In case you haven’t figured it out, it’s pretty hard to do effective PR with a bean counter and a slide rule. You need quality tools.
And unless your firm is lucky enough to be loaded with boundless brains and a bottomless budget, you’re going to need to rely on some PR services vendors to help plot out and reel in those big results your client expects—including finding the most appropriate journalists and well-matched influencers for your pitch, monitoring all the media sources out there to stay “in the know,” and measuring the validity of your results and the proper ROI of your efforts.
There’s a ton of tools and vendors out there, but how do you know if they can really deliver the goods? Surprisingly, it’s not always there in the marketing lingo. After all, the “largest” media database doesn’t necessarily mean the “most accurate” or “most frequently updated”—in fact, it can just as often mean “most quickly stuffed with unqualified data.” And even a quality-conscious agency that relies on a questionable database can expect to see itself tagged with a “questionable” reputation of its own.
Compare apples to apples
To weed out the riffraff when you’re looking for a new database or media monitoring vendor, you can go to review sites like G2 Crowd or Capterra, where you can compare PR software and services based on peer ratings—meaning other PR pros who actually use the products—and not have to rely on what a web site or sales person tells you. These sites are essentially like Yelp for software, except even better because all the reviews and contributors are verified.
Some sites like G2 Crowd have handy comparison tools that let you compare multiple vendors and see how they stack up against each other at a high level along a continuum of ratings criteria, such as:
- Ease of use
- How easy the vendor is to do business with
- Set up and user adoption
- Customer support
Crowdsource the real story before you buy
Take advantage of the volume of reviews these sites offer by looking for the proportion of thumbs-up (or thumbs-down) comments about product features, purchase experiences and service and support factors—whatever matters most to you. If your agency has a solid IT team, for example, then support might not be as important as speed. But if you don’t have one, then hands-on service might trump quick output. Here are some tips for making the most out of user reviews:
- Read through the reviews carefully, particularly the worst and the best ones. Look for things that matter to you. If you’re tired of relentlessly pushy salespeople, for example, look for users’ comments about the purchase experience. Or if you’ve been quoted a discounted price by a vendor, keep an eye out for reviewers who warn that “you get what you pay for.”
- Make notes about what people complain about most. Do this vendor’s tools go down too frequently, or do they experience outages at critical times? Do users have a hard time exporting coverage or creating executive reports? Does the company suddenly “go quiet” once you’ve signed the deal—which might suggest that customer support might not be too reliable?
- Don’t rely too much on any single complaint. If the Internet Age has taught us anything, it’s that some disgruntled customers tend to exaggerate out of frustration. If someone claims a vendor’s customer support is “the worst experience I’ve ever had,” don’t dismiss that opinion, but be sure to see what others have to say.
- Also pay attention to the qualities users love. Disgruntled users are quick to slam a vendor across the board after an isolated poor experience, but they tend to be more straightforward about what they truly loved about using a vendor’s product or service. But you should still look for similar comments throughout the reviews you read. If excellent support or hands-on training is most important to you, look for proportionate mentions of buyers’ experiences. If you’re more interested in intuitive analysis that requires less manpower, focus more on collecting comments about functionality.
- Bolster your research by asking questions elsewhere. Get an even more objective outlook by going to PRSA community forums (if you’re a member) or on LinkedIn PR groups like this one to hear directly from the source.
- Let the numbers decide. Ultimately, your decision comes down to matching the product or service qualities you need with how well (or how poorly) that experience has been for other users. If you analyze these review sites correctly, you’ll have the insights of a wide range of current and prior customers. The more thoroughly you read through the reviews, the better you’ll be able to see across the full spectrum of customer satisfaction.
When it comes to investing your firm’s precious resources, it’s always better to get the story from actual users so you know what you’re getting yourself into.