What’s In My PR Tool Stack?

Public relations / PR tool stack - apps, tools, tips and hacks for better communications campaigns
Photo by Fleur on Unsplash

Rather like a magpie, I’m drawn to interesting things and can often be found playing around with the latest apps, platforms, and tools looking for something to add to my PR tool stack.

I’m one of those people who likes to explore the new and innovative. That applies to PR and marketing tools as much it does to restaurants and bars.

These days I’m often asked by fellow communicators, particularly those newer to the industry, “how did you know/do that?”

More often than not, the answer is not that I’m the fount of all knowledge. If only that were true.

Usually, it’s that at some point or other I’ve faced a similar problem and found a handy solution – enabled by some clever software – and added it to my tool stack to use again in the future.

What do I mean by tool stack?

According to Wiktionary, the definition of tool stack is as follows:

Noun: tool stack (plural tool stacks)

(Computing) A collection of software tools to work on different parts of a related system, often used on information technology infrastructure management.

And what does that have to do with public relations?

Well, when I say PR tool stack, what I mean is the collection of all of the software, tools, applications, websites etc. I use to deliver communications programmes. Some of these are free and easy-to-use, some are fairly premium paid-for services and a bit more fiddly, and some sit somewhere in between.

Often it’s these tools that make the difference in selling an idea, strategy, or solution to somebody – be it a client or internally within the agency.

Gone are the days of finger in the air ideas or going by the gut instincts of someone with time-in-role. Today’s best campaigns are data-driven and based on intelligent, actionable insights.

When I’m looking for proof points to validate an idea, or more likely looking through research and insights to spark a creative idea, it’s often something in the PR tool stack that throws up the best result.

Given how often I’m asked the question, I thought I’d create a resource page listing some 60-odd of my favourite tools (as I’ve done previously with PR blogs and PR books to read), organised by what I use them for, to help signpost for anyone interested.

I’m always on the look out for new things, so if you’ve seen good results with something I’ve not listed, do ping me a tweet and I’ll take a look.

My PR Tool Stack:

Content Discovery

  • BuzzSumo – The curiously-named BuzzSumo is a content and influencer identification platform, generating insights based on keywords. Whether you’re looking to generate ideas for compelling content, monitoring your performance or identifying influencers, BuzzSumo is often a good place to start.
  • Feedly – A news aggregation solution from the old days of the internet. Not quite as good as Google Reader, but for RSS-based content curation you can’t go far wrong with Feedly. Either online or via the app it’ll help you track the stories you should care about from around the web.
  • Nuzzel – Nuzzel describes itself as a “next-generation news monitoring and research tool” and it’s one of the most useful apps on my phone. I use it to pull in the most popular content from those I follow online and surface it in a simple, intuitive interface. Knowing that I follow a lot of journalists on Twitter, and that I can set it to show me the most tweeted content in my feeds from the last eight hours – I know that when I check it first thing in the morning I can see what’s been on the 10, what’s gone out on a midnight embargo, and what’s getting the traction to drive that day’s news agenda at a quick glance. My PR tool stack wouldn’t be complete without it.
  • Pocket – Saw something interesting in your feed on the way into work, but forgot what it was by the time you got to your desk? Worry no more, with Pocket, you simply bookmark it to read at a later date – it’s as simple as that.
  • Tweetdeck (Twitter) – A social media dashboard application to help manage Twitter accounts. Whether you’re managing multiple accounts or simply needing to track several conversations, the ability to quickly add a column to your screen and can be incredibly helpful. Bonus points if – like me – you’re a “Tommy Two Screens” and have a setup designed to follow breaking news and high-traction conversations in real-time while pottering about with pivot tables.

Media Relations

  • Gorkana – The journalist database. Old faithful, the one we all love to hate. Much as it has its faults, many of us would be spending a lot more time poring through spreadsheets updating details without it!
  • ResponseSource – Better known for it’s media enquiry service than its other functions, ResponseSource often provides a good heads up on comment opportunities – whether they’re top tier and general, trade and niche, or just a bit peculiar (*ahem Mr Booth*) – they can be a good way to secure quick wins for clients.
  • Roxhill – From the team that brought you Gorkana, a media database for the modern era. Less clunky and with some interesting new functionality that its predecessor lacks – it’s not as well-known as the now-Cision owned Gorkana, but there’s a reason it’s growing in popularity.

