Babbler, a new service tool for PR Pros has recently been making headlines in the US PR industry. Hailing from France and founded by two French PR veterans, Babbler is designed to change how PR professionals interact with journalists on a daily basis. One of the company’s founders recently said in a post on PRSA that 75% percent of email pitches from unknown publicists and wire releases never get opened and instantly deleted. That is a harsh pill to swallow for some but not entirely unexpected considering the amount of emails the average journalist probably receives every day.
Babbler considers itself “the first real-time media relations platform for the digital age. The only opt-in network that lets media and PR pros instantly share news, content and messages in a single platform.” As such, it is designed to circumvent journalists’ dreadful email inbox and instantly connect with them in a more direct fashion.
The platform also serves as a digital newsroom where you can host all of your brands’ images, videos and associated copy, instantly create links and share them with your media contacts. This can be a big selling point to companies who don’t have their own digital newsroom to host all of their assets. Babbler essentially lets you create a brand newsroom that is associated with your account and name and you completely control everything from uploads to sharing to privacy settings. And yes, Babbler has a wonderful function that every PR Pro will appreciate – setting content to private so you can share it only with select contacts. This will come in very handy when you are pre-pitching content before it is public.
Another great feature of the service is monitoring/measuring. Babbler lets you see who opened your messages and clicked on your links, something that is obviously missing from regular email communication, even if it is available from traditional wire services. Today’s short link services also easily let you analyze click-through rates for custom links you create but it is definitely intriguing to have it all in one place, especially since you can also export the statistics of your efforts.
Also in one place is your overall communication with a specific journalist, so Babbler combines this feature with the overall newsroom network experience. The service also lets you tag your brands and individual news items with topics so that your content will come up in searches when journalists are looking for specific topics within the network. This could become a great advantage over having to stay afloat amongst Google search algorithms. You can also assign your contacts according to your brands, which is a great feature for agencies since you’re likely going to have very different contacts for different industries.
Babbler looks like a solid tool that can help make your PR life more efficient, especially when you own and fully control your brand content, whether in-house or with an agency. I can also see it being beneficial when you have a constant flow of news for your brand and lots of new assets and updates coming your way.
But I see challenges for Babbler beyond those scenarios.
If you don’t have a constant flow of news, maybe because your service is more geared towards speaking engagements, social media, or it is seasonal in nature, your newsroom can easily look a bit deserted. With that also comes the issue of representation and ownership since you as an individual essentially are the face of the company or brand’s newsroom. And what if there are others?
Some agencies are only contracted for a specific part of the business. When I was on the corporate side we would routinely hire different agencies for different products and initiatives, based on target audiences. The traditional agency-of-record model seems to apply less and less. When you’re only representing a part of the overall business and not the entire company, Babbler can become misleading as to what your association with the brand or company is or what the entirety of their news looks like. Your profile does look like you’re in charge of that brand so I can see how that could be a challenge for situations with multiple agencies or even several in-house communicators handling separate aspects of a company’s PR efforts (think corporate versus products, or local PR versus national corporate). I think this is a solvable challenge, however, that could be addressed with a change in UX design.
There was one major downside to Babbler for me, though. We all know why major journalist databases like Cision are around and can demand the prices that they do. They are an essential tool for us, particularly on the agency side, to identify media targets for our clients and have their contact information updated on the regular. Babbler requires you to import your own contact list so the service doesn’t actually come equipped with media contacts for you like Cision does. It serves merely as a platform to interact with them. And when you break that down, I am wondering if that’s really all that necessary, efficient and feasible?
Online networks only ever work when a critical mass of your contacts is on them; the same will likely be true for Babbler. But how many of us would like to spam our media contacts with an invitation to join a new network? Maybe we can just hope someone else already did that for us and we can just reap the efforts?
I have a hard time imagining journalists jumping on another network in the age of Twitter, Facebook and basic email. And even if you do get them to join, they will see your message/news only on the network unless you select to notify them via email, and then we are back to square one, the dreaded email inbox. I firmly believe that if you have a good relationship with a journalist and a solid pitch at the right time, you will succeed, so am hesitant to agree that I need a new network to accomplish that.
This also poses the question of whether or not Babbler then owns your contacts and their ultimate goal is to offer a Cision-type service? I may be jaded but I can’t imagine they didn’t put legal language for that into their agreements.
My takeaway is that Babbler can be a great service tool for those who control all aspects of a brand and need an easy-to-use, fully functional online newsroom and have no issues with uploading their contact lists into a tool like that. But as with all new networks, wait and see may be a good approach for others who do not fit this profile.