Building your own PR/CRM platform?

Just because you can build it, doesn’t mean you should.

The number one reason our prospects are ultimately not buying Prezly is “We are building something ourselves”. After all, when a company or agency has specific needs and a talented staff, it’s reasonable to build something inhouse or using 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 professional or agency the 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 ?

Customisation

“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, it can 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 customise. 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. 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 him there was a bug in your system.
 

Having a commercial 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.

Product Innovation

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 news room fully responsive to look good on mobile devices ? Integrating instagram for your fashion clients latest collection ?

It takes a lot of discipline, attention and technical expertise to keep up with trends and the worlds 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 todays 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 excercise and the subscriptions listed on the vendors pricing page?

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 CRM’s.

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. Source: Clearcode.cc

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, bugfixing, licenses, training and support ? Some smart people (Gartner) have calculated that real cost of software application is generally four times the initial purchase price. (source)

A while ago we did a blog post with an example calculation of what “building your own PR platform” could potentially cost. Here is the Prezly pricing.

Conclusion

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.

Gijs Nelissen
AUTHOR
Gijs Nelissen

Gijs is a web architect and entrepreneur on a mission to help PR pros. He used to run a medium sized web agency, after that ran the sales team for one of the largest web agencies in the Benelux. Since 2010 he's the technical co-founder of Prezly, the online service that helps brands reach out to their media contacts.