Sean Patrick had a problem. Patrick, national director of public relations for Pulte Homes, a residential homebuilder with headquarters in Bloomfield, Michigan, and his staff of six had to cover the public relations efforts in 45 markets coast-to-coast. "We needed to bring our efforts into the 21st century. We did not really have any automated marketing efforts. Everything was done via simple email and faxes," he says.
Patrick moved Pulte's public relations into the new millennium through application service provider (ASP) Vocus of Lanham, Maryland. The hosted ASP, which has been providing public relations software since 1992, harnesses the power of a database which includes a media directory of over 400,000 journalists and 100,000 editorial calendar opportunities.
Patrick considered buying software but ruled it out. "We would have to update everything ourselves. Using Vocus, everything is automatically updated daily."
The ability to rapidly deploy was another major point when Pulte decided to outsource to Vocus in January 2003. It took about a month for the staff to be fully trained.
One of the major enabling advantages for Patrick was having full capabilities to do targeted email to journalists. "We are able to target email and create lists that we can track. If an address isn't good, the program automatically reports it to the database. Vocus automatically cleanses and updates the list daily. We can track reporters and journalists to see what they are doing and make notes on profiles as to what they like and don't like."
Outsourcing Gets PR a Seat on the Management Team
Robust reporting enables public relations to become a more valued and participating department contributing to the builder's business objectives. "Management knew that public relations was a good thing, but didn't know why," he explains. Instead of waiting for quarterly reports, real-time campaign statistics that show press release response rate enhances business agility.
Patrick is pleased to be able to quantify the contribution of his team. "We can customize the reports, which provide greater visibility into our business. Upper management can now see what we do and how much coverage we provide."
Kay Bransford, vice president marketing for Vocus, explains the reporting and analytic benefits. "Vocus gives our clients the tools to turn all the data points and media mentions into insightful and actionable data executives can understand and use. Information on media inquiries, reported industry trends, even competitor coverage can be mined and turned into meaningful information they can act upon. This helps them get a seat on the management team."
Fred Whiting, adjunct instructor at George Washington University's Center for Professional Development in Washington, DC, explains the value of public relations to a business. "Building a brand for a company like a national home builder is essential to the success of the business. PR people help to identify, develop, and communicate messages to the company's target audiences about the company's brand."
Whiting adds that studies show the public considers messages communicated through public relations "more credible than advertising."
Doing Twice as Much in Half the Time
Beyond increased agility and insight, Patrick has noted a dramatic increase in productivity in a much less labor-intensive fashion. "We have greatly enhanced our productivity and can do twice as much in half the time," he says.
As an example, Patrick cites the Baby Boomer Report, an annual report Pulte releases every year. "It is very important we share it with reporters," he explains. Last year Pulte sent the report to 100 reporters. This year, using a .pdf file, Pulte send it to over 800. "We are able to get our name out there," he says.
The small PR staff travels extensively and lost valuable time trying to stay in touch. "Vocus has enabled us to become unwired. We travel a lot. We now have access to our work anywhere there is a computer and the Internet. We can keep track of things no matter where we are. Everyone is on the same page," he adds.
Additionally, the Pulte IT staff no longer has to worry about new technology adoption. Bransford explains how the ASP offers top shelf capabilities without burdening the enterprise IT staff and infrastructure. "Vocus offers a level of reliability and back-up services most organizations couldn't afford to pay for," she says. All networking components, load balancers, Web servers, and application servers are configured in a redundant configuration; Vocus backs up all customer data to tape on a nightly basis.
Whiting concludes, "The PR pro needs to have a way to communicate effectively with these journalists. PR creates sales leads; marketing closes the sale." Outsourcing gave Pulte the building tools to do just that.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- The outsourced hosted subscription model places no addition burdens on internal IT staff or resources.
- Outsourcing to an ASP increased business competence, communication, and agility.
- Outsourcing to an ASP increases productivity and enables anytime/anywhere capability.