PR TECHNIQUE: PR Software: Raising the bar in campaign management

Real-time tracking, media analysis, and immediate evaluation of ROI are big selling points for campaign-management software. Kimberly Krautter weighs the options.

Real-time tracking, media analysis, and immediate evaluation of ROI are big selling points for campaign-management software. Kimberly Krautter weighs the options.

In the aftermath of corporate and Wall Street meltdowns, clients have rediscovered the virtues of managing reputation coupled with an almost evangelical cry for accountability and transparency - concepts the PR industry has been trying to sell them for decades. This could be a "beware what you ask for" scenario without nominal investments in technology. Fortunately, the next generation of automation software can now enable more precise campaign management. It appears that innovation has outpaced the PR industry's call for such solutions, though the dynamics of the new marketplace may be changing that. "Enterprise software has been well adopted in most corporate departments, including sales, marketing, and HR," says Rick Rudman, president and CEO of Vocus. "But a complete automation solution is new to corporate communications." Cost is the main reason why PR lags behind. With most companies relying on external agencies to drive their PR, they have been unwilling to invest the millions needed to develop a private CRM infrastructure to support corporate communications. Rudman says this is why the Vocus hosting model is internet-based - it provides clients and agencies limitless bandwidth to manage campaigns for the cost of a licensing fee. Upon evaluating system capabilities, it's important to note that most are an outgrowth of list-management and contact-management software solutions that have been in use for over a decade. Generating the most current list of media contacts and tracking the manner, frequency, and content of those interactions is considered a baseline responsibility of any PR team. The new twist is the ability to track, often in real time, how many reporters opened or even clicked through email releases. This data, coupled with online clip analysis, offers a measure of campaign effectiveness. Biz360, for example, offers media-tracking software that provides graphical analysis of how much coverage a company is getting compared to its competition. It can even determine the reach of individual messages. Such information can give communicators the intelligence they need to massage relationships with reporters, and make informed follow-up pitches. Biz360's software can be purchased individually, but MediaMap also has a licensing agreement with the company, and provides it as a modular service called "Performa Analytics." The ability to track outreach activities and contact interaction - and the outcomes of those communications - provides clients a level of oversight to agency activities. Links via an extranet offer clients transparency, and enable almost instant evaluation of ROI. Recording the breadth of touch points with the media is a new factor concerning corporate communicators. "Often, agencies have different account teams calling on the same day to the same reporter for different clients," says Peter Granat, SVP of marketing for MediaMap. "If all the reporter hears is the agency name, it can leave a bad impression." Therefore, most software allows account teams to record their interactions and have them updated in real time, enabling colleagues across teams to define for the reporter the intent of their contact. The catch for managers is fostering discipline in the front lines so that the form of each contact (phone, e-mail, etc.) and the result is recorded. While executive teams may be restructuring along horizontal lines, the marketing divisions still tend to be vertically oriented. They can have dozens of lines of business, each with a different communications partner. The geographical divide between these interests further challenges the ability to proffer a consistent corporate message. Intranets and extranets are key to avoiding such a disconnect. Granat says MediaMap's Performa product enables managers to assign and track team activities, and for cross-team members to review the relationships they've been building. Some newer systems, such as those developed by Grassroots Enterprise for the public-affairs arena, are even more intuitive. Mike McCurry, Grassroots chairman and CEO, says the internet allows organizations to recruit and build relationships with constituents, as well as make it easy for them to give feedback, or even speak on behalf of interest groups. "The database 'learns' from every interaction with those supporters," says McCurry. "This allows us to increasingly customize communications and calls to action based on the preferences that your stakeholders give us, their feedback, or the actions they've take in the past." The alignment of agency services with client constituents is key to determining what kind of software is needed. If the media is the most important constituent, then the depth of the database is a key decision point. However, if communication with employees, shareholders, customers, or other constituents is vital, it's important to consider the software's ability to allow the generation and import of private databases. While Lexis Nexis, MediaMap, and Vocus all provide such flexibility, deficiencies remain in their ability to track interactions and outcomes with the private constituencies. Niche providers such as PIER Systems (originally developed for crisis management) and Grassroots Enterprise are able to track interactions with any category of stakeholder. Rudman says he is seeing an increased demand for portfolio management as a wider variety of stakeholders request access to company information. "It's important to help an organization be consistent in what it's giving out," he says. A web-based newsroom is fast becoming the repository for more than the latest news releases. White papers, logos, corporate history, executive photos, product graphics, and even streaming video of analyst meetings, VNRs, and commercials are now being stored in online newsrooms. Vocus and PIER Systems particularly excel in this service. Having generally lagged behind the adoption of information-management programs, in-house corporate communicators are beginning to realize the efficacy of such solutions. Myriad approaches and theories are now making the automation market very fluid. A number of mainstream PR software companies have been meeting with Grassroots and PIER Systems about possible alliances or licensing of their software. "As corporations sharpen their focus on reputation management," says McCurry, "the internet is a critical medium." -------------- Technique tips Do always ask for a trial with a team of people to determine how the software aligns with the way you do business Do determine the degree to which you need to track the relationship with your key constituencies Do evaluate client/company risk, and ascertain your need to develop documents with live, real-time interaction across multiple geographic locations Don't buy based on bells and whistles. You may be able to save money if you focus on components and buy them separately Don't be afraid of transparency. It is a selling point to your client, and elevates the value of your service Don't fail to monitor staff consistency in recording interactions in the system. Otherwise, it's a wasted investment

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