Can Public Relations be Automated?
By Aaron Broverman
With all this technology at our fingertips – iPhones, iPads, Google Glass, self-driving cars and everything else that is supposed to make our life easier – you’d think someone would finally think of a way to automate PR. Think again.
Sure, parts of PR can be automated. However, at this point, no one has found the perfect balance between human interaction and automation to be able to do the entire job on autopilot.
Still, the industry is closer than it ever has been, so we sat down with Carrie Morgan of Rock the Status Quo (an Arizona-based digital PR firm).
While we can’t do the job completely automatically, there are automated solutions for at least the most mundane tasks.
Social media scheduling, press release distribution and the initial part of building a media list are all processes that Morgan automates as part of her business using programs like ifTTT — which helps her send out automatic tweets whenever an article is posted to a client’s blog. She also uses a social media management dashboard to help her manage their social network.
“I don’t automate that much, but I use tools to help me do my job better,” says Morgan. “I do a ton of search engine optimization and I don’t really automate it, but I use a Word Press plugin to make it easier to do.”
Another Word Press plugin of note is Smush.it, which helps make blog photos smaller, so they look better on the web.
“That’s an automation that’s helping the client, but it’s also helping me as a professional because SEO is based on website performance and those smaller images help the website perform better,” says Morgan.
Though automation helps, Morgan knows it’s never the full story when it comes to PR and she doesn’t think it should be.
The Human Touch
“This job is always a blend of automation and real time,” she says. “Even for social media, I may automate 60 to 70 percent of my posts, but there’s still that 30 to 40 percent where I go in and like other people’s pages or respond to comments and you can’t automate that kind of stuff.”
In fact, Morgan says there are things that should never be automated.
“Writing a pitch or building a relationship can never be automated. When an influencer is talking about something relevant to your client, you might be able to automate identifying that opportunity, but actually going to their social media platform, writing a comment and jumping into the conversation – that could never be automated. If it was, it would be so terribly transparent; it would do more harm than good.”
But, automation does have its place in the PR realm, so she came up with a good rule of thumb as to when and when not to use automation:
“Any place you can take basic work that doesn’t require creative input it’s just administrative work – if you can automate the administrative stuff to allow more time for the creative, that’s a win-win.”
The Automation Gap
Of course, automation can’t solve everything in the public relations business, but wouldn’t it be great if it could?
For Morgan, there’s currently a gap between useful and can’t-live-without-it-functionality when it comes to what’s available in the automated realm.
“There are lots of widgets, plugins and apps out there that automate small pieces of what we do as PR professionals, but where the gap is comes when trying to fit all of those pieces together so it’s more of a holistic solution.”
There are also all-in-one PR suites that Morgan acknowledges are great for building media lists or keeping track of notes, but what she’d really like to see from them is the ability to combine those media lists with pitch reminders.
“If I build a media list and there’s a publication I’m targeting for a client, but there are two issues in that publication’s editorial calendar that I’d want to pitch for that client – if I received reminders when it was time to pitch that publication, that would be invaluable as PR person,” she says.
For Carrie Morgan, and many others in the business, public relations is an art, not a science, and she really doubts whether that art should ever be truly automated completely.
“The real art of PR is taking flat relationships and turning them into useful editorial opportunities for your client and I don’t know how well that can be automated. Pieces of it can, but the relationship card is always a factor, so a way to make those relationships easier to create and manage would be fantastic.”