How a Google Sprint helped us improve influencer outreach

A step-by-step overview of how Prezly used the Google playbook to improve our media outreach tools.

Google has a great track record of building stellar products, for themselves, and for the hundreds of startups in their investment portfolio.

Recently, a team of rockstar designers at Google shared Google’s success formula in the book SPRINT – How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in just Five Days. This book is a New York Times bestseller and is changing how thousands of companies solve problems.

sprintbook
Photo Credit: Jake Knapp @ Google Ventures

At Prezly, we specialize in communication software. My team decided to check out whether Googles Sprint process could help us solve a problem that has long bugged our clients: influencer outreach.

The influencer outreach workflow is broken

Many communication teams are struggling with the new media landscape. They’re finding it tough to connect with the people who matter, who’ll make a difference to their brand.

Part of the problem is that there’s been little innovation in how communication teams manage their influencer data. Many in the industry still use the same old Excel sheets they were using 10 years ago.

That may have been fine a decade ago, when all that was needed was a simple media list of a few hundred journalists.

Today, there are many more influencers, and their interests and the outlets they work for change rapidly. For example, a journalist may manage a personal blog while also  working for different magazines on different topics. And that may all change next week.

Media influencer lists are increasingly complex and in constant flux. Static Excel lists are neither accessible nor super useful. Excel simply doesn’t cut it any longer.

Improving influencer outreach with segmentation

At Prezly, we’ve spent the past five years improving the workflows of communication teams. We’ve already solved many problems. Helping teams get out of Excel hell, for example. But there’s always room for improvement.

We know that our clients need more dynamic ways to reach influencers and manage increasingly complex information. We were inspired to follow the Sprint recipe step-by-step to identify and build the solution.

The result? Influencer segmentation. In Prezly you can now easily create segments of contacts.

This will help your team:

  • Re-use often-used lists
  • Maintain your contact lists
  • Surface contacts that need your attention

Find out more about influencer segmentation on our newsroom.

So how did we get to this result?

The Sprint: five days of solving big problems and testing new ideas

The Sprint process is intense. The basic principle behind it is to avoid wasting hours on endless brainstorming and debate. Instead, you spend an intensive week of learning by doing. You don’t commit energy and expense into launching a product that may or may not work down the line. Instead, you develop and test a realistic but inexpensive prototype of your product.

The 5-day Sprint looks like this.

  • Monday – Unpack, map & target
  • Tuesday – Sketch & explore solutions
  • Wednesday – Decide & refine
  • Thursday – Prototype
  • Friday – Test & learn

Here’s how the Sprint book authors explain the process.

Monday: unpack, map & target

We knew that influencer outreach was an issue for our clients. But this process is all about honing in on specific solutions. So we spent the first day mapping the influencer outreach workflow and interviewing clients.

Google Sprint influencer outreach workflow overview

We interviewed four customers: two agency PR managers, and two from in-house teams at brands. We learned that PR teams spend a lot of time managing their influencer lists. This includes:

  • Creating subsets for clients or specific topics.
  • Sharing lists with clients or the team for review.
  • Refining lists ad-hoc when sharing a new story with influencers.
  • Using the lists for telephone follow-up and to add notes.
  • Sharing the results of their outreach with clients.

Excel spreadsheets aren’t built for these kinds of operations. In Excel  there are no easy ways to segment contacts into different groups.

Prezly’s software already addresses many of these issues,  but our Sprint team saw room for improvement. It was clear that our communication clients needed better and faster audience selection options.

Monday was a long day and we hadn’t built or designed anything yet. This felt somewhat counterintuitive. Google is a team of developers, right? Couldn’t we just choose something and start developing? However, by taking the time to interview clients and map workflow, we gained an invaluable mutual understanding of the issues.

Watch the video below to hear how the Sprint book’s authors suggest you structure the first Sprint day.

Tuesday: sketch & explore solutions

Tuesday started with inspiration: we reviewed existing ideas to remix and improve. Each team member briefly presented examples from other services, and we recorded summaries on the whiteboard.

This exercise helped us  understand what each other had in mind and the whiteboard sketches were a useful reference point.

Google Sprint influencer outreach patterns

In the afternoon, team members sketched solutions separately, following a four-step timed process that emphasized critical thinking over artistry.

  1. Notes: gathering key info (20 min)
  2. Ideas: doodling rough solutions (20 min)
  3. Quick sketches: draw rapid variations (8 min)
  4. Solution sketch: figure out the details (30 min)

This might seem overly-rigorous, but it helped us really scrutinize our work before committing to a solution. Don’t skip this step!

By day’s end we had each sketched a solution. Of course, each of us thought our solution was perfect and were eager to share it with the team. However, decision making would be for Wednesday.

Curious about Tuesday? Here’s how the Sprint authors propose to structure it.

Wednesday: decide & refine

We started the day by briefly presenting our individual solutions to the team. We each had one minute to explain our proposed idea. We then voted to decide which ideas had the best chance of achieving our long-term goal.

Google Sprint fast audience selection prototypes

Wednesday’s outcome was a storyboard based on the winning elements from our sketched solutions. This storyboard contained all the screens we’d prototype the next day and test Friday.

Here’s how the Sprint book authors set out Wednesday.

Thursday: prototype

In just seven hours our team built a realistic prototype. We brought in an interface designer to help us quickly make static screens with the right data and we linked up all the screens in prototyping tool InVision.

The team took on different roles:

  • User interface designer: designing all the screens
  • Stitcher: linking together all the screens in InVision
  • Interviewer: preparing the interview script for Friday

Influencer outreach solutions

By day’s end we had a realistic-looking prototype. We were ready for Friday.

Friday: test & learn

Friday was judgment day. What would our users think of all our work?

We set up shop in two locations: an interview room and a Sprint room. In the interview room a team member talked to five clients and showed them the prototype. Each interview took around 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, via screen sharing and webcams, the team followed along in the Sprint room. Seeing and hearing clients’ reactions to the prototype was invaluable.

Google Sprint user test

After the Sprint

Clear patterns emerged from the client interviews. But there was a problem. While the prototyped solution was a success, aspects of it, based on the feedback, needed to be reworked and rescoped.

This was a difficult moment. How were we to keep momentum after the Sprint had finished? We decided to repeat the process from Tuesday and Wednesday. We developed new solutions that addressed client feedback, and sketched them to share with other team members. In this way, the team identified the general scope of work for the next month in just one hour.

The result: influencer list segments

The outcome from our Sprint week was Prezly’s influencer list segments. Think of this tool as a smart view on your list of influencers. Different lists are always automatically up-to-date, even when individual contact information has been changed. Prezly’s segments also provide clients with a good default list of outreach contacts (or even many lists). This is a huge timesaver. Clients can now focus their effort on the content of the message rather than how it is sent and who receives it.

You can find out more about Prezly’s Segments in this video.

Conclusion

The Google Sprint process reaps benefits when it comes to solving new problems. It forces you to learn a lot in a short time, and to think hard before jumping to conclusions. Our team’s first Sprint was a success and we’ve already started our second, somewhat modified one.

However, the Sprint process isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s most useful to solve problems that are largely unknown. When the solution’s already clear, it might feel like it takes up a lot of time. I’ve already seen teams condensing the sprint to four days.

Although we may modify our own process, I’d recommend trying the Sprint. Pick up a copy of the Sprint book, block a week in your calendar, and solve a big problem.