Tech in marketing and PR: more than shiny objects searching for problems

Tech in marketing and PR: more than shiny objects searching for problems

A positive attitude to new apps and tools is critical to innovation in public relations.

The market for technology in marketing and public relations is exploding. There’s seemingly a tool for every aspect of our work.

It’s possible to run a news desk or community management campaign from your phone using listening, content, channel and monitoring apps.

Three years ago the #PRstack project identified 150 different apps and tools.

I’m leading an open source project for the CIPR that builds on #PRstack to create a new, crowdsourced database of apps and tools.

Please submit your favourite tool using the online form if you haven’t already. We reached 80 submissions this week.

Communication and public relations teams have been slow to adopt technology.

There’s a natural reluctance to automate human interaction and engagement but there is huge value that tools can provide in terms of helping us to work more efficiently and effectively.

As a profession we’ve started in invest properly in technology. It’s a line item that has started to appear in budgets over the past five years.

Paying your way

Vendors often use freemium models as an entry point to the market. Proceed with caution. Make sure you understand the pay off in terms of data, scope and value exchange.

Google’s Keyword tool is a great service for discovering organic search terms but Google isn’t a charity. Google wants to lock you into paid search.

Moz Bar is a useful third party tool to help build organic search campaigns. It serves page and domain authority data via its Chrome bookmark but you’ll struggle to build a robust SEO campaign without Moz Pro, the commercial version.

If you want to evaluate a tool, a much better way is to set up a trial with vendors and budget for tools as part of a plan.

Ask to speak to other customers as part of your review process to understand the benefits and value of a tool in day to day practice.

Evaluating marketing and PR technology

There are a lot of shiny solutions in marketing and public relations technology looking for a problem. Here are four areas to consider when you’re evaluating a new tool. Vendors selling into the market would be advised to align their sales proposition accordingly.

Value proposition

Technology should deliver one of two benefits: it should either help you save time or cost or work smarter to deliver better results.

It’s typically a good route into new services or markets. Content, channel and community management, paid media and SEO are all examples of where our business has developed through innovation and tools.

A positive outlook and test and learn attitude is critical to spotting new opportunities. Give someone in your organisation responsibility for innovation and ask them to report regularly to the business.

Workflow integration

Technology should simplify processes and enable you to work smarter but if it requires a fundamental change in behaviour it is likely to be rejected. That can be a costly error in time and money. Please see the related point about scale.

Conversely devices such as mobile phone and tablets and tools such as Google Doc and WhatsApp are almost certainly being used in any large organisation outside the scope of existing governance and IT policies. It’s because they are easy to use and deliver huge value.

This shift has led to organisations developing bring your own device policies and extending the provision of social media and messaging policies.

Business model

Consider how the app or tool integrates with your business model.

Is it an overhead cost that needs to be absorbed by your business or a variable cost that can be passed on to a customer as part of your service.

The typical lifecycle is that new tools are initially passed on as a cost to clients and absorbed over time as they become normalised.

The exception are investments that are fundamental to an organisation’s workflow such as databases or CRM system, or service proposition.


Using an app on a mobile device is an entirely different proposition to rolling out an enterprise solution in an office or multiple offices.

The first is effectively a consumer solution, while the second has implications for integration into workflow, language and training.

There are tremendous benefits to being an early adopter of technology but avoid bright shiny products and services looking for solutions.

Use trials to evaluate new apps and tools and test and learn. Adopt new technologies only after considering the impact on every aspect of your business.

Expert opinion: why public relations under invests in tools

By Darryl Sparey

There’s a significant issue in the under-investment in technology in public relations particularly in agencies but also in-house.

The cost of entry into the market is a laptop and an internet connection. It’s led to the market under appreciating the value of services and tools.

Cowboy tools vendors have damaged both the agency and in-house view of technology. Poor technology, sold by sales people that don't take the time to understand the client's issues, on long-term contracts has left the industry apprehensive to investment. 

The supplier space has improved and professionalised, but as huge vendors have grown through acquisitions they have focused on services and not necessarily the needs of practitioners.

Significant re-development of legacy tools and platforms needs to be undertaken to tailor the services to customer's workflow and needs, and there is not the appetite for the investment required to do that.

This is being challenged as new entrants like PRGloo, Polecat, Roxhill and Signal have moved into the space, with no legacy technology or customers to support. That’s a good thing.

The industry needs to invest in tools to keep pace with changing client requirements.

Increasingly, we need to execute campaigns across Paid, Earned, Owned and Shared channels, and make sure that we give the great content that we create the broadest opportunity for engagement with audiences or publics.

As an industry we have an opportunity for the value of the services we provide to increase and for the quality of the insights we provide our clients to improve.

We have the chance to create and prove a demonstrable link between insight, activity, output and outcome. But we need to invest in the tools to do it.

Darryl Sparey is business development director at international public relations agency Hotwire, and has previously worked for both start up and large vendors in the public relations market.


#1 There’s no such thing as free

Budget for tool investment as part of your business plan. Have a healthy scepticism of free tools. There will be a payoff.

#2 Horizon scanning

Have a positive attitude to new technology. Appoint someone within your organisation to review and report on technology.

#3 Evaluating technology

Avoid shiny objects. Evaluate tech in terms of value proposition, workflow, business model and scale.

95 tools to help you work smarter in public relations

95 tools to help you work smarter in public relations

Updated: Public relations dissertation topics

Updated: Public relations dissertation topics