Why PR can be automated

Although there are opportunities to automate PR, nothing will change until PR pros change their mindsets.

Notable journalist Tom Foremski recently asked whether PR can be automated, especially given the advances in automation in the advertising world. In it, he states:

“The PR industry is heading for a serious showdown with ad agencies gunning for PR budgets. Ad agencies have algorithmic buying and selling of ads, there is already a large automated component to their business. Where is the equivalent component for PR? Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, recently predicted that within 20 years most jobs will be automated. Why are PR jobs so special that some of the work won’t be automated?”

Can you automate PR? The answer is the same for public relations as it is for any other industry: Absolutely.

There are plenty of opportunities for automation, from PR metrics and analytics (which are largely automated already, thanks to a suite of wonderful off-the-shelf analytics products like Google Analytics) to PR processes themselves. Ask an account coordinator at any PR firm which parts of her job are dull and repetitive, and you have tasks suited for automation.

The reason we don’t see much automation in the PR industry yet is because it doesn’t typically attract technologists. People see public relations as human art form-not as a science. This means the industry typically doesn’t attract people with specialties in data science, advanced mathematics and coding.

These specialties matter because they come with a mindset focused around algorithms and automation, which non-technologists typically don’t cultivate. Instead of asking, “How can I (or my team) do this?” the technologist asks, “How can I make a machine do this for me?”

Here’s a simple example: Valleywag posted that Facebook was going to hit brand pages even harder, slashing engagement rates to 1-2 percent if brands don’t pay to play. In a human-centric mindset, a typical response would have been to ask some people about their experiences, do a bit of primary research, and draft some compelling stories from anecdotes.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach. It has been bloggers’ bread and butter for decades. It makes for great human stories that are easy to understand and relate to.

But someone with a machine-centric mindset would ask, “How can we create or code something that will answer the question of how much brands will pay?”

By posing the question differently, the technology-driven answer became apparent: Devise an algorithm to estimate the costs based on existing data, then develop a mechanism to evaluate those costs at scale. A machine can do that.

The next step was to write the code that eventually became the #PayBook Facebook Page Cost Calculator. In a nod to its usefulness, after just 24 hours more than 700 organizations used it.

That’s the machine-centric, algorithmic mindset. It’s largely absent from many businesses, but almost completely absent from the world of public relations.

The good news is cultivating that mindset only requires a change in perspective. Public relations professionals can change how they look at their work.

It’s a punchline for many nerd jokes, but the phrase “There’s an app for that” is the starting point for any PR pro wanting to develop a machine-centric mindset. Any time you’re doing something dull and repetitive, ask yourself if there’s an app for it, and then start Googling. There’s a good chance the specific task does have an app or piece of software that can handle at least a portion of the task. And once you start down the path of automation, you’ll find more and more opportunities to bring it into your daily work.

If you’re doing a repetitive task that doesn’t have an app, you’ve identified a golden opportunity to hire a developer to build one for you. Automating the process will save you time, effort and mental energy, which will slowly contribute to your brand’s competitive advantage.

Can all of PR be automated? No. Nor should it be.

But there are plenty of simple opportunities for automation you can take advantage of every day until the bulk of the tedious, repetitive work is being done by those who do it best: machines.

Christopher S. Penn is the vice president for marketing technology at Shift Communications. This article first appeared on the Shift Communications blog.

Topics: PR

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