consultants group, we might counsel the journalist to expand the search to colleges and universities, which may have professors of environmental science that have authored a book on the topic, and PR agencies, in case they represent such authors or their publishing houses. Ultimately,  however, it’s the reporter’s decision.

Step 4: Add Query Coding

When subscribers join ProfNet, they have the option of choosing from 13 query categories: Arts, Entertainment and Media; Banking and Personal Finance; Computers and Telecom; Corporate Social Responsibility; Education; General Industry; Government and Public Issues; Health and Medicine; Law, Crime and Justice; Living; Management and Workplace; Science and World Regions.

In addition, each category has dozens of subcategories, allowing for further targeting of queries to ensure subscribers only get the kinds of queries they want.

Once we have completed steps 1-3, we code the query for the appropriate categories and subcategories. So, for example, if a subscriber is interested only in health queries, they can opt not to receive queries on banking, real estate, sports or other unrelated topics, saving them valuable time.

We then also add a heading to the query (e.g., HEALTH, BANKING, MANAGEMENT), to make it even easier for subscribers to scan queries. In cases where a reporter is looking for regular people, rather than experts, we’ll use NON-EXPERT as the heading.

Step 5: To Tweet or not to Tweet?

If you follow @profnet on Twitter, you know we sometimes tweet urgent reporter queries, as well. If a reporter has a same-day deadline, we will ask her if she wants us to post the query on Twitter. We will only tweet the query with the reporter’s approval.


And that’s pretty much it. Seems fairly simple, right? Most times, it is. On average, we require clarification on about 10-15 queries per day. Many of them are fairly straightforward (“What publication is this for?”). Others can be a bit more complicated. But we always have our subscribers in mind. We ask the questions so you don’t have to.

So, what do you think? Did any of the steps surprise you? Are there any steps you think we should add?

Authored by Maria Perez, director – news operations, ProfNet.

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