Top tips for choosing PR tools

So many tools, so little time. How do you choose the right ones for your PR work? According to Jonny Bentwood, global head of data and analytics at PR firm Golin, there are three ways to make sure your business runs efficiently, first, yes, you do need the right tools, but you also must make sure you have the right people using them, using the right process. He explains: “Unfortunately, errors are often made in each of these stages resulting in costly consequences. Even if you have the best tech without suitable training and a culture change to ensure adoption then any investment is a waste of time.” The list below of 14 tips for choosing PR tech includes three pieces of Bentwood wisdom for avoiding costly mistakes.

How to choose best tools

Set clear goals

Allison Spray, managing director, data + analytics at PR firm H+K Strategies, says: “Choosing the right tool for your business (or your client) isn’t so different from any planning process: you need to start with what you’re trying to achieve. Being clear and specific about what you need a tool to do will yield far greater results than generic searches. For example; rather than saying you need a social listening partner, take the time to outline what channels and metrics you’ll need, how your teams will work with the tool, and any specifics like cost or reviews.”

Be methodical

Spray explains further: “We weight all crucial components into a composite metric – a Fit for Purpose score. This helps ensure objectivity and, because it’s transparent, makes it much easier for senior decision makers to understand recommendations. Ultimately, there may not be one ‘right’ answer but having a methodological approach makes sure you’ve considered all the angles.”

Buy centrally

Golin’s Bentwood says: “Some technology vendors favour an approach whereby their salespeople show huge amounts of love to relatively junior PR staff in multiple offices. Instead of selling top-down they make their solution a must-have and demanded by the people doing the day-to-day work. I have personally seen over 20 different contracts from the same company each with a varying end-date and license fee. This made the process of cancelling, or even knowing how much was being spent globally, incredibly difficult. The solution – centrally buy all technology to save costs and critically enable collaboration across teams as they all have the same solution.”  

Remember your expertise is in PR, not tech!

Bentwood says: “Most PR firms have the capabilities to build strong, robust platforms. Whether it’s creating websites for clients or dynamic VR showing off a brand, the advancement in this skillset is superb. However, I have seen far too many agencies decide to build their own tech rather than partner. The results most often fail either because the techies become the bottleneck to making the solution work where client-billable work takes priority or they are always chasing the latest API (application programming interface).”

Focus on most useful

Bentwood advises focusing on day-to-day usage: “When it comes to picking a vendor, take the emotion out of it and focus less on functionality and more on use case. It’s better to have a solution that fits 80% of your use cases rather than a shiny toy that is great for that 10% that is most noticeable. Add a partnership where your goals are the same and you have makings of a great investment.”

Keep looking

Jodie Maskill, PR operations director at agency Jaywing PR, likes to stay alert: “In a world where data dominates, and tool solutions are constantly updating, developing and changing – you can’t afford to look away too long. Whenever I see great pieces of coverage or research I want to know how they did it and what tools, methodologies or techniques were used. If you’re always looking, you won’t miss anything.”

Book a demo

Maskill says: “Once you come across a tool, you can read the manual to death, but there’s no quicker learning curve than ‘doing’. The tool provider is always happy to jump on a video call, understand what problems your wanting answers to and then showing you how their tool can solve said problems.

“I always say go into these meetings with a few bullet points on what tools you have now, what issues you use those tools to answer and contract end dates – this keeps everyone honest around when you could become a potential customer. Make sure you get them to disclose their prices before you give away budgets, and also feel free to ask them what they think makes their tool better than the one you currently have.”

Read reviews

Maskill adds: “Once the demo is done I like to read reviews, I do this after the demo because I now have a working understanding of the tool and can add context to comments. Personally, I favour G2 – it’s free, has structured pros and cons and has advice from leading experts/users.”

Try it out

Maskill also advises try before you buy: “Always make sure you get a trial period, typically one to four weeks. This allows you to work with the tools full features alongside your current tool and truly live with it before major decisions. I also like to select three other people who are heavy users of the current tool, helping to spot weaknesses, strengths and opportunities from everyone’s viewpoint.”

Start with best-known

In the first of four pieces of advice, Gemma Moroney, head of insight and strategy at PR agency Mischief (with thanks to Darika Ahrens, digital director at PR agency MHP for contributing thoughts too), says: “There’s a reason the best-known are best-known – start with them.”

Create a tailored solution

Moroney says: “Aim for complementary tools that build a picture of the audience, organisation, competitors, influence landscape and your impact.”

Make sure it is easy to use

Moroney explains: “A tool that’s a pain to use will gather dust. Check it’s intuitive and meets team needs across different disciplines, markets, languages.”

Like the vendor

Last, but importantly, make sure you are going to get good customer support says Moroney: “Customer service and consistency matters”.

Consider less well-known products too

Madalina Grigorie, director at PR consultancy OMG Partners, says: "When you work in-house, using the right tools can help as force multipliers, especially when you are the only PR person in the team. Having access to a good media database and a great monitoring tool can help practitioners easily show their media outreach ROI. I have trialled both PR software tools from established providers and start-ups and I've had the best results from a combination of an online newsroom like the one pr.co offers and a medium-sized media database and monitoring tool. Going for the well-known names is not necessarily the best approach as smaller companies offer more flexibility in terms of their PR tools."

Case study

My top tools

Sophie Fox, senior account executive at agency Samphire Communications, discusses the tools she finds most useful:

“It’s the one thing I’d say doesn’t actually come down to cost – Gorkana is still king and I’ve used it everywhere alongside other tools, although it is expensive.

“I do however also use some other tools because they are both easy to use and they email me – I don’t have to proactively check, requests come to me (Food4Media and TravMedia). I also use the free service #journorequests – I do still check the hashtag on Twitter, but also get one email rounding all the requests for the day. All the above send me emails throughout the day. Gorkana does send me requests too via email but rarely, I usually check the homepage.

“I have always used Response Source too – but only for its request function, not for journalist search or for sending out a release (which I write less and less of now). I find a great range of journalists use this, but you do get a few bloggers that aren’t quite right.

“I have used another tool that cost a lot, but was incredibly difficult to use. Hence not carrying it over to another agency! We don’t have enough time – it needs to be straightforward to get an email, request, or circulation.”

Once you have chosen the best tools, the next step is working with them, and for those of you who are thinking: “Yes, I do work alongside a lot of tools”, we feel your pain!