Boosting PR Agency Productivity: Cutting-Edge IT Tools and Cloud Hosting

By Laurie Head
AIS Network Vice President, Marketing Communications

I’m hooked on the idea of boosting PR, marketing and advertising agency productivity through unified communications, collaboration platforms and cloud computing. As a former PR executive specializing in tech PR for a large, global agency and later a DC-based boutique firm, I can see clearly how each of these cutting-edge technologies will provide a tremendous shot in the arm to the public relations, marketing and advertising industries. In fact, I talked about it in my multi-media presentation, “Unlocking the Business Value of New Technologies,” at the Public Relations Society of America’s 2011 International Conference in Orlando this week.

In this new economy, if you cannot collaborate, you’re toast. Gone is the super-competitive mentality of the 1990s. As they adapt to changing markets, clients and employees, PR agencies are finding that they need to evolve from competitive to collaborative cultures. But to do that, they need to think critically about the IT that they use and how to migrate their company toward more collaborative technologies.

Preferences for communicating change over time and that’s highly evident in this video from Accenture (“Cloud Computing Here and Now – Our Youngest Experts Explain the Cloud”), which I used in introducing my topic at the PRSA 2011 International Conference. The point is that regardless of whether they’re in the B2B or B2C space, companies that want to compete for customers, as well as the newest, best talent, must figure out how to get with the times and equip themselves with the technology they need to communicate anywhere, anyplace and anytime. As communicators, “being social” is no longer just another prerequisite for getting along in our jobs. Rather, we are currently experiencing a fundamental shift in how we interact with the world, and essentially, in how we get the information that we need in a global marketplace.

The goal of my talk was to allow attendees to walk out of the presentation knowing enough to at least recognize their own business challenges and begin a dialogue with their IT department about how to solve those issues. To do that:

1) We explored the most common business challenges in a PR agency today: remote communications, collaboration and aging, vulnerable servers. For the benefit of those who requested them, here are links to the videos that I used to illustrate those business challenges:

2) Next, we surveyed briefly the corresponding IT solutions that are, in fact, transforming the workplace and saving businesses money: unified communications, collaborative platforms and hosting/ cloud computing.

I recommended Microsoft Lync 2010 (unified communications) and Microsoft SharePoint 2010 (collaborative platform), but there are plenty of competitors, whom I also mentioned in my slides. I demonstrated the value of Lync 2010 and SharePoint 2010 in specific cases (content management, automated workflows, business intelligence, internal networking and more) and used video testimonials from customers to illustrate how these technologies benefit productivity and cut costs:

Then, I offered a brief look at two more detailed case studies: global PR agencies Edelman and Fleishman-Hillard. I particularly like the Fleishman-Hillard case study because it shows a forward-thinking agency using SharePoint 2010, plus a Web 2.0 application called Newsgator, to build its employee community through very robust, intra-agency social networking.

Following, we looked at a couple of raw video clips (fire in a server closet) and (sprinklers flooding a server room) and discussed how vulnerable these server rooms – or closets, as they may be – are to any number of natural or man-made disasters (not to mention spilled beverages). I guided attendees through the decision process for kicking their aging servers out of the office and examining other hosting options.

Moving to a professionally managed, hosted environment in a secure data center – whether to a dedicated server environment or a cloud environment – is the way most businesses are going, according to industry analysts. Industry analyst Gartner, Inc., projects that by next year, a fifth of businesses will not own any IT assets; at least 35 percent of U.S. midmarket businesses (100 to 999 employees) will purchase cloud computing and IT utility services.

What is cloud computing anyway? For this part of the presentation, “Cloud Computing in Plain English” was a useful video to show.

We examined the benefits and challenges of hosting in-house and outsourcing, after which I answered the questions, “When is on-premise best?” and “When is the cloud best?” I provided a detailed decision matrix for attendees to share with their IT department.

3) Finally, we discussed how to measure success/business value, including return on investment (ROI), return on objective (ROO), increased productivity, increased flexibility/ scalability, and more time to focus on business and staff/stakeholder qualitative feedback.

To help PR, marketing and advertising agencies upgrade their IT and move into the 21st century, there is a litany of tools and applications – certainly many more that are specifically designed for enterprise-sized organizations. Now that the year is drawing to a close, public relations, marketing, advertising and other communications professionals should evaluate seriously the IT tools they will need to communicate, collaborate and engage in the global marketplace next year. Everybody wins when they use better tools like Lync 2010, SharePoint 2010 and cloud computing. PR agencies benefit from greater productivity at cost savings – not to mention happier clients and employees.

If you are in an agency currently, I would be interested in hearing what your agency is doing to address these business challenges.

PRSA, thanks for another great international conference!