Written by Tatiana Read
I run a fashion, lifestyle and design public relations startup in Toronto. When I founded Knot PR in the summer of 2009 (from an old Acer laptop), I had a mix of communications, marketing and sales skills. What truly set me apart from my peers (in my mind) was my ingenuity with software applications, affinity for computing and interest in web community.
I programmed my first (amateur) HTML website as a teen in 1996 using an online tutorial available on the local university’s website (ugh, here goes nothing). It was fun, enlightening and even though my friends didn’t “get it”, I did. My lesson was the knowledge of—and confidence in—learning through the web (not to mention, the power of access to these tools, and to this community). This became my superpower.
Knot PR is me, our Communications Specialist, and two (always amazing and brave) interns (on a 4-month rotation basis).
There isn’t one area of our practice that doesn’t involve the cloud. We're always looking to facilitate productivity, engagement and teamwork. I follow the tech and social media community on twitter to learn about new startups and industry trends. Below I’ve listed a selection of cloud-based tools that I rely on both as a PR practitioner and as an entrepreneur.
Many of these web applications have excellent mobile versions and are customer-focused with helpful FAQs, forums and twitter feeds. You can email (live-chat or call) support and flag a problem or suggest a feature—I do it everyday when testing out or learning a new application. Bonus: these services are either free or affordable (less than $30/month).
Cloud Control: Tools For The PR Pro
Dropbox is much more than a file storage service. It syncs files across several computers (of your choosing) and allows you to share files and folders with anyone via shareable links. It’s our “shared drive” or “network” and holds all our collateral (whatever is not on Google docs, see below). We host hi-res images, zip files and folders to media—all they do is click on a link to download and/or preview images, e.g. http://db.tt/OICoapI. It's also handy as a mobile office tool: even if Dropbox is not synced to the computer you’re on, you can view your files on their web version.
Flickr is an ingenious "photo management and sharing application." We use collections and sets to house our clients' line and campaign images, report client media wins and for media pitching (i.e. we create pitch-specific galleries to address media needs, i.e. Prom--sometimes we create a pitch set featuring multiple clients). We use Flickr thumbnails when we send out media releases, see our "dynamic media release". Knotpr.com hosts a virtual "Showroom" which pulls tagged images from flickr into mini galleries via a widget (we really like Simpleviewer). Flickr's real strength is photo "tagging" (up to 75 unique tags an image) as a means of filtering and categorizing images. Whether we want to organize client media wins by month, by client or by publication--you can generate new sets via search, drag and drop, and a single button click. Flickr is an out-of-the-box avenue to reach blogs and media outlets: we added our office images to Lifehacker's workspace Show and Tell and secured a feature. Bonus: Flickr provides users with excellent stats (e.g. we have almost 200,000 photo views and today 13% of our referrals came from twitter).
Rapportive displays contact information—latest tweet, Facebook posts, networks, LinkedIn details and profile picture—in your inbox, automatically, see it here. I can highlight an email address and see their corresponding information pop up in the sidebar. Rapplets are extensions for Rapportive—the MailChimp Rapplet allows you to see if a user is on a list, which list and which emails they received and items they’ve clicked on. It’s genius. I can also easily add a contact to my database via another Rapplet (and see any projects or notes related to them).
Wufoo creates and manages data collection through forms. This service is a favourite because it syncs with our email marketing service MailChimp. We can create (public or private) forms to embed on our website (or sent via email).
You can generate new list subscribers (and arrange for MailChimp to categorize and confirm their subscription). We currently have an internship application form on our website and we hope to incorporate Wufoo to help tailor our lists a little further (i.e. including client-specific sign-ups embedded in releases hosted on our website). This is also a useful tool for RSVP collection and management. Internally we use forms for skills assessment and staff review purposes. We’re also developing a form for new business inquiries and a New Client form for information requisition purposes. As a management tool, forms enable you to re-distribute administrative time into strategic time: M-A-G-I-C.
Internally we use a wiki (hosted through Wikidot) to train and empower our staff. With rotating internships (and our cloud-based approach to everything) it’s important to have our knowledge base available and up to date for incoming staff. The wiki is ideal (vs. a handbook) because it’s a dynamic document with linked articles and outbound links (for further tutorials or to view examples). The challenge is motivating staff to continue to update the wiki—I’m considering implement a Wiki Day every quarter with incentives for the team (i.e. a day of wiki updating for a day at the spa), or a Top Wiki-er reward…
This is our go-to invoicing tool. Like most game-changer web apps, the Freshbooks staff is friendly, responsive and their product is a HUGE time-saver. Tracking client expenses and generating invoices is child’s play. Easily post (yep, regular mail) or email invoices, send payment reminders, payment receipts, create estimates, templates for services or products—it’s like having your own accounts receivable department. Not to mention that Freshbooks syncs with other accounting software like inDinero and WaveAccounting.
I looked into “Social CRM” tools for database purposes, but as our team grew, I also required a project management solution. Sales lingo like “deals,” “leads” and “customers” frightened me…until I realized “pitches,” “media requests” and “clients/editors” were essentially (in social-crm-cloud-speak) the same thing. Most useful of all, the project management aspect seamlessly integrates tracking and reporting. When I discovered how easily we could align our efforts with client deliverables…I died and went to PR Heaven. Highrise, Zoho CRM and Batchbook are good ones.
Google’s powerful enterprise tool takes five minutes to set up and instantly shares your organization’s contacts, calendars, and documents (and much more). Highlights include:
- Gchat: Chatting with co-workers has its benefits. All information shared in Gchat remains searchable in your account. Don’t be surprised if media requests come your way through Gchat—I’m noticing this more and more.
- Google Docs: Docs is getting better and better and eventually all our files will be generated on docs (it could replace Dropbox). It enables file sharing (via public or private links), templates, viewer commenting and best of all, user sync: work on the same document as your co-worker or client and see them action changes in real time. Another cool docs feature: email a Google doc as a pasted item in the body of an email. We’ve designed a branded media wins review for client reporting which features thumbnails (pulled from flickr), logos, download links—all from the comfort of docs but sent to client in a smartphone-friendly way.
- Google Calendar: Our Google calendar doesn’t just sync schedules and track appointments. We have a master editorial calendar for pitching (which we update constantly—it helps get the ideas flowing and we never miss a seasonal pitch opportunity). We also add client calendars or client workbacks as separate calendars. You can view any of your calendars in “agenda format” and in the click of a button generate a client-ready workback schedule in PDF format. When international media or clients visit, we create and share a dedicated Google calendar to book and update schedules.
- Gmail: Where do I begin? Gmail filters email efficiently. Instead of folders you have labels (so that items can appear in multiple areas), Gmail labs allow you to enable special features and truly customize your inbox experience (e.g. I have enabled flickr image previews, 30 second undo-send, canned responses, unread message icon and so on…). Multiple inboxes is a new discovery—allowing me to see 3 different views of my inbox at the same time (trust me it’s useful—I never miss a message. Ever.). Search operators (allowing you to specify search areas) are important time-savers in Gmail: learn them and use them. Whenever I’m looking into a new app I always see if it syncs with Gmail—it’s the Google standard.
About Knot PR
Knot PR is a Toronto-based Communications agency which represents brands in fashion, food and design. Founded in 2009, Knot orchestrates events, launches and media relations campaigns for terrific brands. We’re excited about social media and we feel at home in 'The Cloud'. Knot PR is always finding ways to better communicate with its publics: the media, the public-at-large, clients and internal stakeholders.