PR Tips
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Ending Excel Hell - My mission for 2024

desk with spreadsheet

This year I’m dedicating my time to a simple mission. To end Excel Hell for every PR team I can. 

If the PR team that you work on uses Excel to keep their media lists up to date this post is for you. If you are the one doing the Excel work, you definitely need to read on. 

Right now too many PR agencies and In-House teams are still dependent on outdated tools and old processes to power their media relations. These inefficient ways of working are burning thousands of hours each year costing millions in wasted time on needless grunt work. It is also holding them back from getting more coverage and better results. 

If the last year has shown us anything it is that AI is revolutionising how we work. I firmly believe that the PR teams that don’t have a long hard look at the inefficiencies in the way they operate will be left behind. 

You might be wondering what Excel Hell is? Here’s a definition:

It is an inefficient work practice that exists in PR and Communications teams where media contacts research is logged in excel spreadsheets, before being copied and pasted into the email programme of the person on the PR team responsible for distributing the press releases to the media. 

Excel Hell is in a word a nightmare. Imagine endlessly adding media contacts from a multitude of analog sources to a spreadsheet and then continuously copying it across to your email program. In addition to being hugely time consuming, it is very frustrating as there is no way to automate the process. 

Very soon your excel spreadsheet is out of date and then you enter the tyranny of bounced emails. Every bounced email will take between 30 minutes and an hour to fix; they just mount up. Typically you do nothing about it until just before you have a press release or a pitch to send and then it’s too late. As soon as you press the button your email gets clogged with a blizzard of bounced emails, and you quickly get overwhelmed.


Why do PR and Comms teams get caught in the trap of Excel Hell? There are a multitude of reasons. The most common one is that old chestnut  - ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’, which is to be one of the greatest blockers to innovation ever. Nothing improves or iterates if that is the prevailing view. 

The main reason is about human resources - who keeps the media list up to date? It is, almost exclusively, a job reserved for junior staff. They often go along with the plan, because it’s their first job and they’re glad to have it. Because of this imbalance their more senior colleagues never have to experience the mess or stress of Excel Hell, and quite reasonably don’t see the need to take any action. I was once told by a PR Agency boss that his team has a “seamless, organic way of updating lists.” I wasn’t sure if he believed this himself but it turned out that their lists were a mess and they were using Excel. And all the while he was insulated from it. 

Another reason is the fallacy that using a media contact database stops PR people from building their own relationships with journalists. This is a false argument. Of course PR people need to build strong relationships with journalists - it is an essential part of the work. But using a good media contacts database will make you a more efficient PR person and give you many more opportunities for your stories. It will mean that you are organised and can find more journalists to build relationships with. It’s about being more efficient, not replacing human connection. In 2023 the research team at MediaHQ updated over 24,000 contacts and fixed 13,000 bouncing emails. That work saved media users thousands of hours to do more valuable jobs. 

Budget is also a major negative when it comes to replacing Excel Hell. “Sure doesn't the computer come with Excel installed and aren’t interns free? Why would I spend money on a media contacts database “ … This was the line that was once used to me by an experienced PR agency founder. When you analyse the human effort expended to the actual return on investment for keeping Excel sheets up to date, it is easy to see how an investment in media contacts software makes sense. Many junior staff spend hundreds of hours every year struggling with this job, when they could be getting much better results with a media contacts database. 

Another nuance on the budget resistance is that PR agencies feel like they can’t charge out the money they spend on a media contacts database to their clients. They charge on almost everything else to their clients, but there is often an institutional arrogance that says they should know all the journalists and would look weak or foolish subcontracting this work out. I fundamentally disagree with this. The job of a PR Agency is not to know every journalist in the world. It is to devise winning strategies, solve problems, craft compelling narratives, train great spokespeople amongst many other higher order jobs.  

There are other reasons for a lack of action against Excel Hell that get overlooked and they centre around information and data security, and risk management. 

If all of the media and audience contacts for your In-house team or PR Agency are on one person’s laptop that is a recipe for disaster. What happens if it crashes or they decide to get a new job? All of your lists and information will walk out the door. 

You might find GDPR mind numbingly boring but if you don’t have a process for managing your records - and that includes journalists contacts - you are exposed and likely to be in breach of the law. Media contacts software like MediaHQ manages this perfectly with opt outs on every press release and a way to track the journalists that have opted out. 

And what happens if your website is hacked and you cannot safely distribute emails from your account? That’s what happened to the HSE in 2021 and they were unable for many days to communicate. If they had a media contacts provider that enabled them to distribute emails from their own emails this wouldn’t have happened. 

What does a better way look like? And what can an In-house team or PR Agency expect if they end Excel Hell? If you replace Excel Hell with a media contacts database and press release distribution software here are some of the benefits. 

Ending Excel Hell means you will be investing in a collaboration platform - a place for your team to work together on managing media relations. Everyone can access the same set of lists, and you can collaborate on drafting a release - and not have to send over endless drafts in Microsoft Word. The ChatGPT plugin will even help you generate first drafts of your release and great headlines. You can build templates so that your releases look good and are in your house style.  Everyone can see when a release is issued. 

Ending Excel Hell means you will have access to thousands of up to date contacts and consequently many more opportunities to get your story further, faster, to more people. Making lists takes seconds, not hours or days. There is no more copying into and out of Excel and you can label and file a list to make it easier to find. 

Ending Excel Hell means that you will never again have to fix a bounced email. We do that for you. Believe me it’s worth it for that alone. We guarantee a 97% delivery rate on all emails sent. 

Ending Excell Hell means that you will get amazing reports that will tell you who opened your story and when (and more importantly who didn’t)  - how your story performed in that crucial first hour and overall, and how it compared to the last time you emailed that list. 

So why not start the new year with a bang and end Excel Hell. It will give your team back the gift of time - lots of it. And you will get much better results. 

Click here if you want to take the next steps. 


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