Influencer Relations

  • Traackr – An influencer marketing platform including functionality for influencer discovery, vetting, campaign management and much more. Particularly useful for running influencer campaigns at scale, Traackr quickly gives you a picture of who you should be engaging, their reach, relevance, and crucially resonance of their content among your target audience.
  • Buzzsumo – As above – I don’t rate it as highly as more specific influencer-focused tools like Traackr, but it can be a good way to identify key advocates, commentators, and content creators in a particular niche.

Search Engine Optimisation/Marketing

  • Answer The Public – Ever wondered what questions people are asking about your client’s product category? Or anything else, for that matter. Answer The Public “listens in” to autocomplete data from search engines like Google, then quickly cranks out every useful phrase and question people are asking around a keyword. It’s a goldmine of consumer insight you can add to your PR tool stack to create fresh, ultra-useful content, products and services.
  • Google Keyword Planner – Pretty much a Ronseal job, this one. Google’s helpful tool for keyword ideas gives you insight into how often certain words are searched and how those searches have changed over time. This can help you narrow your keyword list down to the ones you really want to target and optimise your content and campaigns accordingly.
  • Moz – A powerful suite of search engine optimisation (SEO) planning and analytics tools – whether you’re looking to track your clients’ SERP rankings, audit their site, do some backlink analysis, or conduct some competitive keyword research, you can do it all in Moz.
  • SEMrush – Much like Moz, SEMrush provides a suite of SEO/SEM (see what they did there) planning and analytics tools. Personally, I prefer it to Moz and whether you use it for SEO, PPC, content, social media planning or competitive research, you’ll be sure to come away with some valuable insights to impress your clients. I’ve been playing around with this a lot recently, developing new ways of setting up campaigns to ensure uplifts to not just reputation and sales, but also link equity by aligning SEO/M priorities with thought leadership activity. If it’s not already in your PR tool stack, it’s one worth coughing up for.

Social Listening

  • Brandwatch – The leading social intelligence company, providing social media listening and monitoring software solutions to some of the world’s biggest brands. Whether you’re more interested in conversations or audiences, Brandwatch can do it all, and for all its functionality, it’s surprisingly easy to use. A few years ago now, a pretty significant issue blew up for a client of mine late in the day. It needed monitoring closely around the clock and real-time counsel given to the most senior levels of the client’s organisation. Having never used it before, after a quick tutorial from a colleague in the know, I could pretty much man the single-handed. Thankfully I didn’t have to, but it speaks to the power of the platform.
  • NewsWhip – A powerful real-time social media monitoring and trend predictions platform. Not only does NewsWhip enable PR pros to understand what’s popular and driving conversations online, it’s able to lean on some clever algorithms to predict the future. This Mystic Meg-like feature, called Spike, visualises how stories are predicted to perform, ensuring brands join the conversation at the right time. That could mean some creative guerrilla marketing, high-jacking a popular story to inject your client’s voice in to the conversation. It could be ensuring communicators are fully across an emerging issue, enabling them to react and resolve the situation before it becomes a full-blown crisis.
  • Talkwalker – A social listening and analytics platform to protect, measure and promote their brands across all communication channels. Supposedly using “AI-powered technology” to monitor and analyse online conversations in real-time across social networks, news websites, blogs and forums in 187 languages, it’s free alerting service (confusingly named Talkwalker Alerts) is used by over 500,000 communications professionals.
  • Tweetdeck – As stated previously, you don’t get the bells and whistles like some of the more sophisticated tools above, but if quick and dirty is what you’re looking for then Tweetdeck can easily help you listen in to specific hashtags, conversations based on certain keywords, and tweets from or two specific handles – not bad for a free app.

Social Media Mangement

  • Buffer – Nothing too complex here. Just a simple and easy-to-use app for scheduling posts on social media. There are a couple of niftier features that can help you judge the right times to remarket content and so on, but the basic service is what most will use it for. Their blog and resources pages are also well worth a read, and often highlight new tips, tricks, hacks, and stats to be mindful of.
  • Hootsuite – A social media management platform and dashboard that automates content distribution on several popular social channels. It’s not as complex as some others, such as Sprinklr or Sprout Social that are better for larger scale deployments, but for most applications it’ll do the job nicely.

