How much can tech tools transform PR?

A recent article asserts public relations pros lag their sales and marketing peers in the realm of automation, but what of the value of creative insights and inspiration? Here’s a counterpoint.

Like most areas of business, PR has reinvented itself for the digital age.

Ironically, word hasn’t gotten out. PR is its own worst public relations agent.

The latest evidence is a recent article titled, “Why the PR Industry is Failing.” Its author, Bill Hankes, points the finger at old-school tactics, including issuing a press release through a wire service before reporters have a chance to write about it.

His criticisms slam an older, mythical version of PR that is far from everyday reality for most practitioners. He depicts PR as stodgy and leagues behind most other disciplines (such as sales and marketing) when it comes to automation.

Hankes misses a fundamental point: Technology is simply a tool; it’s only as good as the mindset it supports.

PR is evolving

A recent USC Annenberg study reported that PR is morphing into marketing. Indeed, 87 period of the survey respondents didn’t even think the phrase public relations would adequately describe the profession in the foreseeable future.

Today so much of PR is less about beating down journalists’ doors and more about creating content, working with influencers and managing social media. At many agencies, a lot of time is spent on writing and placing articles on behalf of clients—as opposed to getting journalists to write about them.

Still, PR’s greatest attributes—the quirkiness and artistry that enable pros to create engaging stories—can’t be automated.

As the philosopher Michael Polanyi said, “We can know more than we can tell.” That is, many human activities can’t be formally described, meaning they can’t be programmed.

Automation can’t do this

One of my favorite PR stories pertains to elephants.

A PR professional had a client with a program training West Africans to protect forest elephants. The ingenious PR pro turned the dry facts into a compelling story: the first graduating class from elephant university. The story caught the eye of a Wall Street Journal reporter and landed on the Journal’s front page.

That ability to turn the mundane into magic is beyond what automation can do.

None of this is to say that PR couldn’t benefit from more and better technology. Many tools help PR pros tell better stories, connect with influential bloggers, understand competitor behavior and measure results.

What won’t change is the ability to tap into people’s imagination with engaging stories—elevating PR beyond the limits of automation to a mix of artistry, strategy and tactics.

Perceiving what others don’t see ennobles any profession, raising it from drudgery to craft.

Wendy Marx is president of Marx Communications. Follow her on Twitter. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

Topics: PR

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