PR Agency Tool Stacks Rival Marketing and Technology-led Organizations

by Stephen Waddington

PR agencies fundamentally reengineered their workflow and technology during the COVID-19 pandemic. Where tools have previously been added to workflow to optimize and support discrete tasks, the pandemic has triggered a fundamental reappraisal of processes and end-to-end capabilities.

The PR Council invited member agencies to contribute their tool stack to this study using CabinetM, a marketing technology management platform. Fifty agencies submitted data between January and March 2021 across 17 areas of operations and agency workflow. The PR Council tool stack project recorded more than 1,500 tools.

Agency tool stacks consist of an average of 33 native and third-party tools. The size of an agency does not appear to have an impact on the size or sophistication of its tool stack.

Six key themes emerge from the dataset:

  1. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI)
    Agencies are building suites of data sources and tools to rival the most sophisticated marketing and technology-led organizations according to CabinetM. Artificial intelligence is making a significant inroad in this area to help make sense of complex datasets and identify audience personas. In a fast-growing trend, agencies are building a collection of tools, overlaid with a process or intellectual property, branded as their own solution.
  2. Data and insight
    A mix of first, second, and third-party data is being used to inform strategy and campaign planning. SurveyMonkey is the most popular tool for quantitative and qualitative research to gather information directly from audiences, but more sophisticated survey platforms are also employed. Social media monitoring tools such as Brandwatch, Critical Mention, GlobalWebIndex, Meltwater, Netbase, Rival IQ and Trendkite are used to understand audiences and conversation around brands, markets, and issues. Agencies are using a wide variety of sources of market intelligence.
  3. Stakeholder Management
    The PR Council stack dataset suggests that agencies are embracing a broad set of stakeholders beyond journalists across the paid, earned, shared and owned media spectrum. It indicates both a sophisticated approach to stakeholder management and a shift into content marketing and sales automation. The traditional set of media database vendors featured strongly in the PR Council stack dataset indicating that earned media relations remains a core part of agency activity. The strategic management of stakeholders is a discernible trend from the data set. Several agencies are shifting away from media database solutions and building their own stakeholder management systems.
  4. Remote working: shift to virtual agencies
    The shift from offices to home working because of the COVID-19 pandemic is apparent from the PR Council stack dataset. The PR agency industry’s rapid shift to remote and online working made this the most detailed category in the study. Tools are being applied to every area of agency practice from communication to brainstorming, and from project management to team meetings.
  5. Innovative areas of practice
    A shift in practice from media relations to search engine optimization and influencer relations is apparent from the dataset. Agencies are clearly employing both areas of practice albeit from an earned as opposed to a paid point of view. Many of the tools in use in this category include analytics, which contribute to proving the value of integrated PR.The study reveals an emerging class of tools for influencer identification and management. Meanwhile several respondents to the PR Council Stack study have also developed a robust approach to earned search engine optimization. Tools such as, SEMrush and SimilarWeb are used to characterize websites and plan search engine optimization (SEO) activity.
  6. Reporting
    Tools identified for earned and social media monitoring are also used for reporting. Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics are widely used to understand impact and report on the results of work. The latter is used by four out of five agencies. Agencies have firmly adopted data visualization for reporting and presenting results in real time. Every agency that contributed to the PR Council stack dataset used a tool in this category. Google Data Studio, Microsoft BI and Tableau are among the most popular dashboards.

Most Used Platforms

(# of firms in the study using/50)                            Average rating

  1. Google Analytics (40)                                             8.52
  2. Zoom (37)                                                                 8.62
  3. LinkedIn (32)                                                             7.52
  4. Microsoft Teams (27)                                              8.33
  5. Mailchimp (25)                                                         7.12
  6. Twitter (25)                                                               6.38
  7. Microsoft 365 (24)                                                   8.44
  8. Hootsuite (23)                                                          7.23
  9. Instagram (21)                                                          6.66
  10. Muck Rack (21)                                                        8.54
  11. Adobe Creative Suite (20)                                     7.91
  12. Facebook (20)                                                          6.18
  13. Slack (20)                                                                  9.58
  14. QuickBooks (19)                                                       8.25
  15. Google Data Studio (19)                                         8.75
  16. Cision Communications Cloud (18)                     6.90
  17. Sprout Social (16)                                                    7.72
  18. Canva (15)                                                                 8.71
  19. Google Docs (15)                                                     9.0
  20. WordPress (15)                                                        7.71