Copywriting

  • Grammarly – You’ve seen the YouTube ads, but have you ever used it? This writing app helps ensure your messages, documents, and social media posts are clear and mistake-free. If only there was a way to stop those videos following you around the internet!
  • Hemingway – I suspect I going to sound like Bruce Forsyth by the end of this page, because this is another of my favourites. A cracking tool to improve your writing – whether you’re looking to sub something down a few hundred words or punch your text up a bit, Hemingway is your friend. It doesn’t suit all content types, but I do often find myself asking colleagues if they’ve run their copy through Hemingway before I proof it – not only does it save time, it generally produces better work. Definitely one to add to your tool stack.

Design

  • Canva – A simple graphic design platform that allows users to create social media graphics, presentations, posters and other visual content. If you’re not a dab hand at photoshop but need to knock up a quick social tile or visual asset, this will do the trick.
  • Pexels – Free stock imagery – no more no less.
  • Photoshop – THE photo editing software, need I say any more?
  • Unsplash – More free stock imagery – you won’t find everything on there, but it’s pretty damned good.
  • Visme – A great little tool to make professional-looking presentations and infographics on the fly. Not something I use that often, but when you’re looking for something a bit snazzier than an Excel graph to pop in a deck, but don’t have much in the way of design resources, this could be the option for you. Add to your PR tool stack and thank me later.

Project/Time Management

  • Asana – It’s time to leave those old spreadsheet-based CPS documents behind you and move to a much friendlier, collaborative solution. A powerful platform to help manage projects, workflows, teams, and probably other stuff too. Put those Gantt charts in the dustbin and move into the modern age. If you can get buy-in from colleagues and clients, this can be a godsend for account leads, particularly those with distributed or international teams. Add to your PR tool stack to make account management that little bit easier.
  • Harvest – Sadly, in a consultancy business, most of us still have to track time. While it might be an onerous task, it is somewhat helpful for resource and capacity planning. Harvest is a simple, no frills way to track time which, unlike some competitors, doesn’t have terrible UX.
  • Paprika – The bane of many consultants’ existence. This clunky old beast is something we all love to hate, but once you know how to use it properly (as long as it’s been set up well) it can be an incredibly helpful resource to draw on. Need 10 hours of an AEs time? Paprika can find you that AE. Want to check on servicing levels? Paprika. Want to get a quick visualisation of hours worked vs planned, and whether the client is up to date with their invoices? Paprika. It’s not saying much, but I’m yet to see anything that scales to the same extent outperform it.
  • Trello – A slightly dated-looking, but supremely useful list-building/noticeboard tool. Great for basic project management, or even running a rudimentary intranet, this colourful Australian creation can keep you in the know and on track.

Collaboration/Communication

  • Dropbox – Not everyone has an all singing all dancing digital asset management platform. For those of us that don’t, having somewhere convenient to share files in a simple folder structure and toggle permissions to reflect who needs access, will do just fine. Dropbox is the best known and does the job rather well.
  • Google Docs – Sharing’s caring. We’ve all had experience of folders containing files named “DRAFT V2.1 FINAL FINAL_XY edits” or similar. Why go through all the pain of countless revisions only to send the wrong document. Google Docs can save you a world of hurt by doing everything in the same docs and keeping a record of where the changes are coming from.
  • Skype – Pretty obvious. Messaging and video conferencing. Has done a Nokia and fallen out of favour recently, but still good for hosting media briefings and presenting to distributed teams, among other things.
  • Slack – Many journalists will gripe about the number of emails in their inbox, but I’d wager that a lot of PR practitioners can compete, if not outdo them on that front. Taking some of the traffic away from email and into something like Slack, where things can be better arranged in channels and prioritised by importance/urgency, can help relieve some of this burden. The call functionality, as I’ve recently found, is almost as good as the Giphy integration!
  • WhatsApp – A bit “shadow IT”, you say? Well, yes – perhaps. But, if you’re at a conference or event and need to track down a journalist, spokesperson, or events bod it can be incredibly useful to have a comms team group chat. I have fond memories of a group chat for 40+ PR professionals set up for an IT vendor’s customer conference at the ExCeL. Messages like, “has anybody got eyes on X?” and the reply, “yes, he’s down by the platinum suite stuffing his face with cheesy wotsits!” were a regular highlight!
  • Workplace by Facebook – Whatever you do, don’t try to explain this to your parents. You get a response that mirrors the old Peter Key garlic bread joke. But, once you get over that, the concept of an internal company social network, based on a layout and interface everyone’s familiar with makes perfect sense. While some don’t rate it, I’ve had good experiences with it – finding it a great way to build better relationships with colleagues in a large, multi-office global agency.
  • Zoom – Where would we be without Zoom. We hid from it for years as startups and trendier parts of the holding group began to use it. When the world locked down and everyone started working remotely, this video conferencing/business messaging service came into its own, with growth rate and stock price both spiking. Will we use it as much when things return to relative normalcy? No, probably not. But we won’t be as reluctant to, that’s for sure.

