If you think of larger than life PR TV characters such as Olivia Pope and CJ Cregg, or closer home, to some extent, the very real life political strategist, Prashant Kishor; the word science may not come to your mind. On the face of it, it might seem that such impactful personalities, use more art than science to manoeuvre perceptions and stories about their clients and brands.
Yet, there is a growing chorus of voices that say, it's time to start using science, or more accurately CRM to manage the processes of media engagement better.
Venkat Raman, manager - PR & corporate communication with BSFI firm, HDFC Securities Ltd., says, "A much-evolved set of PR activities can be structured if CRM can be placed on AI or Machine Learning. It will have the potential to create customised plans for journalists and insights into how each such relation can be handled. A CRM approach to media relations would mean every journalist feedback on contributions can be tracked and improved on ( of course it is not as simple as it sounds), resulting in greater contributions in future."
"CRM approach can increase the productivity by gathering media lists and helping with insights on journalists nature, the best time to connect, spends max time on which social platform and his preferred mode of communication, says HDFC Securities', Venkat Raman."
Jyotsna Dash Nanda, branch director, Perfect Relations, admits that just the process of preparing a media list has become more complex. She says, " The database is expanding and managing them on spreadsheets and emails have become more daunting than ever. We need a better way to store and analyze these databases. CRM here can play a vital role. It can help track PR activities more effectively and result in better accountability. CRM would be significantly impactful in organizing media contacts, track campaign/media contacts, schedule follow-ups, tag journalists/bloggers/influencers for better organisation and communication progression, which will further help nurture the long-standing relationships. This eventually will build your value as a PR professional."
Why CRM tech in media relations lags behind
No doubt, PR professionals in India are more than aware of what needs to be done with media relations as a CRM function, yet adoption of intelligent tech is not wide-spread for media processes. Kirtan Chauhan, director, EterPride, an Ahmedabad based PR firm says, "Dissemination of press materials to the right person in the media house is the area we think we are missing technology. I think journalists should be updated with real-time news alerts using tech."
PR firms grapple with the twin issues of employing tech for PR processes and upskilling staff to then use that tech. With digital and video storytelling dominating the priority list, it is tempting to let that old PR workhorse of a function, media engagement, plod on at its' usual pace.
Joanna Drabent, CEO & co-founder, Prowly, has an answer to why tech in media relations helps. Drabent says that "Measurable benefits depend on how PR pros decide to spend the time they save with technology. No matter if they pitch and service new clients, sell additional services to existing ones or decide to improve some media relationships — at the end of the day, it always means more money for the business. But, apart from the time-saving factor, technology also provides important knowledge about audiences: their habits, preferences, expectations. Being able to use it properly marks the line between PR campaigns and PR award winners."
Elaborating on how tech helps PR, Drabent points out that, " Personal, direct contact with journalists is at the core of media relations — there’s nothing better than having a coffee with a journalist to brief him or her on the upcoming news and key business issues. But, fostering such relationships requires much of executives’ time and effort. CRM tools such as ours are designed to make PR pros’ daily work smarter and more efficient. By using solutions like automation or pitching data analytics, you can save the time you’d normally spend on some basic activities like PR distribution or publishing — and use it to actually talk to editors."
Tilak Chowdhury, DGM - corporate communication with engineering consulting firm, Egis-India, says that a change in mindset will help see tech in media relations differently, "Media is like a B2B customer for most industries. The media offers visibility in return for information. If we treat them as customers, then we stand a chance to be more proactive, more engaging and more effective with the media as a whole. We will develop more tools, more processes keeping the media in mind. It will help us offer better-customized solutions for the media."
Atul Sharma, COO, Genesis Burson Marsteller, agrees saying that "Something as mundane as dossier creation could very soon be a one-click affair, saving time and effort. One of the core areas where technology comes in really handy is when clients are facing issues/crisis. If you have the right technology solutions in place, it can make your life so much simpler and smoother."
Sharma adds that " As a firm, we have created many such solutions - For instance, GBM Live! is a mobile application created and run by GBM Live! Newsroom, which has a centralised media contact database, and allows crowd-sourcing of story opportunities, media movements and intelligence."
The human interface in media engagement
Sonia Sarin, group manager, business communication at Madison World says that media relations are slowly heading towards becoming a CRM function."
Sarin, however, sounds a note of caution, saying " We are still trying to keep it alive and not make it a headless practice. We people at agencies are constantly wanting to give meaningful content and thoughts which at the end should have readable value. Hope we keep this equation meaningful to clients, journalists and ourselves."
Raman agrees that CRM is not a one size fits all solution. He says, " Distribution of regular information for instance quotes or views on some day-to-day events or specific observations on trends can be automated and it can also be left to bots for the follow-up. However, it also depends on the nature of business one is into. It might be very quick and efficient for few sectors but at the same time can be difficult fora business like BFSI houses where numbers play a huge role and data is used to write stories."
Rafi Q Khan, senior corporate communications and PR professional argues that " Media relations according to me can any day be made more automated using technology and human touch. In any case in today’s day and age communication, professional media relations is probably less than 25% of his or her job...there is so much more that a communication professional has to manage and there are multiple ways of reaching your message out to your audiences."
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