Drawing parallels between professionals in PR, marketing, and sales is easy. After all, there are many similar techniques, tactics, and tools used between the three disciplines.
But there’s one tool every sales professional can’t live without that very few PR, marketing, and communications people take advantage of: The CRM. And though those in PR and communications may not use “CRM” in their day-to-day terminology, their needs are strikingly similar to those in sales: tracking prospects and clients (or journalist contacts), maintaining contracts (or nurturing relationships), and—maybe most important of all—recording notes from conversations.
Why do so few in communications-related fields take advantage of integrated, CRM-like tracking tools? Keeping accurate records of interactions with journalists, especially, allow entire teams to stay informed and on message. That’s value to the company, the department, and the client that can be measured in clarity, success, and retention. From conversations with my clients, I’ve discovered the following reasons why using a CRM-style tool is vital for communications and PR professionals:
Cost: In today’s highly competitive market, PR professionals look for every edge that will land, and keep, the next big client. That means acquiring a lot of tools, and nothing beats up the bottom line like excessive overhead. So the thinking shifts to “If I can’t track its ROI, I’m not shelling out for it”. Which isn’t a bad mentality—any tool we evaluate should have some demonstrable ROI—but, I’d wager when you purchase a new watch or pair of shoes, you don’t consider ROI. You simply need these items. So it is (or should be) with a client management tool.
Habit: Many professionals get into habits. Some of them good, some, not so much. But either way, habits are hard to break. Whether it’s via a paper file, whiteboard, or Excel spreadsheet, everyone has a way to record pitches and conversations to and with journalists. Problem is, when a colleague answers a journalist’s call to clarify a point and has to spend ten minutes searching either for the team lead or a scrawled note, things can go sideways. With a properly maintained CRM, that simply won’t happen. And never being off message, or lost for a detail, is a very good habit to get into.
Availability: The majority of professionals utilize some sort of list-building tool and one of many available distribution tools. But very rarely are any of these tools complete solutions. If you’re in sales, it takes no effort to find a CRM that plug into many other sales tools. But many of them don’t quite fit for communicators. So the primary argument becomes, “None of my vendors offer a useful or comprehensive CRM, stand-alones are too expensive, and so far my wall of Post-it notes is working.”
If it is in fact working, then it’s hard to disagree with that argument—but I will anyway. That’s because tracking ROI from a CRM-style tracking tool is very simple. Apply a dollar figure to every minute you spend dealing with outreach and inbound inquiries, for every minute spent consulting with another team member, or a filing cabinet with a semi-seized drawer. Subtract that amount from your profit. If after twelve months it’s less than the cost of a cheap CRM, congratulations, you have an amazing staff or a well-organized (and massive) whiteboard. For everyone else, calculate what you could have saved by purchasing the great-great-grandchild of an office corkboard.
So when you’re nearing your yearly (and dreaded) evaluation period, consider asking your current vendor if they offer an included CRM or integrated tracking tool (or if they even have plans to build one) that includes a contact database, an events manager, and other features such as the ability to add notes to contacts or events for your entire team to see.
But heck, why wait until evaluation time, why not call up your current vendor now and find out what their plans and strategies are? The answers may surprise you. Hopefully they’ll pleasantly surprise you. Journalists who get a consistent and clear message will definitely appreciate it.
And as always, in the end, relationships are king.