Measurement/Evaluation/Reporting

  • Campaign URL Builder – How are you measuring that campaign if you’re not tracking acquisition properly? You’re not, so get yourself on to Campaign URL builder and power up a quick tracking link. That way when you drive a spike in traffic and sales for your client you’re getting the credit you deserve!
  • Coveragebook – I’ll be honest when I first saw this enter the market, I thought it looked a bit of a gimmick. That thought quickly vanished when I actually used it, and it’s now a well-used part of my PR tool stack. This reporting tool saves you bags of time, populates client-ready documents with automated metrics including link analysis. Frankly, if you can move to this platform for basic coverage reporting, you’re laughing.
  • Google Analytics – You all know that Google Analytics is basically the holy grail of modern PR. If you can get access to your client’s analytics, you can really help move the needle for them. Getting yourself clued up on GA will help you be a better comms consultant, there’s no two ways about it, but many are yet to dive in and see that for themselves. It should be part of every PR tool stack, period.
  • Signal – An “AI driven global solution provider for real-time insights for media monitoring, reputation management and market intelligence”, apparently. Well, I use it to monitor for coverage, conduct simple share of voice and conversation analysis, and pull graphs for the occasional deck. It’s not perfect, but it’s not half bad.
  • SimilarWeb – Don’t trust the monthly unique user figures listed on your favourite media database? You’re not the only one. Website traffic and analytics firm SimilarWeb can help – drop the URL into their website or a click the handy Chrome plugin from the site and you’ll get a more accurate picture of the eyeballs they’re drawing to your coverage.

Campaign Planning

  • Affinio – A marketing strategy platform that helps better connect with people using rich interest and affinity data. Surprise, surprise, it uses machine learning to reveal behavioral-based segments in any data set. From a communications perspective it is particularly useful at mapping audiences and the connections between the people within them, noting the influencers, the conversation topics, and relationships that hold the group together.
  • Canvas8 – A leading behavioural insights consultancy, helping marketers to “explore the intersection between human sciences, industry and pop culture to understand how people’s behaviour is changing, and the impacts of these shifts”. Their library, an online resource of over 24,000 trend reports, case studies and “signals” span 14 industries and nine key markets, and can help develop new ways of thinking about campaign planning. Supported by a range of experts in a wide range of fields, Canvas8 are particularly good at helping explore the future possibilities in a given space. Well worth speaking if you’re looking at a more qualitative, future-gazing campaign.
  • Data Miner – A nifty little tool (I use the Chrome plugin) that scrapes data from any website and imports it into Microsoft Excel or Google spreadsheets. There are a huge range of applications depending on what data you pull, but things like share of voice analysis vs a competitive set is pretty straightforward to achieve using SERPs in Google News.
  • Excel – Many of the tools listed in this post can do all sorts of weird and wonderful things within their own platform. Some of them can do even more outside of them. By exporting data into a trusty old spreadsheet, you can play around with pivot tables to your heart’s content and come up with new ideas, insights, and intelligence by applying a little of your own. No PR tool stack would be complete without it.
  • Facebook Ad Planner – Need to get a better feel for a target audience. How many of them are there? Where are they? What more do we know about them? Consult your friendly everyday tech giant, and see what Facebook knows. Some of the ad planning functions on Facebook can be very powerful from a planning perspective. Former colleague, Stephen Waddington published a good primer on Audience Insights that is well worth reading.
  • Google Trends – A website by Google that analyses the popularity of top search queries across various regions and languages. The site uses graphs to compare the search volume of different queries over time. This can be useful in spotting emerging trends to capitalise on before the conversation gets too crowded and brands get left behind or thought of as jumping on the bandwagon, rather than leading the charge.
  • GlobalWebIndex – A leading market research company that provides digital consumer insights across 45 countries. Their data covers more than two billion connected consumers, with 35,000 specific data points used to profile internet users around the world. These easy-to-access insights can be invaluable in ensuring a campaign is set up for success, enabling communications professionals to really get to know their audience.
  • Promo – Stuck for social content? You might find some quick inspiration on Promo. With a calendar listing upcoming “days of note”, you’ll be kept abreast of everything from big events like International Women’s Day to the much less popular “hug a ginger” day.
  • Quid – A fantastic platform for interrogating text – powered by natural language processing tech and some machine learning wizardry, Quid allows you to delve deeper into any text-based dataset and visualise the connections, patterns, and stories that matter to you. The case studies on their site are well worth a read to help understand the power of their tool for planning – notably the ability to identify the “white space” opportunities to cut through in any given conversation. A great addition to a campaign strategist’s PR tool stack.

