Changes in media, the marketplace, and the PR industry since the mid-1980s have demanded shifts in the way contacts and constituencies are mapped. Media directories, such as Bacon's, evolved from cumbersome books into online databases. MediaMap became an early innovator in content distribution and other PR tasks. And sales automation systems, like Goldmine, began to emerge with intelligence-gathering abilities that excited the PR community.As a result, contact management merged with the concept of workflow automation, and a host of all-in-one PR solutions and external-relationship management tools are now available.
Essentially, PR workflow automation breaks down into five parts: intelligence gathering, content development and distribution, contact management, activity tracking, and measurement.
But there is some debate about the need for such systems. Some assert that since most communications teams have defined lists of beat reporters, large database tools are extraneous. Others say that, for example, while Coca-Cola's PR team may regularly contact beverage and business writers, when the company moves promotionally, it needs to access an editorial roster in the entertainment, youth, sports, and other segments.
"We recognize that the media doesn't hold a monopoly on influence,
says Rick Rudman, CEO and president of Vocus. "Our software enables a company to track relationships with all the perception brokers that influence corporate value and reputation."
Matthew Siegal, president of Public Affairs Technologies, pioneered the technology that eventually became Vocus. He sold that interest in 1992 to develop PRPowerbase.
Like MediaMap, both Vocus and PRPowerbase intuit the conversation path with a constituent by allowing the user to toggle into past contact notes, and the latter allows the user to access live documents within the system.
Furthermore, PRPowerbase enables a firm to record user time as billable.
Vocus, on the other hand, provides real-time statistics on constituent interaction. The user sees how many e-mail releases have been received, as well as how many were acted upon, and how many activities are currently underway with various recipients. This data is pivotal to measuring mindshare and campaign success.
Around the same time that Siegal and Rudman were writing code on the East Coast, a tiny PR firm in Bellingham, WA was developing web-based PR for some big-name clients on the West Coast. After Gerald Baron, president of Baron & Co., handled crisis communications after a large pipeline explosion, he determined the need for a system that allowed real-time content development across teams and geographics. His response was the PIER System.
"Frequently in a crisis, reporters will call different members of the team, trying to fish out different answers,
says Baron. "We needed a way to get everybody on the same page at the same time.
Last year, one of Baron's clients was given 30 minutes to respond to a Good Morning America producer who was going to interview plaintiffs in a class-action suit against the client. Using PIER, Baron was able to get the client, the law firm, and his team working on a live document online and in real time, and dispatched it in hard copy to the producer within 20 minutes. PIER also offers emergency text-to-voice broadcast alerts via phone. "This is a mission-critical element for neighbors adjacent to an industrial accident site,
Another product, Grassroots Multiplier, was developed for the public affairs and issues management arenas. "We can track who likes to telephone Congress and who likes to e-mail,
says Mike McCurry, former press secretary under Clinton, and chairman and CEO of Grassroots.
Recipients of e-mail action alerts from Grassroots clients can even choose to have the system dial a representative's office number at a specific date and time. The system phones the caller with the message, "Please hold for your Congressman,
and then phones the representative's office.
McCurry asserts that the intelligence it gathers about constituents enables more meaningful results without resorting to spam. "Congressional spam is a serious problem for our democracy, as more offices institute web filters,
Application convergence is on the horizon. While affordability may be a stopping point for many firms if the systems are not made available modularly, the efficiencies gained will improve the cost benefit.
MediaMap Performa is set to debut this year. A strategic partnership between MediaMap and Market360, it will marry the back-end intelligence and analysis of the latter with the list-generation and content-delivery engines of the former. Bacon's will continue to license its database to many of its competitors, and is also readying a product that will help it leverage some of its sister services and remain competitive. Meanwhile, Lexis-Nexis is negotiating partnerships with research firms to upgrade PRAnywhere with an analysis tool, while PIER System is licensing its software to PR agencies.