Ask any PR professional to describe their industry and it is likely the phrase ‘fast paced’ will crop up. Although this seems a bit of a cliché it also happens to be true.
In the course of an average day there are multiple deadlines and targets to hit, opportunities and requests to respond to and the more routine tasks such as pitching to the media, updating clients on the progress of campaigns and tracking all-important coverage.
Fortunately a multitude of media monitoring software platforms are available to make our lives easier. Combining forward features lists, media contacts and clipping tools, these platforms can help us to perform more efficiently and provide us with dependable data that would otherwise be hard to source. For a PR agency to achieve the best possible coverage for its clients, it must have the highest quality software on the market.
With this in mind, we set out to find a new media monitoring platform capable of matching the needs of a rapidly expanding agency. Unsurprisingly, we came across a number of vendors promising a wide array of tools and applications that we apparently needed and all claimed to be the best in the business. But after speaking to those that made our shortlist, we were left somewhat baffled by the massive difference in the prices quoted.
Trial and error
In order to get a better idea of what these platforms had to offer, we requested a trial. This was surprisingly difficult to obtain given the sizeable investment required on our part and the fact that each individual software package offered far too many features to explore in a half-hour demonstration. However, our persistence paid off and, following numerous phone calls, we were eventually able to test the features and functions of the platforms we were interested in.
Starting out with the clipping tools on offer, it soon became clear that there were more similarities than differences between them. The coverage delivered to our inbox each morning was broadly the same, albeit presented in various formats, but it proved useful being able to compare and contrast each of the user interfaces and self-service tools.
The acid test was the quality of the media contacts database and forward features. Although none of the vendors provided us with full access, we were able to see enough to determine which catered for our specific needs. A primary concern was the strength of the international contacts database. In almost every case, we found that outside of the UK and US, the data was patchy at best – highlighting the need to conduct searches specific to your sectors before making a final decision.
Face-time and functionality
Functionality and performance was another crucial factor for us. Although online demonstrations can give you a good feel for what the product can do, performance might be radically different once deployed on your company’s own IT system. Indeed, after the trial of each platform expired, we still had concerns over speed and decided to meet with the salespeople face-to-face to get them to run the platform within our native desktop environment.
Customer service proved to be a deciding factor in this respect. We met with several professional and experienced salespeople who easily handled any queries we had, but dealing with the vendors on a prolonged basis proved more difficult, with some failing to fulfil their promises and others changing our point of contact several times.
When you are investing in sophisticated (and not inexpensive) software, the ability to quickly and easily contact a member of staff for help and advice is of upmost importance. If the customer care is not there at the point of sale it is fairly reasonable to assume that the experience will be similar with ongoing support.
The social media aspect
The value of social media can be hard to quantify and part of our job as PR professionals is to educate clients on how they can benefit from this relatively new channel. So it was rather ironic that the many social media monitoring tools and apps on offer left us wondering whether they could really be put to good use. Undoubtedly, having the contact details for the top twenty bloggers in your sector is important, but spending thousands on brightening your clients Facebook page seemed a little extravagant.
Clippings tools proved another potential stumbling block. Although the vendor didn’t explicitly lie to me, they did downplay the cost of international clippings, inferring that they were included as part of the proposed package. It was only when I questioned them more closely on Asia and India in particular that he conceded that there were additional costs for clippings from certain countries. If I had not done so, I would have thought I was paying a good price for international clippings, only to have a nasty surprise further down the line.
Finding the right fit
Following a thorough evaluation of the media monitoring platforms on our shortlist, it was the quality of the data delivered that drove our final purchasing decision.
Certainly, the platform we settled on will undoubtedly change our working day for the better, but finding the media monitoring software that was best for our business proved a complex and time-consuming process and we learned some important lessons along the way:
- Stick to your specification objectives. Do not underestimate the ability of the salesperson to tempt you with unnecessary applications
- Be clear on costs. You will need to root-out hidden charges
- Is it future proof? Updates and upgrades were promised by the majority of the vendors we looked at and, to be fair, they were necessary
After all, this is a fast-paced industry.