Technology, tools and workflow: making sense of the maze

How can you determine which technology, tools and work-flow are right for you and the organisations you work for before the smart work begins? Angharad Welsh has some answers in chapter 17 of #FuturePRoof.

Join us on Twitter at @WeArePRoofed for more from the #FuturePRoof team. 


You’ll learn:

• Why it’s important to map out workflow
• The type of tools available to public relations practitioners
• How to resource different work tasks appropriately

Work smarter, not harder – that’s what they say. But there’s hard work to be done when determining which technology, tools and workflow are right for you and the organisations    you work for before the smart work can begin.

As public relations professionals there is an extensive menu of tools to choose from, covering all aspects of the job. From research and content creation to project management and measuring success, there exist tools that make our lives easier, and help us achieve impressive campaign results.

Why, then, does it still feel like a battle to use them to implement smarter workflow in our teams? 

Despite advances in technology and the evolving role of PR there are still obvious pitfalls that many comm’s teams, in-house and agency, fall into when it comes to work practices.

The first step

We forget our industry has done it before – sending press releases in the back of taxis was once the norm. We embraced email as a primary form of communication (some may say to the detriment of our relationships), and AVE was once considered the best way of presenting our value to our clients. So why the hesitation?

Tight budgets, lack of team support, the fear of technology replacing rather than enhancing PR roles and a crowded tool market place are all valid traps for PRs looking to re-evaluate how they work. It’s time to untangle the web.

Designing  and implementing  workflow

When starting a new job or freelance project there is often a learning curve when it comes to processes and workflow. A fresh pair of eyes on a system that has likely been in place for too many years is never a bad thing, but how can you implement something new?

Employers and clients like three things – saving money, saving time and ROI.

Technology exists to help with all three, but it takes a savvy comms professional to take on an outdated work model and address the obvious ‘pain hooks’ in their organisation.

Ask yourself one simple question – where, and how, are you failing? Don’t just look at the big things either. Even the smallest change can have a knock-on effect in a business. Designing your own workflow takes time but it’s also very liberating.

For example – a common agency problem comes when pitching for new business. Prospective clients are not always great at providing solid briefs for teams to work on. If you win the business, but the brief has changed there lies a potential future problem with client expectations vs agency reality.

FINN Public Relations in Brussels turned this process on its head when streamlining its workflow. It now grills the client and writes the brief itself, along with the deliverables the team will use to achieve the desired KPIs. It’s only when the client signs off the brief that work will start. This collaborative approach gives FINN more control and eliminates any pain further down the line by avoiding deliverable errors.

By changing the way they think about the briefing process, FINN was able to address the problems identified in workflow. No extra budget required, simply a change in perspective. 

What’s out there?

Changes of perspective may be free but it’s likely you’ll need to invest in technology to really make a difference. Once you have established what pain needs fixing you can decide the tools and technology you need to go about doing it.

Loosely speaking, comms tools fall into one of four categories:

1.     Social listening, identifying influencers and planning – e.g. FollowerWonk, Bluenod, BrandWatch

2.     Content creation – e.g. Hemingway, Google Suggest, Flipboard

3.     Relationship building and project management – e.g. ResponseSource, Asana, Google Goals

4.     Measurement – e.g Talkwalker, Muck Rack, Locowise

All tools should offer a trial period so you can get a feel for them, some like Google are completely free and many will operate a ‘freemium’ model with certain useful features available without cost.

Begin at the end

To unravel the mass of technology and tools available the key is to start at the end.
Using a campaign as an example, goals need to be agreed. Establishing what success looks like will give you a clearer understanding of what measuring tool(s) you need to evaluate it, what project management tools you need to keep things on track, what content creation tools need to be able to do for you and how you might identify the influencers you will push that content out to.

Of course there is crossover – a social listening tool like Talkwalker can also be used as a planning, influencer identifying and measuring tool depending on your goal. However, it is not an obvious content creation tool and definitely not able to push messages out to the target audiences it identifies.

We’ve yet to find that one tool that does it all, and does it well, which explains why Talkwalker recently announced a partnership with Hootsuite to incorporate a social media management element into its offering. A smart move and one that is sure to win them more fans.
However if you prefer Buffer to Hootsuite as your social media management tool of choice, what then? 

Certainly Buffer has analytics available to users, even those on the free level, but it doesn’t compete with the insights available from something like Sprout Social, for example.
With an arsenal of tools at your disposal, and budgets to think of, it’s important to get the right blend for you and your team.

Like any new habit it takes while for a new system to become the norm but give it time and the results should speak for themselves. If not, take another look at the system and see where things are slipping through the cracks.  

Think  significantly

In his book #SignificantBrands: From Survival to Significance, Jeremy Waite recalls the model he created while working at Phones4U. Inspired by the Pareto Principle (80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes) he decided to streamline his team’s workflow.

Faced with what may have seemed like an overwhelming task, Jeremy created a 60:30:10 rule at Phones4U, one I believe he still uses in his role at IBM today. He decided that of the time he had available for everything on his list:

• 60% would focus on what matters most (today)

• 30% would address and review medium range (achievable) goals

• 10% would be devoted to anything goes big ideas

What does that look like in the real world? Jeremy shared an example of his own, but to show how adoptable this process is I’ve put together the following:

If I had 100 hours to tackle a crisis situation, 60 hours would be spent agreeing and sharing messaging for the press and the public on social media, 30 hours to evaluate the response and sharing reports with key areas of the business and 10 hours updating the crisis manual with learnings for next time.

Have a go at applying this to one of your tasks, adapting as you need to, and see if you find a smarter way of working.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

The internet tried to attribute this gem of advice to no less than five different people, so I’ll just borrow it for the time being. In my judgement, there’s no better way to think when it comes to evaluating and redesigning your workflow.

The technology exists, projects like Stephen Waddington’s #PRstack community and Prezly’s guide of 140 PR tools are both testament to that. It’s the willing, budgets or confidence that appear to be lacking.  

Technology means comms teams no longer need to work in isolation within their organisations and can operate at a more strategic, overarching level. We should embrace the freedom and flexibility these tools offer us and the insights and data we can utilise from them at every level of the communications process.

Strategic evolution is what will make us #FuturePRoof.


Angharad Welsh is a former broadcast and magazine journalist working with global healthcare and environmental clients at Gravitas PR in Cheltenham, UK. She contributed chapters to both My #PRstack: A Practical Guide to Modern PR Tools and Workflow books and writes for The Independent and The Cheltonian. Angharad is keenly interested in communications workflow, brand psychology and is a passionate supporter for ethics and gender equality reform in the industry.

Twitter: @Welsh_PR