COVID-19 has driven change in the PR profession – through the shift to WFH and hybrid work. Communicators have earned more respect in all organizations as communication has been central to effective organizational performance. This has increased the workload of PR pros, so it is in your interest to find new tools and apps to improve your PR productivity.
Many hundreds of tools and apps are claimed to improve your PR productivity. No exaggeration! The key is to find the best ones for your use. To do this, you need to:
- know the improved outcome you want using a new tool or app;
- confirm how this improved outcome will tangibly lead to a better team and organizational performance;
- select the most effective tool or app to achieve this;
- know how to best use the selected tool or app.
What is productivity?
We need to know what we are talking about. Productivity is a ratio of output to input. Inputs are the resources used in the production process, such as labor, materials, and technology. Output comprises a product or service, or both.
But in the services sector like PR, focusing on something quantitative, like the number of press releases you distribute, for example, will not give you an accurate productivity picture because it doesn’t provide an outcome.
What was the quality of the release? How many journalists responded and published? Will they refer to you for future news angles? Will they recommend you to their colleagues?
These are some of the reasons why there are other approaches to productivity measurement. Some companies divide the revenue generated by each worker, while some might offer their employees performance objectives, and then measure productivity against these. They might even look at productivity in the light of client or employer experience and satisfaction with the service they receive.
Why PR productivity is important
Good levels of productivity are considered to be important in every workplace because this generates many benefits to the organization and to employees. Here are some of these benefits:
- Higher profitability for companies and better performance in government and non-government organizations;
- Greater customer, stakeholder, and shareholder satisfaction and better response;
- Greater employee wellbeing;
- Higher employee satisfaction;
- Higher employee engagement.
An informed way to improve your PR productivity
A key resource for improving productivity is a suitable tool or app used for a specific purpose. Here are tips for finding and using PR tools and apps to improve your PR productivity. Note that some of the tips are adapted from a recent PRmoment article:
1. Be methodical
Take note of all the most pertinent features of each potential tool or app you are evaluating. You could allocate a score of 5 or 10 for each effective feature compared with any drawbacks. And, you could even show scores in a matrix, say, effectiveness or usefulness of each feature vs. cost, ease of use, or difficulty in using. Then multiply the score on each feature on the X axis by the scores allocated for cost, ease of use, etc. Add up the X times Y scores to reach a total for each tool or app.
Documenting the evaluation in this way will enable you to justify the cost or the change to whoever is going to approve the purchase, and to the potential users of the item.
You may not be able to find the perfect tool, but at least you conducted a methodical assessment. You can use this to compare against other competing items. As no tool is perfect, make the most of one that’s easy to use.
Focus on the most useful aspects
Experts advise focusing on day-to-day usage. They say it’s better to have a solution that fits wide, practical uses rather than having a glamorous product with a limited range of features.
2. Try new tools and apps yourself before purchasing
There is no substitute for trying out a new product yourself before purchase. Watch a demonstration and then ask to work on a tool before committing to a significant expense.
Propose a trial period, determine suitable periods for contracts, see if there is a subscription cost applicable to the number of users, and ensure available support.
Take note of the positive and negative features of your current product/s and their operating problems and positives. By doing this, check the completion date of existing contracts. You may well be committed to a date to complete, or perhaps your access and cost of access may roll over each month because the product provider will have your business credit card number.
Try asking the new product provider what they think are the best features of their product, and then test their honesty by asking about any possible limitations.
Check for product reviews and updates
There’s a reason why the best-known is best-known – start selecting from those tools. Then, read product reviews after a product demo, possibly on YouTube. Having seen the demo, you can now better follow how the tool works and understand the comments of the product provider.
Try it out
Make sure it is easy to use; a new shiny new tool that’s difficult to use won’t get used. Double-check that the tool suits the whole range of your team’s various needs.
Jodie Maskill, PR operations director at Jaywing PR, advises: “Always make sure you get a trial period, typically of one to four weeks. This allows you to work with the tool’s 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, reporting on weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities from everyone’s viewpoint.”
3. Develop a customized solution
Try to reach a tailored solution in which your various tools complement each other and enable you to form a view of your audience, competitors, and your current and likely impact.
4. Introduce into your workplace
Decide how the new tool/s can be integrated into your team’s workflow, and plan how to discuss with your team how to introduce the new product/s so they support the use of the new tool.
5. Ask for follow up testimonials
With planned purchases that have a significant cost, ask the vendor for at least three customer contacts so you can speak with them about their experiences when they use the tool or app.
6. Further tips on team member productivity
If you are responsible for managing or supervising the individual productivity of team members, you may like to read my article, “6 ways to improve team productivity.”
