Consider Peter Shankman: skydiving flack, taser lover, and the founder of Help A Reporter Out (HARO), the free (!) service that connects reporters with a world of flacks dying to appear in their stories. HARO is a lot like Profnet, except Profnet costs flacks thousands of dollars a year. We wondered why Shankman went to all the trouble of running HARO, and now we know: $800,000 a year! Is this oversharing man the future of flackery? Adweek takes an in-depth look at the HARO phenomenon, and does a little calculating to figure out that Shankman makes more than $3K every day selling ads on his two daily HARO emails, that go out to more than 30,000 flacks and other wannabe media sources. For an hour and a half of work. Okay, that's kind of slick. But you know who thinks HARO sucks? The people at Profnet! HARO's deficiencies:

  • It's not from a neutral source—Shankman is a PR guy with his own clients, and gives them first crack at the good media requests.
  • Other reporters can totally monitor HARO and steal your ideas.
  • Profnet is the recognized leader in masturbation advice and smelly genital information.

I used Profnet many times in my former life as a trade mag reporter; when you needed to round up five geographically disparate sources with slightly different takes on the pluses and minuses of PR agency day care plans, there was really no substitute. But I have to admit that the real takeaway from this debate is probably this, from Sheldon Rampton of PR Watch:

"We're living in an environment where reporters are less and less willing to do independent research, so that's created an opportunity for PR people to step in and do the research for them," Rampton says... "My personal take on ProfNet is it's not all bad, but there's more bad than good in it," says Rampton, who is less familiar with HARO. "It's one of various ways that the news product is getting cheapened."