PR Automation is Not Evil. But Only if You Use it The Right Way

Most PR practitioners, if they so much as hear the term ‘PR automation’, flinch and talk about how these two concepts are miles apart.

Fine, PR is about relations that are guided by some sort of code of etiquette that guarantees success and mutual satisfaction.

But does it mean we shouldn’t enjoy the benefits of modern technologies that are out there and can make our work easier without jeopardizing the relations we’ve spent so much time building and developing?

Not at all! I am pretty sure it’s possible not only without any risk to our relations but even to their benefit. For how long does it take us to produce, distribute, and publish content, develop a workflow that’ll be convenient for all team members, and finally report the results of our work to the client? Quite a lot.

Mathematical algorithms are commonly used now to chew through colossal amounts of data in an effort to pinpoint and describe online influencers, networks, and hot topics. There’s a good reason why UK’s CIPR is seeking to characterize the impact AI has on public relations. It has even put together an initial list of 95 PR-related tools to help you think differently and make you better at managing the potential of your team.

What do the PR pros I invited to contribute to this piece think about PR automation?

Michelle Garrett

Michelle Garrett, @PRisUs 

According to Michelle Garret from Garret Public Relations, the most widespread use of automation in PR is in social media. “Using a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite to automate posts is definitely a timesaver,” says Michelle and underlines that we shouldn’t forget to respond and interact with social media followers. It still requires a human touch. “Let’s use care not to get so caught up in automation that we lose sight of the importance of building relationships in PR. While automation plays a role, that CAN’T be automated. Don’t neglect personal interaction—be it live or online—with journalists and other influencers,” warns Michelle.

Alex Tachalova

Alex Tachalova, @AlexTachalova 

Alex Tachalova from Digital Olympus, who has recently published some insights on how to set up a laser-targeted Twitter ad campaign that will help you put your story in front of bloggers and journalists on her LinkedIn page, points that, “First, Twitter allows you to show your ads only to those users you’ve manually selected. That’s an incredible strategy to use for highly targeted outreach. It can help you introduce your story to specific bloggers and journalists you’re planning to contact later. Once you’ve set up your list, the rest is delivered via Twitter’s automated systems. This strategy doesn’t mean it’s time to dismiss manual outreach, but it will help increase the response rate”. Then, she adds, “If you don’t want to gather your list manually, you can use Listpedia, a tool that allows you to search and download Twitter lists of speakers, journalists, and contributors, etc.”

Wendy Marx

Wendy Marx, @wendymarx 

Wendy Marx, president at Marx Communications, does not doubt that “PR is long due for automation,” and quotes data from the Gould & Partners survey which shows that 1.9% of revenues are spent by PR firms on technology vs 5.2% for other industries. “Meanwhile, according to McKinsey & Company, 45% of paid activities across the board could be wiped out by automation. These statistics should be a wakeup call for PR professionals and agencies, including my own,” says Wendy. Which tools are the people at Marx Communications making use of?

  • HubSpot for marketing automation, which allows them to be more efficient and effective in terms of email, social media, and inbound marketing.
  • Buzzsumo for influencer marketing, so they can understand whom to connect with and what topics will resonate the most with their audience.
  • Cision to help automate their media outreach.

“That, however, only touches the surface,” Wendy goes on, “In the future, I expect to use artificial intelligence to take much of the guesswork out of PR campaigns, so for example, knowing what subject line and topics will engage the most. A lot of PR work, as is true of most jobs, contains busywork chunks that can be automated. Think of the time spent scheduling meetings and doing follow-ups.”

Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva, @IliyanaStareva 

Iliyana Stareva, Global Partner Program Manager at HubSpot, uses HubSpot to automate her content publishing, including blogs, social media scheduling, email automation to nurture media contacts, etc. “So if I look at the Inbound PR Methodology, I automate many things from Attract and Close,” she explains. She has also recently been testing Prowly, while promoting her latest book on Inbound PR (another terrific PR tool for today’s communication professionals). Her to-do list also includes an experiment of creating a Facebook bot that people can use to ask questions while she is doing public speaking about Inbound PR—so, during events, they can ask where to read more, where to enter raffles, etc. “That way it becomes so much more actionable,” she underlines.

Steve Falla PR Founder Orchard PR, CIPR Chartered Practitioner and PDMC member

Steve Falla, @steve_falla 

Steve Falla, Executive Consultant at Orchard PR, is following with interest the work of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ #AIinPR panel, partly because he’s also been investing in AI and adopting AI tools that make repetitive research, monitoring, and administrative tasks quicker and more efficient. “We’re not about to automate analysis, interpretation, and creativity but why wouldn’t we choose to simplify processes that will make us more effective and give us more time to focus on adding value for our clients?”—he asks. People at Orchard are currently using AI or automation tools for monitoring and evaluating media coverage, social media reach, and content distribution—but still, “with a healthy amount of input from our team of qualified PR practitioners.” The tools they’re using for evaluation include Facebook and Twitter insights and analysis, Precise, Google Analytics, Google Trends, and apps like BuzzSumo. On the content front, they’re experimenting with automated processes in creative tools such as Piktochart and Raw Shorts. Steve underlines here that they’re stopping short of using AI to conceive, design, and create content until they’re convinced that the applications are of a high enough standard to enhance and improve their own creativity.

Gini Dietrich, @ginidietrich 

Gini Dietrich, founder and author of Spin Sucks blog says: “PR continues to evolve and our industry tends to be left behind when it comes to digital marketing, artificial intelligence, and even PR automation. If we don’t embrace the change—like we had to 10 years ago with social media—it won’t be AI that puts us out of jobs. It’ll be ourselves because we just haven’t kept up.”

PR is evolving. You should be ready to embrace change. Don’t just go around saying PR automation is evil without a little more perspective. When used correctly, it may support your work routine. If you want the journalists to acknowledge your pitches and earn your clients’ media, take the lead and allow the change on your own delivery medium. Otherwise, you’re risking getting unessential.

A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks blog.