Great tools and apps to improve your PR productivity
Tools serve two purposes in PR. They enable us to work smarter and more effectively. Stephen Waddington, a UK communication expert, says tools can be applied best in two areas:
- team and client communication and workflow
- supporting effectiveness and execution.
According to Waddington, tools should save time and resources. With these principles in mind, you should be able to develop a tool budget and determine the ultimate value of a tool to your PR role.
If you are a PR pro seeking to investigate tools and apps to help increase your productivity, you should review regular and repeated activities that have clear processes. Gini Dietrich of Spins Sucks says she gets her team members to ask themselves three questions:
- What are the tasks you hate doing?
- What are the tasks you enjoy doing but probably shouldn’t do?
- And what are the tasks only you can do (or you can do best in your team)?
Then, she added, team members decide what can be delegated or automated to enable them to focus on their core areas of interest and expertise.
1. For your approval and signature
COVID-19 has obviously hit just about everyone in business, whether based in the office, working in a hybrid capacity, or fully WFH. The logistical complexities of distance greatly affect remote-working corporate PR managers and supervisors, as well as freelancers and owners of PR firms.
In these capacities, you will be obliged to put your signature on many formal documents. You are best-served to sign these using an online signature, which provides an efficient and secure way to conduct business. In contrast, hard copies are comparatively time-consuming to copy, file, and deliver by email or courier.
2. Be careful, because productivity apps can make you more distracted
When you switch from one task to another (e.g. from editing a newsletter to checking your smartphone because you want to check on other tasks entered on your to-do list app), you will need to make up for lost time caused by refocusing on the original task. It’s all too easy to get caught up on your phone on quite different activities, such as checking new texts, reading new social media conversations, and news alerts. So, you are very likely to fall behind your planned program if you switch from your original task.
3. Tools are only as good as the productive use you can make of them
PR pros find that tools need to be carefully evaluated so they meet workflow needs. This is important to minimize potential problems of their interface with existing tools, messy integration into the workflow, and possible low user motivation. Vendors usually have a familiarization process that highlights the best attributes of a tool, but the process doesn’t show how it fits into place for the needs of your specific users. The introduction of a new tool should include sufficient support for onboarding and training.
To definitely become productive and effective when working at home or the office, the question is not just how efficiently you use a tool. What’s more important is that the task needs to be important and worthwhile from an outcome point of view. Legendary management consultant, educator, and author, Peter Drucker said:
“There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.”
4. Building a tool collection
The range of available PR tools includes software for:
- Media relations, including media research, pitching, and monitoring
- Summary books of media coverage
- Finding and communicating about and with influencers
- Social media monitoring and posting
- Stakeholder relations
- Planning business events, such as conferences and product launches
- Finding speaking engagements
- Internal communication
- Community relations
- Tools for creating infographics
- Free stock photo sites
5. Big list of tools and apps to improve your PR productivity in 2020 and 2021
Hundreds of tools and apps to improve PR productivity can be accessed on the internet. In fact, there are so many that careful thought needs to be given to the array of competing products. In view of this, the tips outlined in the first half of this articles will be helpful in evaluating and deciding on the right new tools and apps for your purposes. Here’s a great big list to help you start the search:
- 10 tools PR pros have turned to in 2021 August 2021, PR Daily
- 14 terrific – and affordable – tools for PR pros December 2020, PR Daily
- 20 productivity apps every communicator should consider 2021, PR Daily
- 25 best PR tools to improve your productivity – The definitive guide 2021, Prezly
- A complete guide to PR tools (w/ 30+ tools to consider) Undated, Prowly
- A gigantic list of tools for communicators [30 tools + reader suggestions] June 2020, Gini Dietrich, Spin Sucks
- All the absolutely awesome PR tools for communications professionals, Stuart Bruce, August 2020
- Four PRM tools to use in earned media December 2020, Dietrich, Spin Sucks
- Crowdsourcing a list of AI tools [Currently 154 in the list] Stephen Waddington 2019
- #PRstack [Crowdsourced list of more than 250 PR tools and 48 practitioner guides] 2019, Stephen Waddington
- How to get started with the PR Stack of 250+ PR tools Undated, Frederick Vincx
- The essential guide to choosing PR software in 2021 Undated, Muck Rack
[PS. I have no financial interest in any of the above lists of tools.]
6. Other sources of information
- Good platforms include Google Docs (office and messaging), Hubspot (content marketing and pipeline development), and Prowly (influencer relations and press office).
- AnswerThePublic and CoverageBook have both been developed by a PR agency to support search insights and reporting.
- Guild is intended as a platform for community development.
- Propel My PR, an influencer relations and monitoring CRM system has been developed by a former agency team.
He observes there is limited adoption of AI tools in PR.