Looking to start some of your own PR or influencer relations in-house? Read up on tools of the trade and best practice in this four part series.

For years PRs (or publicists) operated in specific areas of industry with little fanfare or name recognition for the field. To find a job description, one would have had to look to the fashion, publishing and entertainment industry.

Large corporations kept public relations heads, but typically this role was a defensive position, rather than a proactive part of any marketing strategy.

When I first entered the PR industry in 2006, the digital tide was already rising. My first gig as an Account Executive with Edelman was on the Palm smartphone account, and I spent my days phoning and emailing tech journalists to follow up on whether any issues had arisen with their Treo review units.

I then spent my evenings unloading/loading a storage space where we kept the phones and managed inventory.

Fast forward seven years and Walt Mossberg (who we sent several phones to) is now basically a household name, at least in the States.

The blog he runs for the Wall Street Journal with several other tech journalists called AllThingsD, receives half a million visitors a month, and your SEO contractor and Head of Marketing most likely have it on a list that they continually hold meetings over that involve growing their brand or website visibility.

Welcome to the new world of PR, or ‘influencer relations,’ where much different rules apply. Cost to entry is extremely low. And yes, relationships still matter…more than ever.

If you are looking to dive in, but the $6-10K a month agency retainers left a bad taste on your company credit card, the good news is you can do a lot these days in-house with your own marketing department.

In this post, I’ll break down some of the smartest tools and methods out there for organizing and staying on top of leads and relationships. 

In this series I’ve organized the tools and advice into the headers The Network, The Message, Discovery/Dissemination and Tracking. There will be four posts in total. All with great tools and best practice to follow!

The network

Your network is your strongest asset in communications. Google recently made changes to its unnatural link schemes as they relate to press releases which were hotly debated here on Econsultancy.

The community takeaway, which I agree with completely, is that because of weighting in favor of authoritative sources online, who you know matters more than ever.

Here is the skinny and my recommended tools for whipping that network into shape, then managing it like a pro.

Google Contacts

Both Outlook 2013 and LinkedIn have fancy new tech that they want to turn you onto to (and probably ultimately charge you continually for) when it comes to a unified address book, but I recommend you run the other direction to a plain old Gmail or Google Apps account instead.

The truth is that a truly ‘unified’ contact database (meaning something that get’s updated whenever one of your connections changes an email signature or Facebook/LinkedIn profile detail) doesn’t exist in the PR game.

Journalists are coming and going so quickly in the online world that NOTHING can keep up, and Google Contacts is one of the rare instances in its development history where Google actually made integration make sense with things like your iPhone/Android…the increasingly important Google+ and other one-off email services I’ll get into a bit later.

Believe me, I say this very rarely…but hats off to Google on managing my contacts. Really.

WriteThatName

A group of people whom I know and respect that are working diligently on the problem relating to a truly unified address book come from the company Kwaga, makers of WriteThatName.

It works for Gmail/Apps as well as Outlook, and uses a semantic-language based email trolling system that automatically updates your address book with your contacts’ current information…now here’s the trick…pulling from email signature lines.

So do your job well, and get journalists to email you back, enable WriteThatName as a background service and you are as close as we can come to unified communications/address book nirvana my friend.

Oh, and did I mention it syncs with Highrise and other popular CRMs?? Yeah, we’ll get to that. 

Boomerang

It was a trick that use to take Outlook or another full blown email client like Thunderbird to pull off. 

You’ve got a list of 100 journalists. They all need a semi-personalized message whereby you reintroduce a relationship (if there is one in place), maybe reference a recent piece, then get right to your news and hope you can make it interesting or just worth their while.

Mail merging gets people in a lot of trouble. You’re smarter than that…but this is a lot of manual work that is going to be best handled in off hours. In steps Boomerang — the simplest email scheduling and reminder tool I’ve ever encountered.

Thank you Boomerang. How I love you. Can you send me a shirt?

Yesware

Yesware is yet another Gmail application that lets sales professionals track emails, save templates, and sync emails with CRMs. After installing it and topping up ‘tracking events’ (don’t worry you can just buy them, it’s not some stupid gamification thing) I get a checkbox in all outgoing emails I send that simply reads ‘track.’

When the journalist I just sent my news to opens the email pitch, I’ll then get a notification from Yesware, and everything is logged in a handy mouse-over dashboard that I can access at anytime within Gmail to review.

Am I promoting aggressive phone calling, invading the time/schedules of a busy journalist based on when you see a little alert that says a pitch was opened? No. Not by any means.

Is it handy to see at the end of the week who at least reviewed the pitch for prioritizing next week’s follow up? You bet.

Stay tuned for next week’s tool roundup under the header: The Message!