Google Apps: Low-Cost (or No-Cost) In-the-Cloud Solutions for PR Tasks

It almost goes without saying, but Google is just about everywhere you turn. As business professionals, you most likely take its search capabilities for granted by now. And between the news about cars that drive themselves; lack of Google Maps on the iPhone; the lost voice of Larry Page; and the failure of Google+ to make inroads as a valuable PR tool, there is some Google “news” that PR pros can really use.

And that is, Google Apps can be killer low-cost or no-cost alternatives to other productivity tools out there. Furthermore, they can be applied to specific PR-related tasks. “They are especially helpful for in-house PR teams with very limited budgets,” says Albe Zakes, global VP of media relations at TerraCycle, Inc. a company that creates recycling systems.

Both in-house and agency PR pros already benefit from using Google Insights and Google Analytics for their Web measurement capabilities. Yet Google’s other app offerings are seamlessly integrated with each other and can be easily accessed via smartphones and tablets.

Nicole Ravlin, partner at PMG, a PR agency based in Burlington, VT, says that nearly two years ago its IT consultants recommended Google Apps for Business to simplify its work processes.

Since PMG’s  clients are in multiple time zones and its staff travels frequently, scheduling meetings and tracking product launches were more difficult that they needed to be, says Ravlin. “Not only has Google Apps kept us organized as a company, it’s also helped us stay in line with our core values, one of which is to be as paperless as possible,” she says.
Google Apps for Business is the company’s paid offering, starting at $5 per user per month or $50 per user per year, which gives an organization access to the full suite of products (except for Google Vault, which adds $5 to the monthly or yearly cost). But individuals can use the majority of the Apps for free.

Yet there‘s a slight trust problem with Google Apps that may keep them from catching on fully for awhile, says Dany Gaspar, director of digital strategy at Washington, D.C. and New York-based Levick.
Since these apps reside in the cloud, some PR pros—particularly the older set—are hesitant to use them—wary of their data disappearing in a puff of digital smoke. “As organizations get more comfortable with cloud-based solutions and apps, they’ll will start to trust Google Apps much more,” says Gaspar.

Ravlin has no such reservations. “I hate to say I trust Google, but I kind of do,” she says. “I have no reservations about using these apps.”

And we had no reservations about asking PR pros how they integrate Google Apps into their workdays. Generally, most of them find the tools to be very convenient and reliable as a platform for their behind-the-scenes public relations activities.   

And specifically, the D’s have it—Drive and Doc. Check out the grid below for the full lowdown from communications professionals on Google Apps for PR.

Google App/Notable Features PR Use: Comments:
Calendar: Gives you event reminders on your phone or in your inbox; creates an event calendar to embed on your Web site. Sharing feature allows PR pros to manage events in multiple cities for the launch of a new product. A client can see their schedules come together in real time, and it syncs with mobile devices. Working with Lake Champlain Chocolates at the Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C., PMG PR used Calendar to schedule Lake Champlain’s appointments with press people. “Calendar has completely transformed the way we schedule meetings with clients, book trade shows, and schedule launch events,” says PMG’s Nicole Ravlin.
Drive: A single destination for up-to-date versions of files from anywhere. Can create and reply to comments on files to get immediate feedback or add ideas. Helpful for keeping your PR ducks in a row, says Jenna Bartlo, media relations coordinator, University Communications & Marketing, Biola University. Stories or press releases can be updated in one place, and attaching multiple versions to e-mails is eliminated. “It’s faster and streamlines our editing and editorial planning process,” she says. “We use a shared Google Drive account to house key media assets, including an electronic press kit, media Image sets, presentation and other key background documents,” says TerraCycle’s Albe Zakes. “Drive helps us work more closely with clients in developing pitches, releases and other content,” says Binna Kim, VP of PR and marketing at Cognito.
Docs: Designed for teams, which can create documents, spreadsheets and presentations; stored on the Web, with controlled access. Zakes uses an Excel sheet on Google Docs to manage and populate media tracking reports and preferred media contacts. “All my publicists globally use this same sheet so that I can very easily pull a list of all media placements—and the pertinent stats—for a specific partner or product in a specific market. It is a massive time saver for a global operation,” he says. “We share documents directly with our clients and quickly work through things like media lists, press releases and blog posts,” says PMG’s Ravlin. “We often make comments and chat directly in a doc so we can avoid the hassle of multiple phone calls and e-mails.”
Vault: This optional app adds archiving, e-discovery and information governance to the mix. Serious stuff. Be prepared for litigation and compliance audits that might crop up with certain clients with search tools that help find and retrieve relevant e-mails and chat messages. “Vault is good from the standpoint of controlling confidentiality,” says Levick’s Gaspar, who notes that this app is still in its infancy.
Voice: A phone number can be tied to the user, not to a device or a location. Use Google Voice to simplify the way you use phones, make using voicemail as easy as e-mail, customize your callers’ experience, and more. Individual Voice accounts can be set up for specific campaigns and clients, to provide a custom voicemail destination when sending out media contact information, for example. “We’ve used Voice with press releases, so when the media calls the number on the release, the voicemail will be specific to that client instead of saying ‘WolfCom PR’ on it.” says Nick Pandiscio, chief operating officer at WolfCom in New York City.