Research obviously plays an important role when it comes to public relations. Yet it’s surprising how many folks who work in the PR industry seem unfamiliar with the most effective web-based research tools. The following is a list of a few general research tools, some better known than others, that are your best bet if you’re looking for information about a person, company, business sector, product, or competitor. Think of them as the basic online research tools in your public relations toolkit.
Believe the hype. Google is the best public relations research tool, hands down. It’s free, easy to use, and easy to master. You’ll get more recent search and more comprehensive search results on Google than on any other search engine. Realistically, if you’re doing business-related research, you can use Google and skip the other consumer friendly search engines such as Yahoo (which uses Google results), HotBot, Teoma, AskJeeves, Lycos, MSN, AltaVista, AllTheWeb.com, and AOL.
Google News (http://news.google.com)
Google, again? Yep. Google News is an offshoot of Google. Instead of looking at every web site out there, Google News scrapes the web for recent news articles on whatever you choose to search about. You’ll get access to over 4,500 news sources with this bad boy. And once again, it’s free and easy to use. Google News results only go back a few weeks though, so this service is your best bet for recent news about your public relations clients, competitors, or companies in the media spotlight. The search results are also more likely to bring back newspaper and wire articles, so if you’re looking for magazine content, you may have to look elsewhere.
World News (http://www.worldnews.com)
World News is little known within the U.S., but the site provides some surprising search results and access to publications from, you guessed it, around the world. A good alternative to Google News if you can’t find what you’re looking for there.
Over 8,000 sources from around the world in almost two dozen languages, but you’re going to pay for it. A service of Reuters and Dow Jones, Factiva is great when you’re looking for archived articles, information in trade publications, and special reports. You can also get television and radio transcripts from many major media outlets. Prices start at $2.95 per article, but the company offers subscription services at different pricing levels. Contact the company for more information.
In one month, I ran up a $30,000 bill on LexisNexis. Thank goodness it was my employer’s account and I was doing work-related research. Similar to Factiva, but way more in-depth and with bigger archives. LexisNexis is your gateway to information related to everything from court rulings and patents to twenty year old feature articles and obituaries. The service has access to almost 25,000 media sources, but you will pay a hefty price for this particular research tool. Price structures vary, so contact the company for information.
Somewhere between Google News and Factiva lies eLibrary. The service is a digital archive with access to newspapers, magazines, transcripts, and other content. I actually found this site while doing research for this article. (Imagine that!)
AlterNet is your gateway to the world of the alternative and independent media. A good research resource when you’re sick and tired of the traditional media resources. A few searches on AlterNet will probably give you some new ideas about where to pitch.
These are just some of the better research tools available online, whether you’re a public relations pro or a layperson doing a little side PR work. There are many web sites and services that offer viable research tools and can provide you with everything from a zip code to a code of ethics. But you’ll have to do the research and find them yourself.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.