Excel doomed as media relations manager tool

Social networking seems to be the best way to find, get in touch, and communicate with your buddies, no doubt about that. 750 million active users on Facebook, and recently a huge investment from Google to win the network battle, says something about that. Millions of discussion forums of all kind. People are truly connected to each other of thousands of reasons. And communities make perfectly sense for millions of people in millions of contexts. Not least professional. PR in particular. Communicators flock to networks, craving for likes and followers. Journalists as well. To meet their audience.

But what’s happening in the business of media relations in this amazing era of communication? Not much! An excel sheet seems to be the main tool for communicators, and journalists refer to their overloaded inboxes.

I had a great meeting with a PR communicator a few weeks ago. We were discussing the best way for her to find and organize her contacts. And not least get in touch and exchange experiences with them.
My prejudices became incorporated. She was working with an excel sheet. And as far as I’ve understood it is more of a rule than an exception. A wild guess says that 8 out of 10 of PR communicators are doing so.

Not the best media relations manager tool in the world - but the most common?


I recently run into a post on “The DIY PR blog – handle your own PR” which began with the sentence: “When you are doing your own PR it’s very important to have a system in place to track all of your pitching outreach efforts.” One of these “systems” was:

“Excel spreadsheet – Start an Excel spreadsheet media list to track all of your outreach efforts. You can have different tabs for each type of outlet – one for magazines, one for websites, one of local/regional media, etc. You could even set one up for editorial calendar postings that you find. Be sure to include the outlet, name, email, phone and any other relevant notes. Every time you communicate with someone make note of it in the “notes” column. Then, once a week or once a month (depending on timing of the outlet and your follow-up needs), go through each tab to be sure you are staying on top of it all.

The communicator I met said to me that’s exactly how she was dealing with media relations.

She said to me that she knew the most important journalists, and what they’re covering and writing about. She’s finding her contacts out of basic research of media. She’s making notes about their needs and wants in her sheet, and based on that she’s sharing her stories by phone and e-mail.

She said:
“As a matter of fact media relations isn’t much different from your personal relations; you’re trying to find out who you’d like to play with, and then start contribute with your life experiences based on what you’ve learned they and you have in common; your social objects.”

I said:
“Yeah, I agree, but you don’t organize your personal contacts in an excel sheet, right?

She started to laugh and said:
“Oh no… Facebook is taking care of that.”

We both realize that Excel isn’t primarily a communication tool. Not even assisted with an e-mail client.

So what would be the best place for communicators to keep and organize their most influential contacts like journalists etc? And vice versa.

Newswires like Cision? It says to be “the world’s largest database of media contacts with all of the information you need to uncover the influencers that matter”. Sounds great but the journalists (so called “target group”) are not engaged. Cision is not an engagement platform. It might even be a spam tool if used indiscriminately.
Facebook? Well, communicators (on behalf of their companies) might have a page and/or a group to meet and discuss with their audience (end customers, etc), but when it comes to media relations, they sometimes would like an exclusive exchange with one or a few of their journalist contacts. LinkedIn? Oh yes, that’s a great professional network. But hard to share content, and still linked to you personally.
Salesforce? It’s not a network on both terms, right? Hard to get a proper community with mutual exchange.
Google+? Maybe – we don’t know yet. Easy to synchronize with your G-mail contacts and create different circles of important people. But the communication is still widely open, and not content driven as the communicator often wants it to be.

And so on…

None of these and others seems to completely fit the communicators and journalists needs and wants when int comes to media relations?

What would you say about a network for journalists and communicators to exchange info and experiences with each other on both terms? I’m talking about a service that allows communicators to find their most influential people on the web, add them to their contacts lists, invite them to a network where they can organize them and communicate with them exclusively. Not least – a tool that allows journalists to find, follow, and send requests to their sources? A network based on the community that has been existing for many years, but still have great potential to flourish with new web service technologies.

How do your media relations look like, when it comes to find, organize and communicate with your contacts?

Please – feel free to respond to some questions in this survey. It just take a minute of your time, and I will send you the summary later on.

11 Responses

  1. Great post. I still have an Excel spreadsheet of contacts, but it’s hopelessly out of date and the reporters I’m working with the most aren’t in there. It seems like such a waste of time to worry about updating it each time I create a new relationship. It’s much easier to keep track of the media via my email inbox, in all honesty. And if you’re a good public relations professional, you have a relationship with those media reps you work with whereby you are communicating with them on a regular basis so that should be the easiest way to “keep track” of them. The only time this becomes an issue is if you leave an organization. You take your contacts with you when they’re in your email inbox vs. a program that a new employee can access.

    • Thanks, Robin, for great feedback. One question: Would it be ok with you to communicate with your stakeholders within a network? It means that you must invite them first (or they just start follow you) before you can communicate exclusively with them (the members of your network). If not, would you send info to people who has not chosen to follow you? And is that really ok? Compare this to Linkedin: You can only communicate within your network, if you don’t buy access to the rest of the users (so called “in mail”), which is very expensive. Linkedin isn’t a content manage tool, though, which could be useful when it comes to media relations.

      • If I understand your question correctly, you’re basically proposing YET ANOTHER location I have to go to communicate with people. I’m already spending time each day on my email, on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on blogs… and now there’s this whole Google+ thing… well, you get the picture.

        The idea of adding yet another program/site/social media outlet to my already looooong list of places to be to talk with people is less than exciting!

  2. Robin, I’m proposing that you’re using as many or few services you need. There are millions out there already. But I promise you, tomorrow there will be a few more, and it’s likely that some of the new services will beat the existing ones. Your call.

  3. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something that connected all of our different platforms? As Robin is suggesting, yet another place to add but it there was a tool that helped connect all of them and increase the organizing and communications that would be great. I think Tweetdeck is something like that but I am not as familiar with that tool. Kristofer thank you for this post, interesting and something to think about.

    • Thanks Sherrie, Yes that would be nice. But Tweetdeck and others are far away from the final Solution. As you might know you can only listen to and publish 140 letters on some of the largest soc networks. I also think you might need different kind of tools for different kind of communities and contexts for different kind of needs and wants.

  4. What you probably need Dojan is a framework that contextualize the other preferred social streams and enable an easy route to the organizing of your J’s contacts.
    One solution could be to build your own third party app on top of let’s say G+, that would also integrate with your Google Apps account. But i’m not sure about the G+ dev teams future strategy on third party integration? I guess you could always have a chat with them. They are all on G+.
    Facebook already have that in place though and more importantly, as you already know, they have a strategy that they are developing to support journalists: http://www.facebook.com/journalists – Great post btw.

    • Yes I know that Facbook and Twitter have developed dedicated services for journalists regarding their needs and wants to get in touch with their audience. But these social networks haven’t yet developed a 100% b2b services for journalists and PR pros to connect and exchange experiences and info with each other, which is a huge network in the offline world. But yes a third party integration on G+ Sounds very interesting indeed!

  5. Interesting post!
    I worked as an inhouse developer for a major PR consultancy company (250 employees + loads of interns) over here in germany to cover their needs in that area, and now I’m self-employed providing a solution (www.contactking.de , german only). We do have a number of companies here that sell data (journalists names, area of expertise, email etc.) that my customers import into their client-server databases.

  6. Nice and handy, free plan exists for really small businesses: http://highrisehq.com/ .
    Really better than a spreadsheet=)).

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