Staying connected no matter where you are

As the ability to conduct business while out of the office grows more vital, PR pros are using handheld devices to stay in touch with clients and the media.

As the ability to conduct business while out of the office grows more vital, PR pros are using handheld devices to stay in touch with clients and the media.

PR pros are becoming increasingly mobile. Yet their presence at trade shows, client sites, airports, hotels, and other remote locations does not absolve them of the need to stay connected to customers, journalists, and their agencies' marketing initiatives.

Remaining constantly accessible and being able to function efficiently while traveling is vital if individuals are to effectively communicate with colleagues and respond quickly to client and media demands. And that is making cells phones, the BlackBerry, and other handheld devices that enable users to remotely access e-mail, websites, client files, calendars, and contact lists essential operating tools.

"Staying connected outside of the office is not only important, but, to a great degree, customers expect it," says Andy Roach, Ketchum chief information officer. "Every client wants the ability to reach their agency contact when needed, and they anticipate an immediate response."

As a result, more PR firms are ensuring that staffers are web-enabled regardless of their stations. And because many portable units are prepackaged with online browsers, connecting to the internet from any location has become relatively simple.

Web browsers also enable PR pros to easily execute and track the results of initiatives while away from the office. By visiting an online newsroom hosted by Fort Lauderdale, FL-based TEKgroup International, for instance, subscribers can create press releases, upload photos, and then electronically distribute the items to the media.

TEKgroup also provides access to a database of 300,000 journalists and maintains an online clipping service so users can view articles and other media coverage by accessing a web page, says Steve Momorella, a TEKgroup founder and partner.

Bacon's Information, a Chicago-based media-intelligence company, also provides online analysis of PR initiatives and can transmit frequent updates to the BlackBerry. And Newton, MA-based Cymfony offers PR pros a customized website that reports the most effective media placements and how a brand or company is being covered in the media compared to competitors or the previous tracking period.

"Being able to access hosted systems also enables people to travel without [the] need to bring along a computer to get information," says Sally Falkow, a Pasadena, CA-based web-content strategist who counsels PR pros on internet techniques. "They can avoid the hassles of taking a laptop by just renting or borrowing a computer after reaching a destination."

Software companies also are providing mobile-device users with applications that traditionally have been run off desktop computers, including e-mail, messaging, and access to calendars. By leveraging systems from Santa Clara, CA-based Good Technology, for instance, individuals can synchronize their wireless units and office PCs so that e-mails arrive in the in-box of each device simultaneously, and activity initiated from one device is automatically backed up on the other's hard drive.

Good Technology's GoodLink software runs on the corporate server and is also loaded into portable units, including BlackBerry, Treo, and other pocket PC-based phones.

"In coming years, there will be even more applications added to mobile devices as the processing power and bandwidth of the units increase," Roach says. "Today's wireless devices operate at about the speed of a dial-up system. But the eventual move to broadband will let us perform such functions as using the PDA to show clients video clips of brand placements on TV programs. That will be huge."

Yet with online applications and portable units already becoming more sophisticated, certain PR firms are building entire operations around mobile hardware and web-based services. The six staffers of Sudbury, MA-based Red Javelin Communications, for instance, each have a "portable office" that includes a laptop with a wireless web connection, cell phone, and a BlackBerry. Company files and individual calendars are stored centrally on a hosted intranet server.

All staffers typically work at home or at customer sites and can access online data from any venue at any time, notes Lisa Allocca, a Red Javelin principal. She says the BlackBerry has been a critical component of the company's success because it enables users to receive and rapidly answer e-mails.

"I might be sitting on a soccer field at 7pm and get an e-mail from a West Coast reporter who is on deadline, and 95% of the time I can respond by using my BlackBerry and cell phone," she notes. "Being able to have information at my fingertips at any point in time allows me to provide superior customer service."

Indeed, having access to e-mail while away from the office is the key to remaining efficient, adds Jerry Johnson, EVP and GM of Brodeur Worldwide, and head of the firm's New York and Washington operations.

Johnson says that he can monitor a campaign's effectiveness from the road by using a BlackBerry to connect to the firm's Cymfony-supported website. BlackBerry is a Brodeur client.

"Having total access to e-mail and the web at any time from a device that fits in your pocket is very convenient," he notes. "I can go on a two-week vacation and feel comfortable that I'm in touch with my account team or client. We're in the service business. While most clients don't expect us to serve them 24/7, they want us available 24/7."

Technique tips

Do check that a wireless device will meet company IT standards before purchasing one

Do see that virus-scan or personal-firewall software is installed on laptop computers and that all files are consistently backed up

Do make sure that you have the ability to post or distribute press releases while off site without relying on the IT department

Don't forget to have periodic preventative maintenance performed on all mobile devices

Don't purchase a wireless unit before learning the pros and cons of the latest technology

Don't operate a portable device until the IT department says its security is adequate

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