Other

  • Evernote – An app designed for note taking, organising, task management, and archiving. Whether you’re capturing business cards, Powerpoint slides, or receipts for your expenses claims, it’s a handy app to have on your phone.
  • Google Forms – A pretty versatile survey administration app. Whether you’re looking to get a quick benchmark on an idea or poll the office on their preferred venue for Thursday night drinks, this will help you do it, without the restrictions of the likes of SurveyMonkey.
  • Hello Batman – A site to visit if you’ve had a long day and need a quick laugh.
  • IFTTT – If This Then That, also known as IFTTT, is a service that creates chains of simple conditional statements, called applets. An applet is triggered by changes that occur within other web services such as Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, Instagram, or Pinterest. From a communications perspective, that could mean adding accounts that mention a specific hashtag to a Twitter list or log those tweets in a Google Sheet, the possibilities are too numerous to list. These little applets can be incredibly useful at capturing information and automating small elements of the PR workflow, making life that little bit easier for us hard-working communicators.
  • LinkedIn Nearby – At an event, but don’t have any business cards left? Don’t worry, whip out your phone. There’s a function few people use that lets you find other users in close proximity when both parties enable it. If you’re in a rush or don’t have any old paper card on you, this is the next best thing.
  • OneLogin – A cloud-based identity and access management provider enabling users to have a secure, centralised Single Sign On (SSO) to access all the tools and systems they need. Theoretically, you could put your whole PR tool stack in OneLogin, and once set up, access tens if not hundreds of tools with a single username and password and a few clicks of the mouse.
  • Polpeo – A fascinating platform that helps to simulate how a crisis breaks and spreads over digital and social media. It replicates the behaviour of media including social networks, microblogs, news sites, forums, blogs and video channels, while a live team behind the scenes mimics how the public might respond to the crisis. You can also send and receive simulated emails, collaborate on drafting strategies and communications plans and Q&As. Having seen this in action, it really help put crisis plans and their key players – both communications and operations – to the test. An invaluable learning experience for those who undertake this technology-enhanced simulation exercise.
  • PR Buzzsaw – Is your copy full of buzzwords? No, you can’t work in technology PR then! All joking aside, sometimes we slip into bad habits and write bad jargon and colloquialisms into our copy – Buzzsaw is here to strip them back out again. It won’t be in everyone’s tool stack, but there are plenty who would benefit from it!
  • Releasd – Releasd is a great little tool for building content hubs. Whether that’s to reports results to clients, or collate online press packs to direct media towards, their drag and drop widgets are easy to populate and can be spun up or spun down near instantaneously. If you’ve got an asset rich story pitch, packaging it all up on Releasd and sending over a password-protected link, might be a better approach than email or hosting on a public newsroom.
  • Tableau – Probably the leading interactive data visualisation software on the market. Incredibly powerful for articulating complex analysis through simple highly engaging visuals, Tableau can help communicators better show their clients their research, insights, intentions, and results in ways that won’t bore them to death at the quarterly review.

And a final treat for reaching the end:

  • Train Guy – If you’ve had a very long day, and need an even bigger laugh (or even a Birds Eye potato ROFL)!

Any more for any more? If you think I’m missing anything from my PR tool stack, drop me a line on Twitter.