Technology and PR: What’s Changed Over the Years for the Industry

The key learning from the 2015 European Communication Monitor was that PR departments and professionals are failing to use modern technology to keep up, stay relevant, be innovative, and prove the economic results of their activities.

Is that still the case today?

I believe PR is doing much better, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially when it comes to the mass adoption of technology to prove ROI.

However, with so much going on in the world of technology, where do you start? How do you keep up?

Let’s take a look at some of the key technological milestones over the years and talk about the opportunities that PR people have today with all this cool tech around.

PR Then and Now: Technology Over the Years

With the invention of the printing press centuries ago came the need to share information with the society on a massive scale. To a point, the larger adoption of newspapers and magazines brought the need for PR, and, in the early 1900s, the industry began its existence.

However, within only 100 years, the PR industry had to see many developments in technology that would require it to change:

  • The TV as a new vehicle for comms came in the 1920s, but then on-demand TV and streaming services on your laptop emerged around 2005.
  • The first email was sent in 1971 and so gone were the letters.
  • Mobile phones came out in the 1980s, and everyone started to be reachable at anytime from anywhere.
  • The DVDs were a great development in terms of visual content when they came out in 1993; now we store stuff in cloud-based services—on websites, social platforms, Google Drive, etc.
  • But even more so, email, phones, etc. got replaced by social media with the launch of LinkedIn in 2002, Facebook in 2004, Twitter in 2006, or Pinterest and Instagram in 2010, just to mention a few.

These new tools required PR to change its practice not only because of communication vehicles and channels but also because new professions and influencers emerged.

Here’s a very good infographic explaining these shifts:

PR now and then

As we can see, technology has improved the ease of communication and information gathering in multiple ways, but it has also complicated our decision-making in terms of channels or media and influencers as well as exposed us directly to much more demanding and sophisticated clients and consumers.

The 3 Use Cases for Technology in PR

Looking at all the different technologies and tools out there, I would categorize them into three main areas for use in PR:

#1 Workflows and Automation: Enablement of More Agile Day-To-Day Work

  • Communicating via email (g., pitching with Prowly)
  • Communicating via social media (g., through HubSpot, an all-in-one tool)
  • Communicating via content shared through websites, online newsrooms or social media channels (not just text but also images, video, etc)
  • Communicate via bots (g., HubSpot bot)
  • Managing contacts (g., media and influencers) through a CRM (e.g., Prowly)
  • Managing crisis comms via social media
  • Leveraging SEO to make content findable on both desktop and mobile (e.g., Google Webmasters and Keywords tools)
  • Leveraging digital channels for user-generated content
  • Utilizing influencer software to identify the right publics based on content (g., Buzzsumo)

#2 Creativity and Audience Engagement: Campaigns and Content Tools

  • Interactive content: images, infographics (g., Canva), video, animation, quizzes—you can turn boring plain-text press releases into much more engaging pieces with these ideas to allow people to truly experience what you are trying to communicate.
  • Virtual reality: create a lifelike experience through your communication. The easiest thing you can do is 360-degree tours or overviews.
  • Wearable technology: Google Glass, Apple Watch, Fitbit, etc.—enable extremely targeted and personalized communication right then and there based on people’s interests, needs, and location in real-time.

#3 Measurement and Evaluation: Closed-Loop and ROI Reporting

  • Track digital journeys from start to finish—with the right execution and software, you can show for each person what they first saw on your website, whether they filled out a form giving you their email address, whether they purchased from you and agreed to a story. It’s what we call closed-loop reporting, and this is what clients want to do—what outcomes did our outputs bring? HubSpot is perfect for this.
  • Demonstrate ROI—not just through closed-loop reporting, but through utilizing tools like Google Analytics or social media measurement on different networks; you can find what works what doesn’t and whether the investment was worth it.

Fundamentally, I believe that technology is an enabler. There’s a ton of tools that PR people can choose from. For example, PRstack was an awesome crowdsourced project by Steven Waddington with a huge array of tools for various activities from planning, to content, to monitoring, to analytics. The CIPR is running a very similar project right now too where they want to crowdsource the technology and tools that are helping public relations practitioners work smarter and more efficiently (you should participate too!).

My own tool stack recommendations are based on the Inbound PR Methodology. However, my favorite technology that combines the best of almost everything in one tool is HubSpot.

The point that I am trying to make here is that you can choose the tools yourself, but that choice should be made thoughtfully. PR people don’t have to adopt every new piece of technology or new social network that comes out. PR needs to be strategic and utilize technology and tools as enablers. These are the instruments that allow you to do better work and to prove the results of that work. But they shouldn’t be front and center. Strategic thinking and planning is the foundation for PR success.


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