LEWIS 360° – The blog of global communications agency, LEWIS PR

PR blog covering communications trends, social media and more

The Automation of PR – Bring it!

The PR person of the future?Tom Foremski posts today advocating PR firms to automate as much of their business as possible. He writes ‘…without a significant tech component PR is at a big disadvantage because it can’t scale, it can’t grow without growing more people.’

This is true – on average PR firms spend sixty percent of their revenues on staff costs. Tom suggests that competition from other sectors, from advertising to SEO, will force PR firms to automate as many elements of their business as they can. You’d have to be short-sighted indeed not to witness the turmoil the Internet wrought on the media sector and to think the PR industry could escape unscathed. We’ve all enjoyed those inter-agency meetings when the topic of digital and social media comes up, and every agency makes a dive for the brass ring.

But while undoubtedly change is being driven by the intensifying competition between disciplines, that change tends to be in developing new services and capabilities, rather than automation of current practices. Right now, I think a bigger driver of automation is the huge talent shortage PR firms are facing. The more we can disconnect revenues from headcount, the better. The challenges in recruitment are a primary driver for investment in automating technologies. The biggest barrier to growth at this stage of the economic cycle is a PR firm’s ability to hire and retain talent. If you can break that cycle, and put more revenue through fixed staffing levels, you can get headcount-free growth. And that means higher profits.

So the incentive is there – whether short-term profit incentive or through seismic technological change. But surely you can’t automate PR? [Cue shocked expression as we perch on our creative high-horse.] No-one is suggesting that strategy, ideation or relationship building can be automated. You might be able to systematize elements of those but they are fundamentally human. But look at accounting – the whole process of double-entry book-keeping is now a huge software industry. Look at the legal industry with online apps such as LegalZoom making the bottom-end of the market self-service. Surely the routine elements of PR should be turned into software? What is a tool like Vocus if it isn’t just that? I hope we don’t just stop with the replacement of Ben’s media directory.

Savvy agencies are developing their own IP in the form of tools and technologies. Most of these revolve around research, collaboration and evaluation at the moment. The incentive to do that is threefold – first it’ll automate dull activities which is great for staff; second, it gives the agency a ‘magic widget’ which you can’t get elsewhere for clients; and third it increases the agency’s valuation for the same reason. Anything which frees up staff from repetitive activities to be more creative should be embraced. Sure, it cuts out the less-skilled administrative roles, but most people aren’t attracted to our industry for that.

As an example, way back in 1997 we developed Virtual Press Rooms, which clients paid a subscription for in order to get their press materials online. It had streaming video before YouTube and gave metrics about who had viewed the content. It gave us a revenue stream independent of hiring new staff which was hard back then. In another area, we’ve developed our own evaluation platform, LSCORE, which pulls together media and social metrics for campaigns around the world and presents them consistently. We don’t charge for that, but it saves a hugely manual and time-consuming task with a better outcome.

So I’m all for automation. It’s inevitable and desirable. Bring it!

Tags: , , , , ,

LEWIS PR offers services spanning PR and media relations, social media marketing, search engine optimization and digital content production. Find Out More About Working With Us

  • Edwin Vlems

    Interesting article! For our B2B company, I asked a few students to develop a ‘press release generator’, software that writes a press release in just seconds after uploading new monthly statistics (e.g. from marketing research). You only need to build a template once.

    • freek_janssen

      I saw some examples of the press release that were generated with this tool (because you showed me) and I was positively surprised. It shows that in specific cases like market research you can use automation to generate content. The same goes for simple announcements like employee appointments: ‘[Company] has appointed [Name] as [Job title]. In this role, she will be responsible for [Job description].’ You could easily build a release-o-matic to do that for you and deliver it to the key media.

      The question is: when does it pay off to build such a tool? Only when you can use it very frequently – like your generator, that can be reused in each new period for each industry.

      And, more importantly: this is PR, but only a small part of it. The blog posts on inbound marketing that you write so eloquently, can never be replaced by technology.

      • Edwin Vlems

        You mepped the spiker on its head Freek. I always compare the press releases that are written with my content generator with the way ships in Holland are built nowadays: they buy the basis of most ships (‘casco’) in China and add on to that, but some ships are so specific that a Chinese casco doesn’t work.

        So you can see the automated press releases that my generator writes as casco’s that you can use as a basis to which you can add personal analysis and details: what is behind the developments that are written? It not only makes you more productive, but you can limit yourself to the more intelligent journalistic work.

        And I agree with what you say in the end: some articles have to be written by humans completely.

  • http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/ Tom Foremski

    “If you can break that cycle, and put more revenue through fixed staffing levels, you can get headcount-free growth. And that means higher profits.”
    Morgan that sounds like getting the same staff to do more, and that’s not scalable. The automation will come from outside of the PR industry just as it did with the media industry. But there are a lot of things PR can do to prepare and develop new revenues from tech, revenues that don’t require getting out of bed :)

    • morganmclintic

      I mean equipping staff to be more effective by removing the most repetitive elements of their roles. If that means they do more work with the same amount of effort (or less!), then I think that’s a good thing?

      But to your point about technologies in adjacent industries which we can co-opt for our own ends, then I agree. We need to keep our eyes wide open for those disruptive forces. Fun times.

  • Pingback: PR automation: there’s an app for that - Prezly blog()

  • Frederik Vincx

    It’s what geeks call DRY. Don’t Repeat Yourself. It’s a mindset that most PR teams don’t seem to have. They seem to be unaware of all these solutions that are just a Google search away: CRM’s, email distribution tools, newsroom platforms,.. I posted practical examples on my blog: http://www.prezly.com/blog/2014/03/pr-automation-theres-app/

  • Frederik Vincx

    In 1997 building your own software might have been the only solution. Now there’s less need to start from scratch. Simple Google searches will help you solve many tedious tasks in PR and especially media relations.

    Keep plowing through Excel sheets with contact lists? Use a CRM.
    Keep calling people to ask if they got your email? Use an email tracker.
    Keep looking up the social media accounts of people you’ll pitch? Use a tool to enrich their profiles straight in your email client.

    You get my point. For most problems there’s a team of geeks somewhere building a solution.

  • Pingback: The Evolution of Marketing: Where’s The Human Factor? | A place to connect to ALL our The verybestforme.com sites()