Contact-management systems must keep up with the explosive rise of media members.
At their core, contact-management software solutions are vast databases of information on journalists, listing not just beats and preferred contact methods, but also reporter quirks and pet peeves. What they offer agencies and corporate communications departments is the ability to share hard-won journalistic relationships, not just throughout an office, but throughout an entire company.
These solutions are not new - many firms have compiled electronic contact lists for years. But today, firms are increasingly giving up their in-house software in favor of vendors who offer thousands of journalists at their fingertips.
"Most major firms realize they're not software companies," notes Peter Granat, Bacon's Information senior marketing VP. "These aren't hundred-thousand-dollar investments - it costs millions to keep these up and running."
"Four or five years ago, we had a list of maybe 10,000 media members - now it's in the hundreds of thousands," says Rick Rudman, CEO of Vocus, in explaining why an agency DIY system is so difficult to maintain today.
Indeed, Business Wire's (BW) PressCenter journalist database offering contains not just regular media contacts, but the details of influential writers at the top 5,000 blogs.
Says Joel Tesch, BW's manager of sales and product partnerships, "We've separated Web writers from print writers," even for titles with both an online and offline presence.
Of course getting an entire office to all work off the same media list provided by an outsider does present challenges.
"You're asking people to trust you with their lifeblood, and they approach that with trepidation," notes Nick Tomlinson, president of Rebus Software. "That is why we stress evolution, not revolution, and PR executives should realize people will buy into it at different rates."
All major contact-management vendors stress these aren't standalone tools and point out the ability to combine them with analytics, online pressrooms, and other programs.
"Being able to tie your contact list in with the coverage you receive and support the entire communications process in an integrated fashion is really important," says Steven Momorella, partner/cofounder of TEKgroup.
But for these tools to work best, everybody in the office eventually must get on board. "What make these solutions successful is developing the discipline among employees to do this consistently over time," says Granat.
Andrew Eberle, EVP of Weber Shandwick's information services group, stresses that contact-management solutions must also be adaptable to your employees' specific needs. Eberle helped design, and now manages, WeberWorks, the firm's application for clients and account teams.
"Most vendors build their product to fit the average PR user," he explains. "We wanted to service our clients beyond that. Using a product off the shelf may not allow you to do certain things you want to do for your clients."
It's this desire for a customized solution that is cited by firms that opt to stick with an in-house developed system.
"Ours is a kind of hybrid solution in that we work with other services like Bacon's Online," explains Christin Crampton Day, principal with Denver-based Schenkein, which developed the proprietary database, MediaSmart. "But it's something unique to us. People are impressed with what it helps us achieve."
But outside vendors stress that their software not only allows, but in many ways facilitates, the creation of customized information, accessible only by a specific agency.
Ted Skinner, director of PR Newswire's Media Intelligence Products, says, "With our MediAtlas, if you develop a relationship and a reporter gives you their cell number, of course we're not going to put that in the public database, but you can put it into your proprietary database."
And, warns BW's Tesch, simply having access to thousands of reporters does not a pitch make.
"Don't send out [pitches] to a list of 10,000 people," he advises. "Look at their information, their preferences." Use the tools available to hone the pitch down by industry, region - even Congressional district and Zip code.
Get everyone on board. If half the firm uses software and the other half works off a Rolodex, that's not a long-term solution
Get ample training. A brief online tutorial won't let you fully exploit the software's features
Stress to staff that mastering contact management software is a great résumé enhancer
View these as standalone products. Integrate contact management into software-based PR tools
Rely solely on a publicly shared database. Use tools that enable customized media lists
Operate in silos. Contact management solutions should be consistently developed