With PR teams across the country forced to work from home, technology — and knowing how to wield it properly — has become even more important.
Some of the most crucial tools are those that have become an everyday part of a PR pro’s job, while others have become much more critical in recent weeks. Experts cite social listening, media monitoring and analytics tools repeatedly, as well as internal communications platforms as the skills most critical for the PR pros using the communications tech.
Take social media, which is a part of nearly all digital campaigns. It’s not enough to simply draft a tweet or Facebook or Instagram post, upload it and hope for the best. Social listening tools show what is and is not working. MSL account supervisor Matteo Roberts finds them essential to his work. He says that tools such as Brandwatch, Meltwater and NewsWhip enable him to understand what people are saying about a brand and determine whether his team’s messaging is resonating with a target audience.
It’s equally important to have the skills to get ahead of the curve or realign your brand’s messaging, says Helene Imperiale, director of new media strategy at social impact agency Propper Daley. Imperiale also uses tools like Brandwatch and Crimson Hexagon to track key campaigns to ensure her team is achieving their campaign goals.
We need to know what our audiences are thinking and feeling all the time to test our concepts and measure our impact.
These audience-listening tools have uses beyond just social media. Mae Dobbs, digital marketing lead at 38 Degrees, says that she also uses them for online focus groups. “We need to know what our audiences are thinking and feeling all the time to test our concepts and measure our impact,” she says.
In her former role as digital strategist at Edelman, Dobbs notes that the firm developed proprietary AI technology that allowed it to better understand audience sentiment in online conversations. This provided a temperature check that in turn allowed her team to develop better comms.
Don’t forget about the old bread and butter skill of media monitoring, experts advise. Using tools like Factiva, Google Alerts and Meltwater, junior members of PR teams are often responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of campaigns in garnering earned media coverage. Monitoring also provides teams with an overview of the media landscape on a given issue and can call attention to simmering issues for a given company or brand that may be on the brink of facing a crisis.
Analytics tools offer a deeper look, the “so what” for a PR pro to make decisions around a campaign. Bryggen Korte, senior account executive in brand marketing at FleishmanHillard, uses analytics tools to delve into insights about influencers hired by the agency. This gives her access to information such as the sentiment of their posts, how much of their following is real and the average engagement they get on organic vs. sponsored posts.
Yousef Al-Saraf, account manager at M&C Saatchi World Services, uses a range of analytics tools, from those that are built into its service, such as Google, Facebook and YouTube analytics to Sysomos. These allow him to measure the success of a project, and how big of an impact the effort is having on its target audience. Data analysis is critical, as it "shows a measurement of performance in any project," Al-Saraf says.
Regardless of the deliverables tied to a specific account, clients are interested in understanding performance, as this serves as a proxy for the success of a campaign.
Imperiale, meanwhile, uses the data from this analysis to prove her ideas to managers and get them on board with strategies. She uses tools like Sprout Social daily to “get a closer look at week-on-week performance.”
Yet even with easy access to analytics tools and data, many contend that data-driven decision-making is still the exception and not the rule. Al-Saraf calls for more training on digital analytics tools, suggesting that everyone on a team, from the most junior to the managers, should know how to access and interpret social data.
Dobbs laments that “so many comms campaigns are still being run in 2020 with little to no idea what the target audiences are saying and feeling about a given campaign and its topic areas.” If managers do not know how to use these tools, “they will just rely on the standard PR benchmarks of what is in the press. As time goes on, the press has become more separate from many of the people PR teams try to target with their campaigns, so going straight to the source is becoming ever more important,” Dobbs adds.
Lauren Mann, associate director of global internal communications at McCann Health, agrees. “Most people understand that it’s not enough to issue an old school press release,” she says. But without leveraging the power of social media and the analytics tools available to really dig into the data, PR professionals are missing an opportunity to forge deeper conversations with their intended audience.
“It’s crazy how many connections and opportunities transpire over social media,” says Mann.
The most important skill may be one that is decidedly less new school, or at least more familiar to PR pros from days past: effective internal communication. These days, internal comms may look more like connecting via virtual channels than around the water cooler or in an on-site meeting room, but it is critical to brainstorming and alignment on campaigns.
At MuckRack, teams rely on tools such as Slack. “We have a channel dedicated to specific PR activities where we brainstorm, post updates and post media opportunities,” says COO Natan Edelsburg. They also use Zoom to communicate internally, as well as for media briefings and hosting roundtable discussions.
Now, more than ever, staying in constant contact with your team and colleagues is crucial.
Facilitating easy internal communication is critical for a global company like McCann Health. Using a global intranet and other tools like Teams “allows all of our employees to stay connected, no matter where in the world they are,” says Mann. “Now, more than ever, staying in constant contact with your team and colleagues is crucial.”
Yet even with a plethora of tech tools at our disposal today, there is still something to be said for old-school tactics. As Korte says, it’s “just as important to know when not to use technology. Picking up the phone or having coffee with someone in the industry can be just as, if not more, valuable than the tools we have today.”