PR Automation: A bad idea … or would that work for PR agencies?

artificial intelligence typewriter

By Andree Latibeaudiere, Senior Account Manager, Hoffman UK

The last couple of years has seen an intense debate on how automation will impact the job market. Will low-skilled jobs be replaced by robots, forcing workers to upskill in other areas or will automation act like a diligent personal assistant who takes care of the tasks we dread? The conclusion seems to be an uneasy middle ground between the two, where automation becomes the Schrodinger’s Cat of the industry – at once eliminating and creating new opportunities. The social distancing rules and economic impact of Covid 19 seem to have hastened conversations about automation (from software to robotics), with many organisations including PR agencies and publications looking at where it can improve efficiencies.

Keeping the ‘relationships’ in media relations

But what about the PR and media industry? One could argue that some processes are already automated. Anyone who has uploaded a press release to the newswire service has seen automation in action, but we can agree that good PR requires a considered and personalised approach. Many pieces of stand-out coverage have been secured under the watchful eye of a bartender or barista. PR veterans regularly embrace high profile national editors like long-lost friends at networking events. Hours have been invested in establishing and nurturing relationships with the journalist and creating tailored pitches which we know add value and will actually be opened.

There’s an elegance to these relationships that would be difficult for a robot to replicate. Our evolved brains are vital to the process and great results are rooted in the quality of our relationships with journalists. Even the most sophisticated AI program would be unable to navigate the subtleties of meaningful human interactions to secure a desirable result.

automation is coming meme

Automation gone wrong

But when Microsoft made the move to replace journalists with robots, the media industry was stunned. For years, editorial teams have been shrinking in direct correlation with advertising revenue, leading journalists to take on more responsibilities. Surely human creativity and intellect were needed to craft narratives, analyse data and form intelligent arguments and counterarguments. Or at the very least, write stories about the right high profile figures.

This concern was proven right when Microsoft’s robot AI confused two mixed-race singers from the UK group Little Mix. Despite the singers looking nothing alike, this mistake survived the editing process. Unfortunately, this incident also happened during a time when conversations about racial injustice were trending globally. This embarrassing error could’ve been avoided if a human editor was in the driver’s seat. So what’s the solution?

microsoft headline

A hybrid approach for PR agencies and media companies

‘Future proofing’ and ‘agility’ are such clichés, but many PR and media companies will need to take a long, hard look at their existing processes to ensure that they’re fit enough to weather the current storm. We have to be smart in our approach and use whatever tools we have – whether it’s our charisma or an automated tool – to create great stories.

There’s no doubt that automation will impact the PR and media industry. Recent research suggests that by 2023, AI will be able to undertake or significantly enhance 38% of PR skills. It’s up to us how we’ll make it work to our advantage. There’s an opportunity for us to use it in a way that creates positive change; for example, helping to prevent burnout by reassigning mundane tasks. PR automation could help us use our limited resources more effectively, especially when it comes to creating efficiencies in campaign management, administration and reporting.

What PR professional wouldn’t jump for joy at the chance of delegating the coverage report to a robot? This small change may provide some much-needed breathing space in our packed calendars, helping us focus on solving the big communication challenges that our clients will face. We can’t forget that they’ve been affected as well and will need our guidance and collective brain power as they navigate a tricky new terrain.

Using AI, more of our client budgets could be dedicated to creating those big impactful campaigns that actually move the needle. It’s unlikely that AI will ever match the deep, insightful and lateral thinking we do almost daily to secure great results, but it should create more time to apply our intellectual powers to it.

As new PR automation solutions come onto the market, they will be greeted with a mixture of anticipation and wariness. Whatever happens next will surely continue to fuel the debate, but we need to keep an open mind and grasp opportunities while we can. As PR automation tools get more sophisticated, they may become the unsung hero the underpins our future success.


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