PR agencies rely on software to do their jobs. Two of the most important tools are getting access to media lists and then monitoring the results of your efforts.
Just a few years ago, Meltwater was the upstart taking on industry giants like Cision. Their initial value proposition was that they used innovative tech to lower costs and improve service. They have captured significant market share over the past few years, but haven’t kept pace with technological changes. Today, they’re now one of the entrenched leaders, but new entrants are starting to nip at their heels with superior offerings.
We recently had a demo of one of the new offerings: Propel PRM. To us, it looks like it’s getting things right. It’s one of several new offerings for PR Pros to consider. It made us realize just how disappointed we’ve grown with the Meltwater platform.
My take is that where Meltwater rested on its laurels and didn’t make significant improvements to its platform, Propel appears to have nimbly outpaced it. Today, Propel seems to offer a superior service for less cost. As far as I can tell from discussions with others in the PR industry, Meltwater’s rates vary from customer to customer. If you were lucky and stumbled on a great sale or are a particularly strong negotiator, then you’re probably paying a low rate. Propel offers more transparency and predictability on pricing.
Meltwater offers a dashboard to monitor all your PR clients and their campaigns. The same dashboard can quickly generate reports that you can send to clients outlining the results of the last month, or your last campaign or pitch. The dashboard widgets are uneven in their quality. Some aren’t even usable.
Propel’s dashboard, on the other hand, is built around the relationships PR pros have with reporters and influencers. It’s made to function as a CRM that also offers media monitoring and campaign reporting.
Propel is now the upstart disruptor.
If there’s one thing that impressed us most about Propel, it was the way it starts with the relationship between PR Pro and journalist. It’s essentially a CRM for PR agencies, giving us a dashboard that looks at the people we’re pitching, and letting us manage those relationships without spamming them. This is a breakthrough. It’s so obvious that it’s shocking that no one has offered it before.
You can search a huge database of journalists, and you can create large lists to target, but the tool seems to be purpose built for more personal pitching. That is vital for PR agencies today as the era of spray and pray news releases is over.
Meltwater was built for the spray and pray era. It boasts a massive database of journalists and influencers. Most of the time, you can piece together a fairly good media list using Meltwater’s database and search tool. We’ve found that it will usually take multiple searches to do a really good job, however. If you’re looking for lumber industry reporters in Canada, for example, you’ll have to weed through a large number of bad results in order to find people who are actually worth contacting.
And those contacts will always just be in a list. You’ll never have a good view of who you’ve pitched and whether those pitches were picked up. You can pitch Joan Morning Producer at CBC a hundred times through Meltwater, but you’ll have to track the results of those pitches separately. With Propel, you’ll see immediately how many times Joan has picked up your pitches.
Meltwater allows you to take notes under contact profiles, but you need to search those notes out. In Propel, the real time relationship is front and centre.
In just about every journalist search we run on Meltwater, we encounter a large quantity of junk results. For example, it gives us names of reporters who do not cover the topic we’re interested in, or it provides names of freelancers who aren’t affiliated with the outlet we want to target. Too often, we get names that are no longer even at the outlet in question. This is one of the most frustrating things about running media lists in Meltwater. And there are no easy ways to fix the junk data. You can flag the results as junk, but that’s about all you can do. We’ve instituted a required step at our agency to manually check lists before including reporters, which is exactly the kind of labour that Meltwater says it is trying to help you avoid.
We use the media monitoring function on Meltwater a number of ways. We use it to research specific topics to get a sense of what has been written about them. We also use it to monitor results from our PR campaigns, both in traditional and social media.
Meltwater only looks at online sources, which gives it the ability to provide monitoring services relatively cheaply compared to manual monitoring. It also means it misses a lot of potential coverage. Say, for example, you’re pitching radio stations and you secure some on-air interviews for your client. Unless those stations write the interviews up as blog posts or articles, you’re going to miss that coverage in your monitoring report.
The same goes for print-only publications as well as many industry trade newsletters, magazines and other titles that are difficult to search for online.
Meltwater allows you to search for social mentions on Twitter and Facebook, but it doesn’t pick up anything further. The results are useful, but still lacking.
Meltwater’s monitoring service’s biggest shortcoming is that it is unable to give you an accurate number on your estimated reach. We have to buy a second subscription to Media Ratings Points to give us an accurate picture of how many people we’ve reached through daily newspaper circulations, television newscast audience figures, etc. Media Ratings Points also provides good quality scoring that you can customize based on your needs, something that’s also missing from Meltwater. Given it’s tech origins, we would have hoped that Meltwater would have added this kind of service.
We’ve also found that the monitoring service just simply misses things that shouldn’t be missed. We now routinely run Google News searches to round out the coverage that we find in Meltwater. If your service is barely an upgrade on free Google searches, then what exactly are we paying for again?
One of our pet peeves with SaaS companies is their reliance on shady auto renewal clauses in their contracts. Meltwater requires customers to notify them in writing at least 60 days before the end of the term if they want to cancel the contract. Rest assured, your Meltwater ‘representative’ will send the invoice the day after your cancellation period ends.
Caveat emptor. Buyer beware.
We think it speaks volumes about a company that it relies on this kind of contract.
Meltwater seems to have been born as a tech company that disrupted an industry that needed disrupting, but it’s forgotten what made it a good option for PR practitioners. As it has grown, its focus appears to be on sales to keep the pipeline full rather than innovating.
Part way through our contract, Meltwater unilaterally downgraded our service package. We now receive less service and less support. Compare and contrast this poor customer experience to a company like Hubspot which is consistently rolling out service improvements, sometimes at no cost at all.
We’ll be shopping around for PR tools before renewing again with Meltwater. Right now, we’re leaning towards Propel based on cost, value and some refreshingly innovative thinking.
We run campaigns and marketing for our clients wherever they do business around the world. We serve as expert local counsel for national and international clients looking for marketing and communications services in the Canadian Prairies.
We'd love to work with you, just let us know how we can help your business grow or subscribe to our newsletter.