Building your own PR platform?
Build vs Buy. Tough question. This article explains the pros and cons of both approaches.
Just because you can build it, doesn’t mean you should.
After all, when a company or agency has specific needs and talented staff, it’s reasonable to build something in-house or use external help.
That choice is made on the assumptions that 1) a custom system will better suit their business 2) their data is “safer” and 3) it will be more cost-effective. We think the real question is:
Do the pros of building your own PR platform outweigh the cons?
In our experience, most of the time the answer is NO. As a PR team or agency, your PR platform is too essential for your business to risk failure.
If you are currently on the fence about whether to buy or build your own solution, consider these factors first:
Bend the tool? Or bend your business?
There are some undeniable benefits to building your own solution. First, you can have exactly the features you want and need for your business without any excess. But at what cost?
Before you start knocking down walls with your programmer or development agency, think about usability, performance, integration capabilities and reporting features. These are all areas that SaaS companies are good at, so why reinvent the wheel if the solution is already out there?
“Matching the business needs” is usually one of the top arguments for building your own system from scratch. Not only will it have a feature set that matches your business, but it can also be engineered to work with all your existing tools and current processes.
Just keep in mind that a PR contact management system (CRM) should always have the option to customize. Whether you build it or buy it. Because if your company changes, the CRM should be able to change right along with it.
Bugs and errors
Let’s just get real for a second: every software development project will result in bugs and errors.
Programmers and coders are only human and they make mistakes. The funny thing is most of the bugs will only appear once you are using the new tool. At this point, major mistakes will have real consequences. Pitching a story to a blogger that has already unsubscribed 3 times? Good luck explaining to him there was a bug in your system.
Acquiring an existing PR platform doesn’t mean there will never be bugs. But it does guarantee you that the platform has been tested by a lot of companies and agencies before you start using it. And when something does go wrong, an entire team is ready to roll out a fix because that product is their only priority.
Depending on the skills of your programmer or development agency and the assigned budget, your first deliverable could be a really good and useful product.
The challenge is that technology is changing so fast it is very hard to keep up. Making your newsroom fully responsive to look good on mobile devices? Integrating Instagram for your fashion clients' latest collection? Make sure the newsroom adheres to the latest SEO techniques?
It takes a lot of discipline, attention and technical expertise to keep up with trends and the world's innovation. A software-as-a-service product will have the advantages of scale: the subscription fee of all clients will be used to keep up with today's PR digital trends and innovations.
When things go wrong: Support
So your in-house developer or external agency did an excellent job creating a platform that makes your life a lot easier. Now it’s time for your users and PR consultants to start using the system, but what about support? For the developers this project was temporary and they are now off to the next big thing. That leaves you without a structure to support the users.
Instant is a big word in Public Relations. What if people get stuck using the system? What if a user can’t publish a story due to the format of an attachment, an incorrect contact list or a missing password? That’s when you need people to count on. A support team that’s always around.
What about costs?
Ok. So you have made a comparison between your own budget exercise and the subscriptions listed on the vendor's pricing page?
The truth is: while the vendor pricing looks expensive, your own custom-build development budget is likely to be incorrect. Calculating the TCO of a software project is an extremely difficult challenge. Here is a whitepaper on TCO costs of 4 popular CRMs.
Software development is complex. Period. Even when painting a wall or a fence you may come up with unexpected extra work that needs to be done to make it right, but at least the number of things that can go wrong is somehow limited.
In software development the spectrum of potential issues is almost infinite, especially when it comes to creating a complex application. In such conditions, every, even the most experienced developer, will be prone to make errors and the estimates will be inaccurate.
Worse yet. Most software projects will be over budget and most of the time they will be late.
Still, convinced you will somehow deal with these unexpected costs or delayed timing? What about long term costs such as hosting, bug fixing, licenses, training and support?
Some smart people (Gartner) have calculated that the real cost of a software application is generally four times the initial purchase price.
In the end, just because you can design, build, manage or mash up your own PR platform, doesn’t mean you should.
It’s important to do your own analysis and select the option that’s best for you. Just don’t forget about some of our considerations that might be easy to miss.