Having a job in PR is kind of weird.
There are still lots of people who might think you’re just pitching the media all day while in reality you’ve got a big job: counseling clients, brainstorming cool strategies, responding to the crisis du jour, making news and building strong connections to your communities.
That’s why it’s nice when someone raises his head above the noise and takes the time to identify the latest in labor saving and value-added PR services. Jack Jackson and Norman Birnbach did just that when they presented Smart Tools for Independent PR Pros. The occasion was a recent monthly lunch for PRSA Boston’s Independent Practitioners Network.
Both Norman and Jack own PR businesses – Norman manages Birnbach Communications and Jack heads On-Message Public Relations – so their map of the PR vendor landscape arrives with real-world experience behind it. In their presentation, they set out to describe the big service categories critical to any PR business, such as accounting software, collaboration tools, conference services and so on.
I took their lead and added my own two cents. My list of 10 vendors every PR person should know highlights products and services that have proved invaluable in my own career in corporate, agency and independent PR. The editorial comments and judgment calls are all mine.
- QuickBooks, PeachTree andExpress Accounts stand out in the accounting, billing, tax reporting and time logging category. If Excel is still how you track your numbers, it’s time to move up to one of these software packages.
- FreeConferenceCall.com and FreeConference.com are popular substitutes for paid subscription services. GoToMeeting, while offering a free version as well, is a top choice among pay-for services for anyone needing to accommodate more than 25 meeting attendees. Its toolset is deep, too.
- WordPress is the go-to content management system for many small and mid-size businesses. But keep your eye on open source competitors like Drupal and Joomla!, which are quickly becoming just as easy to use as WordPress, and bring with them deeper capabilities, like multi-site management, and tools, like personalization, that are already reshaping user experience on the web.
- Bizland, Google Apps, GoDaddy – it’s a toss-up. You need a site hosting service for your website. Your choice among these three comes down to minor differences in features and functions, but you can’t go wrong with any one of them.
- Cision and Vocus are the granddaddies in media databases. Now that they’re merging, get ready for a potential hike in subscription rates, or the debut of lighter versions for lower budgets. If cost is an issue, go lean with MyMediaInfo.com, but there will be trade-offs in the database’s breadth and depth.
- BusinessWireand PR Newswire are the gold standard in media distribution services, but gold is often what they cost. So, look around. PR Web and MarketWired, among others, use a more economical ecommerce model. There are, in fact, many media distribution services to choose from.
- Google News Alerts is a popular online media monitoring service, and it’s free. Paid services give you more reach and fancier reports, but you can pay thousands of dollars a year if you go with Meltwater, Cision, Vocus, or any of the others.
- DropBox is a super easy and ubiquitous document and image-sharing service. I’ve also heard good things about Box and Files Anywhere. Google Apps and Evernote fall into the same camp of collaboration tools. The real value of sharing documents in the cloud is to avoid the old bane of version control.
- Skype or Google Hangouts. What can we say? Hangouts and Skype are freemium voice over IP services with instant messaging capabilities. If you want face-time, you need one of these.
- GoToMeeting, JoinMe and WebEx run neck-and-neck as video and web conferencing services. If you are in PR, you already know them as a way to present PowerPoint slideshows for webinars.
Given so many choices for your PR business, the natural question is, where do I start? Start by cataloging your needs. List what you are using now, and make a note of what’s outdated. Ask yourself, what’s not working? Where am I frustrated? Next, determine your clients’ hot points, survey the technology landscape, calculate your price sensitivity, begin evaluating solutions, and define implementation based on priorities.