There’s no such thing as a dumb question, but learning to ask the right questions is half the battle when buying communications technology.
This isn’t to shame the PR industry for lacking data science acumen. Rather, it’s a call for PR pros to broaden their curiosity, now that marketing departments are in charge of tech procurement, according to Omar Akhtar, research director at consultancy Altimeter.
The pressure is on PR pros to provide increasingly sophisticated analysis. In response, comms tech, flush with fresh capital, is innovating, creating products and services that aspire to prove PR’s ROI.
If comms tech is growing more sophisticated, so too must the questions PR pros ask when they buy software. They need to know about service levels and uptime, who their vendors’ competitors are and what their product roadmap looks like. Are they true partners? Will they connect an agency or corporation with other communications software companies?
Akhtar also notes that software should be "far more intuitive" with "excellent [user interfaces] that require minimal training." Again, not everyone is an expert. Some are not comfortable with tools that are overly complicated. Think Apple vs. Microsoft.
All-in-one platforms have been all the rage since Cision, Meltwater and other big players rolled up a chunk of the market. They want to sell you every service, but sometimes PR pros have simple use cases and don’t want the deluxe treatment.
Some want flexible packages, and they want to be able to download the data easily into their own deck. Vendors’ sometimes opaque pricing models are adding another wrinkle to this complicated process.
Communications tech companies should also be more willing to discuss their future product roadmap so PR pros can better understand how it will dovetail with their plans.
Akhtar asks: "Will the vendor be able to add features that match the growth ambitions of your company? Will it be able to integrate easily with other software you’ll end up using as you become more sophisticated?"
"Taking a long-term, holistic view of martech software can save countless hours and dollars for any marketing department [including communications]," he concludes.
Private equity and other types of capital are flooding the market, lowering the barrier to entry and allowing startups to launch with similar services. Sussing out which vendors provide value and which do not can be a maddening process.
Here’s another problem that PR pros need to figure out: Marketers often procure software for specific department needs, Akhtar says. This "use case bias" obscures the vision of marketing departments, which he notes are the ones regularly buying comms tech, and how they can use software across disciplines. In other words, PR needs to be a part of the conversation when marketing departments are procuring technology.
Again and again, the PR industry is told the technology is getting better. If it is, then PR pros should ask for more.
Sean Czarnecki is a reporter at PRWeek and editorial lead for Dashboard. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.