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Tippety-typety.

It turns out that journalists don’t need CRM systems

I’ve been out of the journalism game for a few years, but in the meantime, I’ve been working on a series of startups. In the process, I fell in love with powerful customer relationship management (CRM) software packages. With a decent CRM, you can be reminded when someone doesn’t reply to an email, or when it’s been a while since you heard back from a potential lead or a source.

To me, it made perfect sense as a tool to make my journalisting more efficient, so when I went back into journalism, I decided to embrace the power of CRMs.

But why?

The problem I’m solving.

There are a few specific inefficiencies I wanted to solve:

  • Followup with sources who hadn’t responded to queries for a story
  • Regular followup with certain sources that I know have news in the pipeline
  • Automatic (canned) responses. I vowed to reply to every email that came my way, and to at least give everyone who emails me an idea for why I’m not covering their stories. Mostly with a link to that post, of course
  • Getting a broader picture of each company and PR agency, to add a layer of context and more consistent replies
  • Organization: Keeping my notes for stories together with emails, calls, and resources.

A CRM system helps with all of these things; each company and PR agency gets an entry, and even when I’m communicating with multiple people at a company about a story, everything stays neatly together and easy to find.

Setting up the systems

I signed up for a Close.io account, and stuck with it for four months. I diligently filed every source away as a PR contact, company source, or ad-hoc source. I had a number of experts, too, for me to reach out to for comments on certain industries. I had reminders to contact sources later on. It was a fantastic system… But it was eating up way too much of my time.

As much as I love to have full control and have everybody I’ve ever spoken to at my fingertips, life as a TechCrunch journalist is pretty insane. The tips@techcrunch.com e-mail address gets thousands and thousands of emails, and the first thing I had to do was to filter those all out (which means I still had to use Gmail to actually check those, so I couldn’t just use the CRM system). For the remaining emails, there were simply to many to categorize them all.

In other words, what I thought was a problem worth solving, simply wasn’t. Having notes together was nifty, of course, but it turns out that since I write mostly news and op/ed pieces (rather than long-form, heavy-on-the-research writing), there wasn’t a need for this particular feature too often.

The real solution

I did learn a lot from my experience, though. Responding to everyone in a timely matter is important to me, and I wasnted to be able to continue to do that. Unsurprisingly, sources are supportive when they get a reply — even if it is a rejection — rather than complete radio silence.

It was also very helpful to be able to check whether I received a reply to a query or not; when you’re working on 5–6 stories at once, it’s too easy for something to slip between the cracks.

The other ‘problems’ were less important; Keeping info together for a story? That’s what a notepad is for. Regular followups? Recurring calendar reminders work just fine.

And so it turns out that there is a far cheaper and easier solution than running a full-on CRM package. This is the solution I ended up with:

  • Gmail as the basis of everything. It’s plenty fast, and the built-in filters / starring of items I need to keep an eye on works great.
  • Boomerang for Gmail helps notify me when I send an email without getting a response, so I can chase people up when necessary. It also enables me to keep my inbox clear by ‘snoozing’ emails until a later date.
  • Text Expander helps me for canned responses and scripted replies. Best of all, it’s available for iOS too, and has more powerful conditional macros than the CRM system I was using.

If I need to get everything together in one place, a quick search in my e-mail usually gets me everything I need. A search like from:tesla.com shows me all the threads I’ve received from Tesla employees. Hacky, for sure, but I use it rarely enough that I didn’t really miss the more detailed categorization and e-mail grouping afforded by the CRM system.

I guess that means I went the long way around, implementing a complicated system I didn’t really need, but I’m glad I did; the suite of software I ended up with is better than what I would have chosen otherwise, I think.

Haje is a founder coach, working with a small, select number of startup founders to build exciting, robust organizations that can stand the test of time. Find out more at Haje.me. You can also find Haje on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Written by

CEO of Konf, pitch coach for startups, enthusiastic dabbler in photography.

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