TECHNOLOGY REPORT: New tech tools - PRWeek puts the latest techproducts in the hands of practitioners for real-life testing

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

budget dollars?



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

firm.



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

15 minutes).



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 ...



ASKUSLIVE



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

to clients)



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

billing time.



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

running.



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

session.



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.



SOURCEMINE



Product description: Collaborative software



Test driver: Teresa Fritschi, marketing communications director, Cayman

Systems



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

Post-it annotations.



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

search.



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

from it.



MARKET360



Product description: Web-monitoring system



Test driver: Tom Crane, director of corporate media relations,

Honeywell



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

user.



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

my colleagues.



The interface of Vocus PR's wireless software solution is remarkably

similar to the full Web version. The screens are simple and

uncluttered.



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

tool.



Despite its few limitations, the Vocus wireless software solution should

be a welcome addition to your PR tool kit.



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