PR Software: The hard facts about PR software

As previously disparate software solutions provide opportunities for integration, the life of a PR pro can run much more smoothly.

As previously disparate software solutions provide opportunities for integration, the life of a PR pro can run much more smoothly.

As previously disparate software solutions provide opportunities for integration, the life of a PR pro can run much more smoothly.

In the past two years, PR software has undergone many subtle improvements, with integration and automation providing clients faster, much more accurate information. And the fresh software, continually in development, is more user-friendly than earlier versions, lending greater ease to formerly vexing tasks.

The newer software is fully automated and great strides have been made to create opportunities to integrate previously disparate systems. This all marks a page-turning in PR software that will likely never be turned back.

Of course, workflow automation is nothing new in PR, although it came slower than it did to others like HR and marketing. Long accepted are changes in the ways constituencies and contacts are tracked and measured. What's new is that this tracking and measurement is more accurate and can increasingly be done through one system.

"The more important aspect is that for the first time they're all integrated," says Rick Rudman, co-founder and CEO of Vocus.

Several integrated, automated software options are available to the PR industry in five basic categories: intelligence gathering, content development and distribution, contact management, activity tracking, and measurement. Complicated and capable of incredible subtlety, the newer software that's within these five basic categories works toward integration through automation.

That's not to say the individual services aren't still working to improve their own products' performance. Intelligence gathering has gotten more accurate at PRTrak, a division of Surveillance Data. Thousands of media outlets can now be tracked using its PRTrak Web, offering rapid audience impressions and media values for TV, radio, print, and web stories. The idea behind PRTrak Web, says company VP Angie Jeffrey, was to make intelligence as accurate as possible.

For content development and distribution, new software is focusing on quick delivery. Long gone are the days of this being done manually, say several software pros. Now it's done electronically, often through one system. At Biz360, the emphasis is on giving clients extremely calibrated measures.

Using software introduced in the fall of 2003, Biz360 can track a client's media exposure right down to the journalist writing the stories. The software can also pinpoint how wide-ranging the exposure is. For instance, a client can see how many media outlets mentioned it during a given time period - and the circulation or reach of those outlets.

More than that, the software shows how much that exposure would cost had it been attained with ads, says You Mon Tsang, founder and CMO of Biz360.

"It's an important part of bringing it all together," he says.

As an example of the company's services, suppose you're an established brand like Biz360 client Harley-Davidson. You know your core customers and you want to go deeper to track demographics. The software, then, can show how (or even if) the company is reaching women motorcyclists, rather than its stable male customer base.

Vocus can now bring the same organization to e-mails - from formal applications such as press releases to informal conversations with journalists - says Rudman. The e-mails can basically be done interactively, complete with response buttons in the message, for quicker access to information and a faster follow-up.

New software is also targeting the juggernaut that can be the modern online newsroom, where executive bios compete for space with press releases and contact information, journalists can often get lost, and others can get frustrated.

"PR pros are often not sure what to put there," Rudman says of online newsrooms. "Then, they're always having to work with IT people to make changes. That can become a bottleneck."

Vocus has launched software that lets even the most computer-phobic PR pro add information to the online newsroom without going through IT.

On the content-tracking side, InSight, a joint venture between BurrellesLuce and VMS, has garnered more than 1,000 clients since its introduction two years ago. It's "one-stop shopping" for clients who want to quickly aggregate and analyze content, says InSight president Jim Waggoner.

"The real value for the PR pro is that we can do a lot of the legwork for them," Waggoner adds. "Things that used to be basically undoable if you had to deal with a stack of paper clippings can be knocked off in seconds."

VMS has brought similar speed to monitoring newscasts. Its QuickView software can take newscasts from the top 50 US markets and break them down into one-second frames - all within hours of a newscast's airing. The company also invested more than $5 million in the past two years expanding its monitoring services, says president and CEO Peter Wengryn. VMS now has staffers monitoring the top 50 markets, up from the top 35, providing clients more context than closed-caption monitoring.

"The yield that we bring to our clients is greater," Wengryn says. "But even more important than the yield is the quality of the yield. It saves clients time and effort and gives them what they are looking for."

Two challenges face the PR field with this newer, faster, decidedly more accurate software.

One is convincing the industry it needs the automated integration that's the cornerstone of it, the kind of software utilized for a longer time by marketing, HR, and other industries. As Rudman explains, "PR is one of the last outposts of automation. A lot of these [software launches] are taking software generically used in other areas and catering it to PR."

The second challenge is the PR industry pitching the software to its clients. Clients have long memories and limited budgets when it comes to using PR, and many remember the not-so-long-ago days when such software wasn't as accurate or reliable as it is now. Today, clients must be convinced that the automation and continuing integration can give them very exact information unheard of just a few years ago.

"We had a believability factor before," says Tsang. "The market has definitely changed."

Technique tips

Do integrate your PR software into one system

Do make software accessible enough to cut down on IT needs

Do make sure clients know how accurate and fast newer software is

Don't have too many different types of software

Don't sacrifice software training

Don't buy too many different vendors' software

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