Media databases, automated social media scheduling tools, and analytics 4.0 – it’s all here but do PR pros really know how to use the cutting-edge technology?

We talk non-stop about how technology improves our client’s workflows but they’re not the only ones to enjoy its cost and time saving benefits as advanced technology tools can be valuable to us PR pros too!

We’re all probably sick of hearing about ChatGPT by now – I know we’ve certainly covered it enough in our recent blog posts (what it can, can’t and can never do) and PR 5.0 (the three AI eyes – views of humans, written by humans, read by humans).

This AI technology is directed at content generation activities, but in 2023 and as highlighted in a recent Prowly report, we’re seeing other automated software enhancing PR output through media list creation, press release generation, email analytics, media monitoring, and custom reporting features.

The numbers don’t lie – research shows that PR professionals are on the hunt for new software and digital solutions as global search volumes have continued to increase for almost all keywords around PR technology such as ‘PR tools’ and ‘PR database’. So, just where has all this hunting and searching got the PR industry in tech usage and unrequited tech needs?

…and research says the biggest PR challenges are…

The recent Prowly report on the state of PR technology in 2023 sampled 303 PR professionals across the world from non-profits, PR agencies, and in-house teams, and revealed key insights on the state of technology in the public relations industry. Their top PR challenges are:

  • Getting journalists to respond (52.8%)
  • Getting top-tier coverage (44.6%)

No surprises here then. We also suspect that if the Prowly research took a deeper dive, the reasons would be the all too familiar: ‘not enough time to pitch’, ‘we spoke to our contact but not interested’, ‘on holiday’, ‘other deadlines’ – you’ve heard them all!

NOTE: IBA’s experience is you overcome both these challenges not with technology but with the right pitching expertise! Yes, technology tools can be an aid to PR media targeting (read on for more details as to how) but don’t fall into the trap of overusing.

PR professionals add human values that AI, metrics, and data simply can’t deliver such as nuanced communications, personalized relationship building, trendjacking, or empathetically navigating a crisis.

So, what insights did the Prowly report reveal about the state of PR technology in 2023 – and how do these compare to IBA’s own experiences?

Tech usage needs a PR makeover

  • The Prowly report found that almost half – 41% – of PR professionals report they struggle to demonstrate the value of their work, so it’s no wonder they’re turning to technology for help!

PR pros understand more than ever that proving the value of their work is an ongoing challenge that can be measurably improved with automated work processes and insightful data – but are we ready to say goodbye to tried-and-tested PR tactics?

Spreadsheets versus understanding media contacts and their beat

  • Can you believe it! According to the Prowly report, nearly 70% of PR professionals are still using spreadsheets to store their media lists.

NOTE: This opens up issues with how to effectively track journalist moves and targeted pitching. Yes, one journalist might be interested in receiving press releases but they might not accept guest bylines – does this mean you’ll be left with multiple media contact spreadsheets, which will no doubt cause confusion for your entire pitching team. You can understand why the Prowly report found the main PR challenge is getting journalists to respond!!

  • It’s also no wonder that the Prowly report found that nearly 50% of PR professionals struggle to find relevant media contacts and 25.1% are unable to keep media lists organized!

So where can tech ease this burden?

  • According to the Prowly report, media and influencer databases are the most popular PR solution with more than half of respondents using them (62.1%)

NOTE: At IBA, we’ve developed our own relational media database, which has a user interface that enables our writers and Pitch & Place teams to update media requirements in real-time to include specific media targets. This ensures that no engagements or media opportunities for our clients are left unexplored!

In our experience, databases such as Muck Rack and Cision can be useful tools to track journalist moves but personalized outreach is for the win! It’s key to remember that PR is always about relationships, not over-automation.

Relevancy and personalization need to be at the forefront of every PRs mind – and there are some technology tools that understand this need. Bombora is a tool favorite of the IBA team – its reports, which track pre-determined keywords, can signpost to PR pros what topics are getting the most attention from specific publications and which ones are losing interest week-on-week – this helps determine focus areas for upcoming thought-leadership and can help track new or recent interest in our clients.

There’s more to social media than scheduling – look to the untapped potential of streams!

It’s not just media databases that are getting a digital revamp:

  • The Prowly report found that 36.9% of PR managers use social media management tools daily

NOTE: Our social media team are regular users of Buffer and Hootsuite – social media management tools that enable users to schedule posts across different social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter (which helps target audiences across multiple time zones), and monitor what customers are saying, and posts they’re engaging with. This technology is invaluable to improve engagement, conversions, and build stronger customer relationships – three of the most essential components of the Social Value Chain.

