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public-relations-bullhornDarryl Siry is the founder and chief executive of NewsBasis, a Web startup aiming to connect journalists and publicists.

Public relations is a valuable business tool, yet it is often the whipping boy of journalists and companies. Why is such a valuable industry so frequently maligned?

It’s a design problem.

Nary a week passes without some journalist or blogger writing a screed lambasting PR people or the PR industry as a whole. There are even entire blogs dedicated to bad pitches or embarrassing exchanges between journos and PR. Generally, satisfaction levels among companies using PR agencies is not great either. Yet the PR industry remains a thriving industry, estimated at $6 billion in the US alone ($7.5 billion if you include media relations services). It is also growing… and profitable.

What gives? How can an industry that ostensibly acts as an agent between its clients and the media, yet has shaky footing on both sides, continue to grow profitably?

Because PR is so important – that’s why. Whether you are a startup trying to get heard through the noise, or a major corporation managing a nationwide program, the business impact of good media coverage can be extraordinary at a fraction of the cost of advertising.

Having managed a $6 million PR program at Fireman’s Fund, a property and casualty insurer, and then tackling the challenge of building the Tesla Motors brand primarily through media relations with essentially no budget, I’ve seen both extremes. My experience as a blogger and reporter for Wired in the past years has given me a taste of what it is like from the journalist perspective as well.

I concluded that the disconnect between PR and the media is really a design problem – and I believe that a lot of value can be generated by a platform that addresses this from a technology and design perspective.

The biggest disconnect comes from the misalignment of interests and timing in the “pitch process.” Companies typically develop their key messages that they want to get out, and then try to hit as many journalists and bloggers to get them to write about it. Viewed from inside the corporation, the process amounts to “it’s important to us, so we pay our agency to get people to write about it, and we expect them to make every effort and bring back results.”

The problem is that as PR people try valiantly to pitch a broad range of journalists with their clients’ messages, rarely does that message connect with the right journalist at the right time. Journalists are usually working on something on deadline, and listening to a pitch that does not directly support their short-term objective is not a good use of time.

A solution to this problem would focus on connecting the most relevant or useful perspectives to the right journalists exactly when they need it. That’s our goal for NewsBasis.

Our vision is to develop a platform for journalists and companies that enables companies and PR agencies to promote themselves or their clients via new mechanisms that optimize for relevance to the journalist.

darryl-siryMembers set up profiles that detail their expertise and areas of interest. Using NewsBasis, they can embed their point of view in relevant articles online. These embedded points of view are like mini-pitches that bundle a relevant source article with the NewsBasis member’s point of view. When journalists search on NewsBasis for something that is important to them right now, they instantly find the most relevant experts and relevant points of view for them to access to complete the task at hand. Journalists can also post requests to NewsBasis, and members of NewsBasis can respond if they can provide value.

The promise of a Web service approach is the ability to develop learning algorithms that will continuously increase the relevance of the results for the journalist.

We think that NewsBasis will evolve the way companies promote their points of view and journalists consume them, making the public relations marketplace more effective and efficient.

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