Before the invention and subsequent mass adoption of the internet, media relations was an entirely analog practice. PR people still thumbed through print newspapers and magazines to discover new journalists, pitched media contacts almost entirely by phone and even issued press releases by courier.
The advent of the internet and other digital-age developments, however, changed the media relations landscape considerably. Media databases, email, social media and the internet all offer media relations teams today access to a greater volume and diversity of journalists, news and high-value data than ever before. And yet, in the digital age, practicing PR has never been more complicated.
Without a structured means of analyzing and putting their primary and third-party media relations data to work, media relations teams today struggle not only to compete for reporter relationships but to sustain those relationships once they’re made.
As tweets including the all-too-familiar #PRFail hashtag often reflect, media animosity towards PR people is rarely born out of thin air. More often, PR shaming is a response to media relations efforts that fail to understand and appreciate the journalists and influencers they aim to reach and which are symptomatic of one of the greatest threats to the industry today: data mismanagement.
The Inexplicable PR Software Paradox
While PR people have by many measures embraced advanced software in the digital age, certain indicators show that the industry’s adoption of PR-specific tools may be limited largely to those that track PR performance and offer media database access.
The success of software like TrendKite, for example, which sold to behemoth vendor Cision for nearly a quarter-billion dollars in 2019, is likely reflective of where performance and media mention tracking rank among PR and communication professionals’ priorities.
Meanwhile, Cision, which is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has long made the majority of its revenue selling firms access to its media database, which provides research on and contact information for more than a billion key news organizations, journalists and influencers.
Tools designed to help PR people understand, manage and strengthen their media relationships, however, have not enjoyed as much success. This is particularly surprising considering the extent to which relationship tracking tools have been enthusiastically embraced by nearly every other sector.
Emulating the Standard-bearers for Relationship Tracking Tools
Since the 1980s, sales and marketing professionals have relied on database marketing, and tools descendent of database marketing, to improve their marketing and sales performance.
In more recent decades, CRM and sales force automation software have become even more pervasive, advancing substantially the capacity of businesses to capture new categories of data and use it to further improve sales and marketing in addition to other key performance areas.
Yet, while most high-performing sales and marketing teams today meticulously map every point of customer engagement using some digital means, media relations teams have been slow to use software specifically as a way to draw insights from their media relationships.
Not surprisingly, standards for customer satisfaction among consumer goods and services businesses have, by many measures, improved in the digital age, while relationships between journalists and PR people have stagnated or, in an increasing number of cases, grown hostile.
The inherent capacity of relationship tracking tools to use businesses’ primary and third-party data to identify opportunities to draw new or existing customers to purchase is a feature PR firms can and should repurpose to improve media relations.
Relationship Tracking in the Context of Media Relations
Provided the software to identify email response rates across their teams’ media-facing correspondence over time, PR firms and departments can learn more about the journalists with which their organizations communicate and the strengths and weaknesses of their respective media relations programs.
As email data is enriched over time, firms’ third party-reporter data becomes proportionately richer. Augmented by first-party engagement data, reporter data can reflect both the engagement tactics most successful among specific reporters in addition to other key insights about the firms’ successful reporter interactions.
In particular, the latter provides leadership with important data reflecting the value of their overall media relations program and can inform how they should go about improving it. Armed with a more in-depth and objective understanding of their relationships, firms can make more strategic account staffing decisions and more deftly identify strengths and resolve weaknesses.
Going Beyond Relationship Tracking
Just as important as primary email data and third-party media list data, there are other categories of key data media relations teams collect, often through primary research, that are often overlooked in the management and execution of media relations.
One such category of data is the firm editorial calendar: a compilation of lists published by media outlets on an annual basis, reflecting which themes and topics their editorial teams plan to cover for that calendar year.
Often published in PDF format and hidden inside publications’ media kits, PR firms and media relations teams spend countless hours researching editorial calendars and committing those topics that are client-relevant to excel spreadsheets.
Hypothetically, software that provides some means for managing this category of data can enable firms to thread email data, secondary media list data and gathered editorial calendars together to easily identify high-value, high-potential media outreach opportunities in a matter of minutes.
Where Do We Go From Here?
For discerning firms seeking some kind of PR data management solution, there is a developing “PRM” market aimed at making CRM-like tools available specifically for those in PR. Companies like Prowly, PR Gloo and Propel each offer similar solutions at price points that likely make sense for those who have done their research and know what they’re looking for.
But for those who struggle to visualize what a CRM platform might look like in the context of their agency, experimenting with less expensive, more customizable software might be a better place to start. Working with platforms like AirTable, for instance, firms can begin to architect a platform that can manage the data they have currently – media lists, editorial calendars, etc – while beginning to integrate real-time email data to manifest a fledgling custom CRM.
Particularly for those agencies that are new to CRM, starting with a cheaper alternative to a fully-loaded CRM provides an opportunity for the agency to solve some of the common issues associated with first-time software adoption, but at a lower cost. Organizational buy-in, for example, can be a major hurdle to seeing ROI with any software, CRM in particular. Easily customizable platforms like AirTable can be useful in experimenting with different solutions quickly, enabling leadership to easily articulate the firm’s needs when exploring more powerful solutions later down the line.