But it’s important to remember that social media creative tools are not solely limited to scheduling.  We find Twitter streams can be an effective way of tracking the type of content that our key journalists are interested in and publishing themselves – but again overusing this tool has its own issues in the current environment (I won’t dive into the recent X takeover)!

Algorithms to keep you on your monitoring toes

We’ve all heard the saying ‘data is king’ – but it’s thanks to technology that we are able to extract maximum value from these crucial data insights.

  • The Prowly report found that media monitoring tools are an important PR tool, with more than 50% of PR professionals using them. This is true across both agencies (55.7%) and brand teams (59%)
  • The Prowly report also found that a third of PRs reported using Google Alerts for media monitoring, followed by a wide range of other monitoring tools

NOTE: It’s worth highlighting here that Google Alerts are not a foolproof method for tracking all your coverage as Google’s regular core algorithm updates – of which the latest came in March – can impact search rankings. This is where tried-and-tested methods of manually checking magazine issues and regularly monitoring your target publications pay off!

  • Nearly 95% of PR professionals surveyed in the Prowly report monitor online news and blogs and more than 50% monitor social media, broadcast media, and print media (with print media being the least monitored)

NOTE: This hints at online media dominating the market but some industries still value hard copy so don’t ignore it completely.

It’s all about analytics 4.0 – demonstrate value with effective measurements

The pressure’s on for PR pros to prove their mettle – and what better way to demonstrate results than with data analysis!

  • Compared to 2022, the Prowly report noted a rise in interest related to tracking measurement (22% up to 38%) and reporting (5% to 17%). But really not enough increase to support the 41% of PR pros who claim to struggle to justify the value of their work and prove ROI to clients and company stakeholders

So where are PR pros looking to track their metrics?

  • According to the Prowly report, 34.4% of PR pros tend to use reporting tools monthly

NOTE: At IBA we agree! Regular reporting, whether for our clients or for our own internal marketing, is part-and-parcel of our job. We’ve talked before about the importance of effective measurements to inform sales & marketing strategies – along with how not to fall into the pitfall of vanity metrics – and there are plenty of tools out there to help!

From someone who has just recently completed the Google Analytics 4.0 certification, analytics services that enable users to measure traffic and engagement across websites and apps, are invaluable for demonstrating campaign successes – particularly when it comes to seeing how content performs in comparison to user engagement.

So what metrics are important to measure campaign successes?

  • For 72% of respondents in the Prowly report, it’s the number of media placements. For 70.6% of PR pros its online mentions. Social media metrics are also not far behind at 39.3%. But it’s worth noting that Ad Value Equivalency – which was considered the most important metric for a significantly long time – is now at the bottom (20.6%)

NOTE: Don’t be blinded by the figures. A high number of placements doesn’t always equal high-quality leads for B2B companies. We’re always dealing with the B2B sales funnel. It comes down to the classic saying of ‘quality over quantity’ – in B2B, the buying price is high and the audience small, so getting your message to the right audience in targeted media is important. The measurement of success should be through high-quality lead cultivation and conversion rates, not how many hits in tier two or tier three media.

The much-maligned press release

  • Press Release creators were identified as the least used PR technology tools (13%) in the Prowly report. It seems that 44.1% don’t use newsroom management tools and 36.9% don’t use press release creation tools – and that’s not a surprise!

NOTE: The facts don’t lie – we’ve all seen first-hand the end result of a ChatGPT writer … need I say more!

Are we in danger of analysis paralysis?

To end on a positive note – the Prowly report found that 52% of PR pros are now satisfied with their current PR tools (versus 35% in 2022). As the adoption of PR technology continues to expand, PR software platforms are introducing more features and PR professionals are gaining the confidence to use them.

NOTE: It’s important to remember however, that PR technology is ultimately a series of tools designed to enhance the PR and Marketing pro’s capabilities – they can be used to provide data and metrics. But be warned – if you’re not careful, all you have is data for data’s sake.

…and the key takeaway

Tech tools are a management aid, and it’s not just about the number of placements or percentage increases achieved. It’s about considering where and when the placements appeared, are they on message, have we enough message proliferation, did we amplify the placement on social, internally, or through our sales funnel?

These are the skills that humans PR professionals bring to the table and that build powerful sales and marketing strategies!

Hannah Watson is a PR Executive at IBA International.

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