We know how it is. You've read about a great-sounding piece of
technology that you think could make you and your team more efficient,
please your clients and earn you Brownie points with your manager.
But it's not cheap, and you're worried about advocating spending money
on something that could turn out to be an expensive white elephant. How
can you confidently recommend that your boss part with hard-fought
PRWeek decided to make the process easier by enlisting PR people to test
four new industry-specific products.
The often tortuous process of editing press releases is a priority for
many PR executives, so we picked two collaborative soft-ware systems -
AskUsLive and Sourcemine - to review. One of the hottest technologies in
the marketing-services sector, collaborative software allows two people
in separate locations to work on a document at the same time.
The AskUsLive system includes a Webcam, so that the pair can see each
other. It also enables clients to contact PR agencies for instant
support, which could revolutionize the process of finding a new
Sourcemine claims to have created its product specifically with the
public relations and advertising industries in mind. It was developed by
former BSMG vice chairman Joe Kessler.
We also looked at a Web monitoring system, Market360, which keeps tabs
on what's being said in cyberspace in near real-time (it updates every
Lastly, we asked a PR executive who was out of the office on paternity
leave to test a new wireless product by Vocus.
Are these systems worth the investment? You decide ...
Product description: Collaborative software
Test driver: Jim Parham, VP and director of PR, Hirons & Co.
Cost: dollars 995 annually for each consultant using the system. (Free
Contact: Phil Brojan, (877) 448-1112
AskUsLive times sessions using an on-screen clock and then automatically
bills the customer. This great feature has the potential to compress our
We had some trouble setting up AskUsLive because we use an older,
hardware-based firewall. It took several days to plough through tech
issues to get video, audio, whiteboard and application-sharing aspects
We used the system to edit a national news release for a client. Staci
Schneider, communications director for the client, appeared on video and
could talk directly to me, once she had a camera and headset.
The video of Staci was fairly clear, but it was not synchronized with
her audio - even though we have a T-1 line connection.
We took turns editing a news release in a shared applications section of
AskUsLive. We both could have used our cursors to edit simultaneously,
but we decided it would be more orderly to edit through shared
applications, where each user has to pass control of the application
before the other can edit. Without much training, both of us were able
to easily manipulate the document.
Editing the document together sped up the process by at least a half
day. Staci found the system 'user-friendly,' and says she is open to
substituting some in-person meetings with me for an AskUsLive
While it's early in our use of AskUsLive, we feel that it can eventually
impact us as much as the change from fax to e-mail communication. It
should eliminate a lot of miscommunication and result in a faster
turnaround for clients. This technology can also assist in handling
crisis management for clients.
Product description: Collaborative software
Test driver: Teresa Fritschi, marketing communications director, Cayman
Cost: dollars 30,000-dollars 50,000 to set up; monthly dollars
75-dollars 200 licensing fee per user
Contact: David Feder, (818) 444-3300
As the director of marketing communications for a broadband gateway
technology innovator, I work with a 'virtual marcomm department' of
seven outside agencies. Anyone in marketing understands that the
creative process can be laborious. Drafts and multiple versions can
cross one another in a matter of hours, and putting V5b-draft in the
header doesn't guarantee that an individual critical to the process
isn't reviewing and line-editing a previous version.
So it was with interest that I reviewed Sourcemine's enterprise-level
software for editing, planning, revising and, best of all, sharing
documents in a secure environment. Security features and editing
controls allow users to maintain document integrity while getting input
from a variety of sources. The software also allows for video, audio and
PR and advertising are all about campaigns, and Sourcemine's software is
built to manage several simultaneously. One feature allows users to run
a conference in a chat environment, and record and archive it so that
people who were unable to attend can refer to it later.
I also liked Sourcemine's event section. Users can view event listings
and details, search for specific events and print information found by a
This product is designed with a clear understanding of multitasking and
interdependencies in the marketing space. But with opening costs in the
five-figure range, plus a monthly licensing fee per user, it is for
pockets deeper than those of the organizations that could most benefit
Product description: Web-monitoring system
Test driver: Tom Crane, director of corporate media relations,
Cost: dollars 20,000 annually
Contact: Keith Goldberg, (866) 4-BIZ-360
Market360 provides a much more comprehensive list of sources than most
Web-monitoring systems. The information presented is fairly close to
real time, where other services seem to have a significant lag time.
I was particularly impressed with the multitiered, drill-down
capabilities of its 'mindshare' feature, which provides insight into
your coverage in various online sources over time, and allows you to
compare yours with that of the competition.
The 'authors' feature is a useful tool for quickly identifying key
journalists and analyzing their reporting. It has quite a few
customization features that enable you to target key reporters, news
groups and/or industry-specific publications.
In my test drive of Market360, I did a reality check on our e-business
messaging in the new media space. I uncovered a freelance reporter on
whom we hadn't focused. The process only took a few minutes and gave us
a valuable new contact to nurture.
One can easily navigate the site and quickly learn how to set up and
customize its data-comparison programs. Because of its extensive
drill-down capabilities, though, one can get easily lost in a thread of
data - but I suspect that decreases the more you use it.
One major drawback is in qualitative analysis. Rather than the system
automatically rating an article, the user rates it on a sentiment scale
of one to 10. This could lead to subjectivity on the part of the
Another slight shortfall is the inability to conduct data-crunching
miracles on specific issues. If they could achieve this, it would be an
extremely valuable tool.
I'd rate Market360 a B to B+. It gives the user a wealth of data and
myriad ways to analyze and present it.
VOCUS PUBLIC RELATIONS
Product description: Wireless media database
Test driver: Glen Turpin, corporate communications manager, Quark
Cost: dollars 1,395 per year
Contact: Kay Bransford, (301) 459-2590
The Vocus media database contains 250,000 editorial contacts and
profiles, and allows you to track media inquiries and build lists for
targeted news distribution, as well as review and report on past
interactions and news coverage.
The wireless option proved invaluable to me when my second son was born
the same week that my company planned to launch two new products.
I was able to find the profile for a local reporter who had called, and
quickly review notes from past interactions. After refreshing my memory
about sensitive issues from previous conversations, I called him and
logged new notes while we spoke. My comments were instantly available to
The interface of Vocus PR's wireless software solution is remarkably
similar to the full Web version. The screens are simple and
Simple asset management features allow you to store documents, images
and other files on the Web. The eNewsRoom option allows you to
distribute and post a release to your online newsroom instantaneously.
It's easy to send broadcast e-mail to targeted lists of contacts.
However, creating new lists or browsing though large result sets is
tedious on the PDA's small screen. The experience can be frustrating
unless you scale your expectations to the device.
I really like the ability to access advanced search features. The
wireless is a great accent to the standard software, but I would
recommend it as a supplement to the software, not as a standalone
Despite its few limitations, the Vocus wireless software solution should
be a welcome addition to your PR tool kit.